Sunday, 22 September 2013

Anthology 10

In this strange, haunting poem, the inland pastoralist Robert Frost takes to the sea shore. The beach scene is real enough, fixed by the passing ship and the standing gull, and people do on a beach all look one way,  at the sea. But that sea clearly stands for something bigger - the infinite, mysterious Out There, into which was can see neither far nor deep. It might be construed as a bleak vision of stasis and limitation, but the poem's poise and tact give it an almost tender note. We are what we are, things are as they are.

NEITHER OUT FAR NOR IN DEEP

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be---
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?


Frost's poem has been much analysed and interpreted. In his thoughtful commentary on it, Randall Jarrell likens it to these lines by Housman: 


Stars, I have seen them fall,
But when they drop and die
No star is lost at all
From all the star-sown sky.

The toil of all that be
Helps not the primal fault:
It rains into the sea
And still the sea is salt.



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