Immediately upon finishing yesterday’s blog entry I went upstairs to take a shower, such were my exertions and with some portion of my many in-laws due shortly for a cook-out, but I had hardly got naked before I heard my middle son observe, in a voice that spoke his disappointment with utmost clarity, “Oh, you are taking a shower.”
“Yes,” says I. “Is that a problem?”
“Well, I am itchy,” he says. “And I want to take a bath.”
I promised him I would shower more quickly than he thought possible and then he hung around to see if I would. And I did.
So he began drawing his bath while I shaved at the sink and, because he is nine, rather than get into the bath and let it fill up around him or, alternately, wait outside of the bath until it was full and then get in, he climbed up onto the lip of the tub, his two feet on one rail, one hand on the other, his belly button pointing toward the ceiling, and his free hand adjusting the water flow and periodically darting into the stream to test his adjustments.
He looked so funny there that, as I turned away from the sink to get the hand towel, I let the hilarity of the moment get hold of me and rather than dry my hands, I flicked the water toward him.
He recoiled and giggled gratifyingly and then scooped his hand into his bath water and flicked the excess back at me.
“Hey,” I said. “Hold on.”
“That,” he said, “is because you shot water at me.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but the difference is you’re just coming in and I’m already on my way out.”
The moment I said it, I was struck by how true that is on so many levels and I wished I’d thought of another way to put it.
But I didn’t. I said what I said and then dealt with the reverberations, which were powerful enough despite being confined to the space between my ears. Anyway, it was a minor event, barely a tremor, and I bring it up now just as an example of how sometimes poetry sneaks into life just in the course of things. It seems to me, we ought to accept that and just make the most of it when it happens.
Now I know that my blog, while not blessed with many readers, has the right few, so fine and discerning, that they will certainly have noticed several spots in yesterday’s entry that were lifted directly from the works of the man himself. It’s a mild sort of plagiarism to which I am prone and which I cannot entirely explain except to say that I so admire Mr. Frost’s work that sometimes I want to try on his language the way a fan of, oh, Audrey Hepburn might want to try on a little black dress and long cigarette holder. And when the mood strikes, it isn’t enough for me to simply use the same letters he uses or the same words even. Sometimes nothing will do but I must use the same phrases. And if I could find a way to use whole paragraphs or poems in their entirety, well, I would not be withheld.
In fact, it strikes me, thinking about yesterday’s entry, that Frost has actually made a poem that takes on the same subject and deals with it up and down and ties it up in the end rather better than I could hope to and, it has to be said, does so with far fewer words than I used. In fact, so much do I admire its clarity and originality of thought as well as its succinctness, its brevity, its restraint, its terse, laconic, pithiness and Yankee economy of phrasing that—aw hell, here it is:
The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap--
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all--
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart--
He saw all spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off--
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then--the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little--less--nothing!--and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
And, I guess, if that weren’t enough and you wanted to pick at the wound, you could go back and look at where Frost stole his title, from the king of downers himself, Mr. Macbeth, who, on learning of his wife’s death, lets loose with this bit of joy:
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Thank you, Mr. Shakespeare. You, yourself, rumor has it, were not above lifting a nice thought or a juicy plot from those who came before.
So theft is tradition, is the lesson here. Or else the lesson is that the thief always takes more words to resay the thing he stole. Or, maybe, the lesson is just that the human fear that life is an empty and pointless struggle is an idea that persists as persuasively as life itself.