Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Leaf Treader

I've always been partial to the poetry of Robert Frost. I keep a well-thumbed anthology of his work close at hand. Many of his poems evoke not just an emotional, but a physical response in me, a fullness in the throat, a tightness in the chest.

Frost's images of nature are never as straightforward as they seem. They are plain and spare, yet glisten like prisms. No matter how many times I have read them, each new reading reveals previously unexplored nuances.

The past two days have been cold. The temperature has dropped well below freezing each night, and with the cold came a wind which stripped most of the trees of their leaves overnight. The grass is covered with layers of leaves. The first verse of the Frost poem "A Leaf Treader" comes to mind as the cat and I wade through the drifts.

"I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn-tired.
God knows all the color and form of leaves I have trodden on and mired.
Perhaps I have put forth too much strength and been too fierce from fear.
I have safely trodden under the leaves of another year."

Over the years Frost has said many things to me through these lines. He equates the life cycle of the leaf with his own life. He cries out that he has triumphed by surviving while the leaves have died. But the knowledge that his life is as ephemeral as that of the leaves disturbs and frightens him.

The acknowledgment of death is a recurring theme in Frost's poetry. But he also acknowledges the daily struggles we have with ourselves. He concludes the poem with these lines:

"They spoke to the fugitive in my heart as if it were leaf to leaf.
They tapped at my eyelids and touched my lips with an invitation to grief.
But it was no reason I had to go because they had to go.
Now up to my knee to keep on top of another year of snow."

Sometimes it is our own deeds which touch us with an invitation to grief. What do we do when we are made fierce by fear? If we aren't mindful we may attack others and ourselves. Afterwards we regret it, but there is no way back.

Frost's words came alive to me once more as I trod the fallen leaves today. Thankfully, even when we tarnish a day with grief we can look forward to tomorrow's clean slate, and the chance to continue the process of transformation from closed and fearful to open-hearted and joyous.

1 comment:

Ely said...

Well reasoned and analyzed.