I don’t know why it made me happy to see the pond ice over in a day, turning first hazy, then white. Or why I was glad when the thermometre read twenty-four below, and I came back to bed – the pillows cold, as if I had not been there two minutes before. ~Jane Kenyon “The Cold”
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you? Matthew 25:44
A jay settled on a branch, making it sway. The one shriveled fruit that remained gave way to the deepening drift below. I happened to see it the moment it fell. . Dusk is eager and comes early. A car creeps over the hill. Still in the dark I try to tell if I am numbered with the damned, who cry, outraged, Lord, when did we see You? ~Jane Kenyon “Apple Dropping Into Deep Early Snow”
I have reservoirs of want enough to freeze many nights over. ~Conor O’Callaghan from “January Drought”
Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor 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 “Fire and Ice”
How sad to think we have a choice of destruction – between the ashes of a cataclysmic fire or the frozen immobility of a block of ice with breath trapped in bubbles rather than lungs.
There is nothing left from charred remains nor can life exist in a safe suspension awaiting melt.
How outrageous we forget – others matter to God, He who embodies the least of these: the hungry, the thirsty, the ill, the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned.
We’re called to thaw without scorching, give ourselves without resentment, find God present even when we wish to hide from him.
May it be we breathe deeply when the ice around us melts.
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Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep. ~Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost
I wish one could press snowflakes in a book like flowers. ~James Schuyler from “February 13, 1975”
When a January night lingers long, beginning too early and lasting too late, I find myself in my own insistent winter, wanting to hide away from trouble deep in a peaceful snowy woods, knowing I choose to avoid doing what is needed when it is needed.
I look inward when I must focus outside myself. I muffle my ears to deafen voices crying in need. I turn away rather than meet a stranger’s gaze.
A wintry soul is a cold and empty place, not lovely, dark and deep.
I appeal to my Creator who knows my darkness. He expects me to keep my promises because He keeps His promises. His buds of hope and warmth and color and fruit will arise from my bare branches.
He brings me out of the night to finish what He brought me here to do.
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Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day, I paused and said, ‘I will turn back from here. No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.’ The hard snow held me, save where now and then One foot went through. The view was all in lines Straight up and down of tall slim trees Too much alike to mark or name a place by So as to say for certain I was here Or somewhere else: I was just far from home. A small bird flew before me. He was careful To put a tree between us when he lighted, And say no word to tell me who he was Who was so foolish as to think what he thought. He thought that I was after him for a feather— The white one in his tail; like one who takes Everything said as personal to himself. One flight out sideways would have undeceived him. And then there was a pile of wood for which I forgot him and let his little fear Carry him off the way I might have gone, Without so much as wishing him good-night. He went behind it to make his last stand. It was a cord of maple, cut and split And piled—and measured, four by four by eight. And not another like it could I see. No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it. And it was older sure than this year’s cutting, Or even last year’s or the year’s before. The wood was gray and the bark warping off it And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle. What held it though on one side was a tree Still growing, and on one a stake and prop, These latter about to fall. I thought that only Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks Could so forget his handiwork on which He spent himself, the labor of his ax, And leave it there far from a useful fireplace To warm the frozen swamp as best it could With the slow smokeless burning of decay. ~Robert Frost, “The Wood-pile” from North of Boston
My labor is usually done with fervor and purpose, but there are times when I do not experience the fruits of my labor. It is left to smolder slowly to decay rather than provide the intended warmth and nurture of a fresh hearthfire.
I might have chosen a different way to go if I had known.
Perhaps I will simply follow the birds instead…
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…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 traveled by, And that has made all the difference. ~Robert Frost from “The Road Not Taken”
Two lonely cross-roads that themselves cross each other I have walked several times this winter without meeting or overtaking so much as a single person on foot or on runners. The practically unbroken condition of both for several days after a snow or a blow proves that neither is much travelled.
Judge then how surprised I was the other evening as I came down one to see a man, who to my own unfamiliar eyes and in the dusk looked for all the world like myself, coming down the other, his approach to the point where our paths must intersect being so timed that unless one of us pulled up we must inevitably collide. I felt as if I was going to meet my own image in a slanting mirror. Or say I felt as we slowly converged on the same point with the same noiseless yet laborious stride as if we were two images about to float together with the uncrossing of someone’s eyes. I verily expected to take up or absorb this other self and feel the stronger by the addition for the three-mile journey home.
But I didn’t go forward to the touch. I stood still in wonderment and let him pass by; and that, too, with the fatal omission of not trying to find out by a comparison of lives and immediate and remote interests what could have brought us by crossing paths to the same point in a wilderness at the same moment of nightfall. Some purpose I doubt not, if we could but have made out.
I like a coincidence almost as well as an incongruity. ~Robert Frost from “Selected Letters”
Robert Frost noted in different letters and lectures how readers misinterpreted his popular, yet ironic, “The Road Not Taken” poem. His point was not “the road less traveled” had “made all the difference” but that the roads are clearly described as the same. When life takes us to a fork in the road, we are compelled to make decisions that must take us one way or the other with little to guide us. We are uncertain where our choices may lead us, or if we have made the right choice.
I’ve come to many decision points in my life where I have simply had to “go with my gut.” Some of these turned out to be good decisions and other times I have had deep regret about my choice and wish I could go back and do it differently. But “way leads to way” and there is no going back for a do-over.
I have chosen roads that lead me astray into hazards and obstacles; God continually puts up signposts that have guided me home to safety. My journey may be arduous, I may get terribly lost, I may walk alone for long stretches, I may end up crushed and bleeding in the ditch.
God follows the footprints I have left behind, and I am found, rescued and brought home, no matter what, and that — not the road I chose at the beginning — is what has made all the difference.
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I find my greatest freedom on the farm. I can be a bad farmer or a lazy farmer and it’s my own business. A definition of freedom: It’s being easy in your harness. ~Robert Frost in 1954, at a news conference on the eve of his 80th birthday
The past was faded like a dream; There come the jingling of a team, A ploughman’s voice, a clink of chain, Slow hoofs, and harness under strain. Up the slow slope a team came bowing, Old Callow at his autumn ploughing, Old Callow, stooped above the hales, Ploughing the stubble into wales. His grave eyes looking straight ahead, Shearing a long straight furrow red; His plough-foot high to give it earth To bring new food for men to birth.
O wet red swathe of earth laid bare, O truth, O strength, O gleaming share, O patient eyes that watch the goal, O ploughman of the sinner’s soul. O Jesus, drive the coulter deep To plough my living man from sleep…
At top of rise the plough team stopped, The fore-horse bent his head and cropped. Then the chains chack, the brasses jingle, The lean reins gather through the cringle, The figures move against the sky, The clay wave breaks as they go by. I kneeled there in the muddy fallow, I knew that Christ was there with Callow, That Christ was standing there with me, That Christ had taught me what to be, That I should plough, and as I ploughed My Saviour Christ would sing aloud, And as I drove the clods apart Christ would be ploughing in my heart, Through rest-harrow and bitter roots, Through all my bad life’s rotten fruits.
Lo, all my heart’s field red and torn, And Thou wilt bring the young green corn, And when the field is fresh and fair Thy blessed feet shall glitter there, And we will walk the weeded field, And tell the golden harvest’s yield, The corn that makes the holy bread By which the soul of man is fed, The holy bread, the food unpriced, Thy everlasting mercy, Christ. ~John Masefield from The Everlasting Mercy
We shoulder much burden in the pursuit of happiness and freedom, worth every ounce of sweat, every sore muscle, every drop of blood, every tear.
Our heart land is plowed, yielding to the plowshare digging deep with the pull of the harness. The furrow should be straight and narrow.
We are tread upon yet still bloom; we are turned upside down yet still produce bread.
The plowing under brings freshness to the surface, a new face upturned to the cleansing dew, knots of worms now making fertile our simple dust.
Plow deep our hearts this day of celebrating freedom, Dear Lord. This is the day of rest You made for us and let us remember to worship You, and not ourselves.
May we plow, sow, grow, and harvest what is needed to feed your vast and hungry children everywhere.
No speed of wind or water rushing by But you have speed far greater. You can climb Back up a stream of radiance to the sky, And back through history up the stream of time. And you were given this swiftness, not for haste Nor chiefly that you may go where you will, But in the rush of everything to waste, That you may have the power of standing still- Off any still or moving thing you say. Two such as you with such a master speed Cannot be parted nor be swept away From one another once you are agreed That life is only life forevermore Together wing to wing and oar to oar ~Robert Frost “Master Speed”
All at once I saw what looked like a Martian spaceship whirling towards me in the air. It flashed borrowed light like a propeller. Its forward motion greatly outran its fall. As I watched, transfixed, it rose, just before it would have touched a thistle, and hovered pirouetting in one spot, then twirled on and finally came to rest. I found it in the grass; it was a maple key, a single winged seed from a pair. Hullo. I threw it into the wind and it flew off again, bristling with animate purpose, not like a thing dropped or windblown, pushed by the witless winds of convection currents hauling round the world’s rondure where they must, but like a creature muscled and vigorous, or a creature spread thin to that other wind, the wind of the spirit which bloweth where it listeth, lighting, and raising up, and easing down. O maple key, I thought, I must confess I thought, o welcome, cheers.
And the bell under my ribs rang a true note, a flourish as of blended horns, clarion, sweet, and making a long dim sense I will try at length to explain. Flung is too harsh a word for the rush of the world. Blown is more like it, but blown by a generous, unending breath. That breath never ceases to kindle, exuberant, abandoned; frayed splinters spatter in every direction and burgeon into flame. And now when I sway to a fitful wind, alone and listing, I will think, maple key. When I see a photograph of earth from space, the planet so startlingly painterly and hung, I will think, maple key. When I shake your hand or meet your eyes I will think, two maple keys. If I am a maple key falling, at least I can twirl. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
(Happy birthday to Annie today — her 76th !)
I think a lot about wings — particularly when I’m sitting belted in a seat looking out at them bouncing in turbulence, marveling at how they keep hundreds of people and an entire aircraft miles above ground.
Wings, no matter what they belong to, are marvelous structures that combine strength and lift and lightness and expanse and mobility, with the ability to rise up and ease back to earth.
And so ideally I am blown rather than flung through my fitful windy days, rising and falling as those thin veined wings guide me, twirling, swirling as I fall, oh so slowly, to settle, planted.
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today; And give us not to think so far away As the uncertain harvest; keep us here All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white, Like nothing else by day, like ghosts at night; And make us happy in the happy bees, The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird That suddenly above the bees is heard, The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love, The which it is reserved for God above To sanctify to what far ends He will, But which it only needs that we fulfil. ~Robert Frost“A Prayer in Spring”
We are wisely warned what may happen in the next few months: a second or third wave of virus, more disruption, more closures, more deaths. There seems no end in sight on this long COVID road. Or perhaps the end is prematurely near for too many.
Thinking so far away to uncertain times ahead, we need to remember the future has always been uncertain; we just aren’t reminded so starkly. Instead we are reminded to dwell in the present here and now, appreciating these quiet moments at home for what they may bestow.
The earth is springing even while our hearts are weary of distancing and isolation. Each breath is filled with new fragrance, the greens startlingly verdant, each blossom heavy with promise.
There is reassurance in this renewal we witness yet again.
This, now, is love springing. This is His love, reminding us He has not abandoned us. This is love and nothing else can be as certain as that.
You come to fetch me from my work to-night When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see If I can leave off burying the white Soft petals fallen from the apple tree. (Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite, Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea); And go along with you ere you lose sight Of what you came for and become like me, Slave to a springtime passion for the earth. How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed On through the watching for that early birth When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed, The sturdy seedling with arched body comes Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs. ~Robert Frost “Putting in the Seed”
The garden is ready; the soil turned over, the compost mixed in, rototilled to a fine crown. Next will come the laying out of strings, the trench hoed straight, the seed laid one by one in the furrow and covered gently with a light touch.
Then the sun warms and showers moisten, the seeds awaken to push upward, bold and abrupt, wanting to know the touch of sky and air to leaf and leap and bloom and bear.
…leave me a little love, A voice to speak to me in the day end, A hand to touch me in the dark room Breaking the long loneliness. In the dusk of day-shapes Blurring the sunset, One little wandering, western star Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow. Let me go to the window, Watch there the day-shapes of dusk And wait and know the coming Of a little love. ~Carl Sandburg from “At a Window”
Now close the windows and hush all the fields; If the trees must, let them silently toss; No bird is singing now, and if there is, Be it my loss.
I will be long ere the marshes resume, It will be long ere the earliest bird: So close the windows and not hear the wind, But see all wind-stirred. ~Robert Frost “Now Close the Windows”
Everything looks a little different framed by a window. We are set apart, looking out, rather than immersed within the landscape ourselves.
It is not unlike being in an art museum, walking past masterpieces that offer a framed view into another time and place, with people we don’t know and will never meet.
Let me go to the windows, moving through the house and peering out at the glory that awaits beyond the frame. But rather than simply admire the view, protected from the chill wind, I’ll walk out the door into the life that pulses continually beyond the glass.