Monday, March 20, 2017

Robert Frost: Spring Pools

Spring Pools

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods--
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only recently.

--Robert Frost --

Another of Frost's enigmatic poems.  Those summer woods, celebrated by other poets and writers, are portrayed somewhat differently here for they "darken nature."  Even more ominous is Frost's warning to those trees with "their pent-up buds."
"Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only recently."

What is dangerous about that snow that melted only recently"?  Or, is it something other than that melted snow?

As usual, his poem is characterized by a straightforward, almost conversational sentence structure and simple, everyday words, and yet he manages to hint at something behind all this deceptive simplicity.   

Now that I've finished my brief ramblings, go back and read the poem again.  That's what's important--the poem..


  1. What am I missing? I do not see the danger associated with the snow. I read the poem and simply recall walks in the woods among the leafless trees of western Pennsylvania in late winter and early spring. Spring puddles and flowers would soon disappear within summer's darkening canopy. But I did not sense danger either then during my walks nor now in my reading. Tell me what I have missed.

    1. yes... what terror lurks in the summer foliage, perilous to man nor beast (i'm imagining Sir Percival in search of the Green Dragon, his steed quietly pacing, foot by foot, through the dank foliage, the silence of impending doom)....

    2. Tim,

      I vaguely remember reading, a long time ago, an article by an author who said that there were two distinct strains in American Lit, going back to the 19th century. One strain included Hawthorne and Melville. Their writings were grounded in the material world, but both had a postulated a dark dimension behind their world. Melville's review of Hawthorne's work certainly supports that. The second strain included Emerson and Thoreau, and again while rooted in the material world went out far beyond that, suggesting in some ways a universal consciousness, a unity of all beings.

      I have come to the conclusion that Frost belongs in the Hawthorne/Melville camp. I don't think Frost had anything specific in mind, just a sense that there was something behind all of reality, something glimpsed out of the corner of one's eye--something that if not directly inimical to us, but at least something that had its own concerns.

    3. Mudpuddle,

      You may scoff, but I think Frost was serious. This sense of darkness behind observable reality shows up in many of his poems.

    4. i was unclear: not scoffing at all, quite the contrary; some poems it's difficult to exactly pinpoint the atmosphere conveyed by the words, the only way to describe what they're about is to try to reproduce the feeling in a different way; which was what i was attempting, albeit badly, to do... i do that fairly frequently, and while i am aware that's not satisfactorily clear, sometimes i can't see any better way of doing it....

      i specifically like the image of the Green Dragon, giving the woods that lurking feeling of vast distance and awe...

    5. i admire the split cited re the transcendentalists, and i think it's pretty accurate; except i think i'd put Frost in the other half...

    6. Mudpuddle,

      You would put Frost with Emerson and Thoreau? Why7

      He seems much more in line with Hawthorne and Melville as there's frequently that sense of darkness underlying material reality, which is never fully depicted. This doesn't sound much like the one with the universe feelings of the transcendentalists.

    7. actually, i think the all-encompassing idea includes the other one, so that the division is rather a misleading way of looking at it... standing on the beach, looking at the ocean, you can see about 14 miles, but you know the water extends a lot further... so, if you're in a wood and can only see the local trees, still, you know there are a lot more of them out there. the dark unknown comes from a lack of knowledge, i would say, and the vagaries of the imagination... but there's really no difference between what one is looking at and what one isn't, if that makes any sense...

      rereading the above, i'm not sure it says anything; suffice it to say, i guess i'd have to read the original source to make up my mind... interesting question, anyway...

    8. Mudpuddle,

      Agreed. I wish I could remember more about that article, or perhaps it was a book.

  2. I love Robert Frost.

    It is so common for something very dark to be hiding behind the surface of bucolic imagery in his poems. This is all true often of real life. This is a one of the reasons that I admire his works so much.

    1. Brian,

      That was one of the problems in the way critics first viewed Frost--they couldn't see the darkness underneath.

      It wasn't until 1958 at a dinner for Frost when Lionel Trilling gave a speech in which he called Frost a poet of terror that critics and scholars took another look at Frost.

      Of course, Trilling was roundly condemned (including an article in the NY Times, if I remember correctly)at first for saying such unpleasant things about this friendly, rural bucolic poet of the real America.

      I discuss this very briefly here: