December 7, 2011

Robert Frost's "Reluctance" -- A Poem for this Season of the Year... and Life?

I'm often amazed and humbled by the erudition of the other members of my Parkinson's support group. At last week's meeting, the discussion prompted one of the members to recite  from memory the last stanza of a poem by Robert Frost. I liked it so much -- and the meaning seemed so perfectly aligned with our discussion -- that I made a note to look up the full poem when I got home.


-- Robert Frost

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
Reading this poem in early December, 2011 -- age 82, dealing with Parkinson's and cancer -- I find that it aptly describes what I see in my garden as winter approaches. But it also makes me consider my own "reluctance" to "bow and accept the end of a love or a season." I, too, have "climbed the hills of view and looked at the world, and descended." And like Frost, I've come home, but I'm not persuaded "it is ended." For me, it's not "reluctance" to accept this outcome. It's refusal.

Here's the line I particularly identify with:

The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Wither?" 


Philoctetes said...

Yes, it may seem heroic and admirable to fight the good fight against an incurable disease, to defy inevitable death, to go after that girl you really love even when she said ‘no!” and is now walking up the aisle to marry another man (remember “The Graduate”? OK, Dustin got her). In apparent synch with Frost, Dylan Thomas wrote:
"Do not go gentle into that good night,Old age should burn and rave at close of day;Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Yes, heroic. Does one dare speak against “heroic”?
Frost calls it a treason to the heart of man “to yield with a grace to reason.” Really? Isn’t graceful acceptance of reason--the truth, the reality of how things actually are--a hallmark of wisdom, and a gateway to serenity? Didn’t you say as much, John, when you shared your “Serenity Prayer” on your blog a few months ago?
We cannot believe the message in Frost’s “Reluctance” AND the “Serenity Prayer” at the same time, can we?

John said...

When my rambling remarks get me caught in a trap like this I invariably reply with my favorite Emerson quote.  This time I even went to the trouble of looking up the full quote which I like even more than the shortened version usually used.  So here's my reply:
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen, philosophers, and divines.