Fire and Ice

Wednesday 14 May 2014

 This week, on my Saturday night radio show, as well as the usual jazz and inane chatter, I’ll be playing poetry from Robert Frost. I appreciate Frost’s poetry because it’s simple and effective. When you consider that so many poets use their platform as an excuse to confuse and obfuscate meaning, or to make a simple issue appear complex for the sake of complexity or to demonstrate a large vocabulary, Frost’s pragmatic approach to the world is refreshing in its accessibility.

Fire and Ice is a perfect example.

Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Robert Frost

I don’t know whether he’s talking about a literal end of the world, or the metaphorical end of a world, as in the end of a relationship or a separation, or the culmination of a long-savoured project. What I do know is, regardless of his intention in writing this piece, I understand exactly what he’s saying. Passion, whether it’s abundant or absent, can kill.  It’s efficient.It’s stylish.It works. The same can be said for his most famous piece: The Road not Taken.

The Road not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost
Again, the thing I like about this is that there is little scope for ambiguity. Yes – I’m aware that he’s discussing life choices and attitudes and other related matters. This is not a poem that says his SatNav is broken and he’s trying to decide the best route home. This is a poem written with unerring clarity of intent.

Admittedly, if I chanced on two roads, I’d likely take the road that was well paved, had lighting and all the other creature comforts that I’ve come to enjoy in this century. Clearly not many people have wanted to go down the road less travelled by before. Chances are it’s a bit crappy down that way. But that’s not to take anything away from Frost’s poem.

The guy is a superb poet.

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