Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Walking away


He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: 'What is it you see
From up there always -- for I want to know.'
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.


This is from the poem 'Home Burial' by Robert Frost.  This poem was first published in the book North of Boston, copyrighted 1915.

Take these lines again...
He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: 'What is it you see
From up there always -- for I want to know.'
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.


Change it into an essay with conversation:
He saw her from the bottom of the stairs before she saw him.
She was starting down, looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it to raise herself and look again.


He spoke, advancing toward her: 'What is it you see from up there always -- for I want to know.'
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that, and her face changed from terrified to dull. 

The first time I read this was in a New Yorker essay, I believe it was an article by Joseph Brodsky (Close Readings, “ON GRIEF AND REASON,” The New Yorker, September 26, 1994, p. 70).

Each sentence in this poem was written plainly as a story would be. The story jumped out of the page at me - I was hooked. I had to know more.

He said to gain time: 'What is it you see?'
Mounting until she cowered under him.
'I will find out now -- you must tell me, dear.'
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn't see,
Blind creature; and a while he didn't see.
But at last he murmured, 'Oh' and again, 'Oh.'
'What is it -- what?' she said.
'Just that I see.'

'You don't,' she challenged.
'Tell me what it is.'
'The wonder is I didn't see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it -- that's the reason.'
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it 

I was so totally enthralled. It was creepy, but I was curious. I didn't like that 'she' wouldn't tell him, that she made him figure it out by himself. But I was on the verge of being angry at him, for not knowing that a view of graveyard could haunt her.

I didn't know that their child was buried in the graveyard. I didn't know that 'he', the child's father, had to dig the grave himself. I didn't know that 'she', the wife, watched from the window. I didn't know the hurt, the anger, the grief that they both felt.

He starts again:
You make me angry. I'll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it's come to this,
A man can't speak of his own child that's dead.'
She answers:
'You can't because you don't know how.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand--how could you?--his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn't know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don't know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby's grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.

This is a family grieving separately, not knowing how to reach for one another. This is a husband and wife both so hurt that they can't reach each other. OUCH. I was in tears at this point.

The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretence of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand. 


I don't why today this poem came flooding back to me.


I want to hug one who is grieving, one who is alone, one who has watched a grave and not wanted to walk away.










3 comments:

Barbaro said...

This is a haunting poem.

Is it a good thing or bad that no one buries his own child anymore, that burial, like so many things, has been outsourced and sanitized until we need surrogate ceremonies to replace it?

Frost has become a bit old-fashioned, I guess, but I've yet to discover anyone else who can so deftly fit story into poetry.

Granny Sue said...

I had never read this poem. How painful it is to see those two people, so far apart in their grief. I have been there, thankfully not because of the loss of a child. But separate in grief, yes. It's lonely place indeed.

Lovely, thoughtful post.

BANJO52 said...

Glad you posted this, Brenda. We could go on and on about whether it's poetry or prose, but it surely captures one kind of chilling separation between two people, a state we don't like to talk about, though we all probably know it's there, for one reason or another, at one time or another.