, , , ,

Robert Frost is a deceptive poet. His poems seem obvious and simplistic – at first blush and certainly when compared a contemporary like T.S. Eliot. But the simplicity is a trick. In this way he reminds me of St. John as opposed to St. Paul. St. John writes seeming simplicity and candor, but the sheer apparent simplicity is the means of the depth. 

To take another comparison: Shakespeare last play, The Tempest is seemingly the simplest of all his plays (except perhaps his early comedies) and yet it child like simplicity conceals its depth. Here is a seeming simple poem 

There’s a patch of old snow in a corner

That should I have guessed

Was a blow-away paper the rain

Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if 

Small print overspread it,

The news of a day I’ve forgotten—

If I ever read it.

There is a sense in the world is invisible to us. We fill in spaces, create meaning, ignore this or that. It is not that pure blank fills our mind, it is that a re-construction, a distortion or domestication takes up our mind. Thus, we see things and yet don’t. 

This poem is an invitation in the moment where something invisible becomes visible for a moment. At first read, the poem is remarkably simple: Frost notices something in a corner. It is a scrap of snow, but it really looks like some crumbled newspaper. 

But as we consider the poem there is a bit more. He didn’t actually mistake the snow for a newspaper: Rather, there seems to be a missing step in the thought: if I had not noticed it was snow, I probably would have thought it was just a newspaper. 

But there is yet another twist: Rather than merely mistaking the snow as if it were old newspaper, his contemplation actually turns the snow into newspaper:

It is speckled with grime as if 

Small print overspread it,

Thus, it is not that he mistook the snow for newspaper and then realized it was snow. Rather, he saw it was snow and then by the power of imagination transformed it into newspaper. 

So rather than being a snow which has mistaken for a newspaper and so passed by without consideration, the snow has become a newspaper in the fact of his consideration:

The news of a day I’ve forgotten

The grime in the snow is the recordation of some day. And now we come to the twist of the knife, the thing that was missed:

If I ever read it.

Thus, the patch of snow is a newspaper of some day that Frost may have actually missed. There was something which is passed, which he did not see. This patch of snow is a newspaper from that day. This also brings up another point: a thing is not comprehensible, really, until it is turned into words. You listen to music or see and painting – but to communicate what has happened, you must turn that event into words. You don’t hum the symphony, you speak of it. You don’t repaint the painting, you explain it. 

And this brings us to one more consideration here: the poem itself. 

The poet seems snow and thinks of a newspaper – a written record — from a day he had missed. He then turns that event into a written record of human words and brings us into his moment. I, by reading the poem and thinking along with him, am looking – by means of his words – at the snow, which is itself a kind of record something missed. And now, Frost’s missed day becomes my missed day.