02 May 2017

"All the fun's in how you say a thing"

Fifty-plus years ago a then-young English- and American Literature major walked out of a college bookstore with this hardcover copy of Complete Poems of Robert Frost.  The $7.00 expense was substantial in those years, but he considered the book an appropriate addition to his personal library.

Since then the book has traveled with him from Boston to Dallas to Lexington to Indianapolis to St. Louis and finally to Madison.  The next destination will be as a donation to our local Friends of the Fitchburg Library book sale.  Before saying goodbye to an old friend, I thought it appropriate to give it one final cover-to-cover read.  Herewith some gleanings from that book.

Uncommon words:

"With a big jag to empty in a bay"  (a load, as of hay)

"Not old Grandsir's/Nor Granny's surely..." (grandsire is archaic for grandfather)

"But there's a dite too many of them for comfort"  (???)

"Choked with oil of cedar/And scurf of plants"   ("scaly matter or incrustation on a surface")

"...they smelled/A thing the least bit doubtfully perscented" (?neologism)

"The lines of a good helve were native to the grain" (handle of an ax, hatchet, hammer (ME,OE))

(re turtle eggs) "All packed in sand to wait the trump together."  (sound of a trumpet)

"...nothing Fate could do/With codlin moth or rusty parasite" (codling moth larvae feed on apple)

"The storm gets down his neck in an icy souse" (soaking)

"By grace of state-manipulated pelf" (disparaging term for money, from ME/OF=booty)

"On our cisatlantic shore" (attaching the prefix meaning "on this side")

"But spes alit agricolam 'tis said." ("hope sustains the farmer")

"As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins" (container of size one-quarter of a barrel)

"We would pour oil on the ingle" (fire burning in hearth; fireplace (Gael.)

"And dayify the darkest realm" (presumably a neologism and the prerogative of a poet)

"The wavy upflung pennons of the corn" (flag borne on lance of knight [from Latin pinna=feather])

"For all humanity a complete rest/From all this wagery." (?working for wages?)

"The other way of reading back and forth/Known as boustrophedon, was found too awkward."

"Behind her at the dashboard of his pung." (sleigh with boxlike body on runners [short for “tom-pung” = toboggan]

"The bulb lights sicken down." (presumably get weaker?)

Memorable lines or clever turns of phrase

(re a farmhand)
"Poor Silas, so concerned for other folk,
And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope,
So now and never any different."

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in." (did Frost invent this phrase?)

(re a mountainside brook):
"Warm in December, cold in June, you say?
I don't suppose the water's changed at all.
You and I know enough to know it's warm
Compared with cold, and cold compared with warm
But all the fun's in how you say a thing."

"We love the things we love for what they are."

"Baptiste knew how to make a short job long
For love of it and yet not waste time either..."

"From my advantage on a hill
I judged that such a crystal chill
Was only adding frost to snow
As gilt to gold that wouldn't show."

"When I was young my teachers were the old...
I went to school to age to learn the past...
Now I am old my teachers are the young...
I go to school to youth to learn the future."

"But I may be one who does not care
Ever to have tree bloom or bear.
Leaves for smooth and bark for rough,
Leaves and bark may be tree enough." (the same sentiment as in this Denise Levertov poem)

(re life):
"It lives less in the present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
Than in the past.  The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing -
Too present to imagine."


"And the cagèd yellow bird/Hung over her in tune..."   In my edition, the word cagèd is printed with that accent (not true in many reprints of the poem).  I presume Frost did this to alter the meter of the line.  I didn't see him employ this device elsewhere in the book and wonder if it is a common technique used by poets.

"The new moon!/What shoulder did I see her over?"  (It is said to be unlucky to see the new moon over your left shoulder, but lucky to see it over your right shoulder.)

(re orchard on a northerly slope) (?true)
"No orchard's the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn't get warm.
'How often already you've had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard.  Good-by and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below."

(re barn doors):
"The advantage-disadvantage of these doors
Was that tramp taking sanctuary there
Must leave them unlocked to betray his presence.
They could be locked but from the outside only...
And it had almost given him troubled dreams
To think that though he could not lock himself in,
The cheapest tramp that came along that way
Could mischievously lock him in to stay."

"As a brief epidemic of microbes/ That in a good glass may be seen to crawl..." (I've heard the term "good glass" applied to telescopes.  Presumably the reference is similar here, to lens glass that is free of imperfections) ??

(re Santa Claus):
"We all know his address, Mount Hekla, Iceland./So anyone can write to him who has to" (???)

Links to my favorite poems

Mending Wall

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Birches (and audio)

The Road Not Taken

And now, goodbye old friend.


  1. One of the more famous examples of a poet using an accent mark to change the meter of a line (and in this case, the meaning of the word) is Gerard Manley Hopkins "Spring and Fall":

    Márgarét, áre you gríeving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving?
    Leáves like the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! ás the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By and by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you wíll weep and know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
    What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
    It ís the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

    The distinction is that when the person matures she chooses a more sophisticated version of her name, rather than the simple Margaret she was known by as an innocent child.

  2. I would add to your list of favorites - one of mine:
    The Star-splitter

  3. "Dite" means "bit" in the sense of a small amount.


    1. I'll take your word for it, John, but I can't seem to find confirmation at the Wiktionary link. ??

    2. Dictionary.com
      1. a bit (usually used in negative constructions):
      I don't care a dite.

  4. I've heard many a Maine carpenter request to remove a dite more to make it fit .

  5. "in a good glass"--rephrase and the simple meaning is evident: you can see the microbes crawling if you use a good magnifying glass (or microscope).

  6. Growing up in Vermont, my family still uses the word Jag. It means bunch, "ahyet, there's a whole jag of 'em oveh there".

  7. Shakespeare was wont to use accent marks to alter meter as well. "This lanthorn doth the hornéd moon present" being one example among others.

  8. Hi Stan,

    My girlfriend really wants to know - if it's so precious to you, how can you bear to part with it?

    I won't be offended if you prefer not to answer :)


    1. I'm 71 years old. In good health, but cognizant of the inevitable and a long-range planner. For years now I've been weeding out the "things" I've accumulated over the previous 5-6 decades - LP records, music CDs, hobby collections, clothes (does anyone need 20 ties and a dozen sweaters?)

      Also, my wife and I are big believers in and supporters of our local library. Much of what I'm discarding in terms of books and media can be borrowed from the library with a few clicks of a mouse. No need for me to have a personal copy.

      I'm even giving away family memorabilia - to other (younger) relatives.

      There are very few things in my life that are so precious that I cannot part with them. All of them will probably fit in a small room. Which will be convenient someday...

    2. Note also that in the act of creating this post about the book, I have saved (digitally) all my marginal notations from the book and links to the only parts of the book I would probably reread. And I've also preserved a memory of the book.

    3. Thanks Stan,

      I wholeheartedly approve of this attitude :)

      Love your work!

      Cheers as always,

  9. Our farm's name is Nature's First Green, from the first line of Nothing Go,d Can Stay.


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