10 April 2012

National Poetry Month: 10

From Robert Frost (1874 - 1963):

Provide, Provide

The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag,
Was once the beauty Abishag,

The picture pride of Hollywood.
Too many fall from great and good
For you to doubt the likelihood.

Die early and avoid the fate.
Or if predestined to die late,
Make up your mind to die in state.

Make the whole stock exchange your own!
If need be occupy a throne,
Where nobody can call you crone.

Some have relied on what they knew;
Others on being simply true.
What worked for them might work for you.

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide!

– Robert Frost

Ah, Robert. Always so . . . Frosty. Though I consider the crusty Yankee farmer edged out only by the flirtatious Southern belle in the list of most annoying American regional stereotypes, Frost does manage it splendidly, perhaps because he was not native to New England (he was born in San Francisco and lived there until he was about 11). The shrewdness and thrift associated with the type turn into a worldview and a philosophy of managing life. "Crone" is an interesting word, since I think its connotations are more positive than they were when Frost wrote the poem; even if you're the sort of person who rolls his or her eyes at talk of "croning ceremonies" and suchlike, the word now has more of an aura of "old wise woman" and a little less of "cranky old witch." Still, the word makes at least some of its original point.

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