Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Come In" by Robert Frost

Robert Frost (1874-1963) is perhaps America's best loved poet. In popular perception he is the poet of the countryside and his poetry is indeed full of serene, bucolic imagery of strolls in woods, singing birds and majestic night skies. I too, long enjoyed Frost as a quintessential "nature" poet who evoked in me all the charm and beauty of the timeless New England landscape.

But that was until Joseph Brodsky opened my eyes to a completely different Frost, one who Brodsky quotes Lionel Trilling describe as a "terrifying poet". Joseph Brodsky was a Russian poet and essayist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. I have mentioned his collection of critical essays titled "On Grief and Reason" in a post before. The title essay is a discussion of two of Frost's well-known poems,"Come In" and "Home Burial". In this essay Brodsky persuasively shows Frost's remarkably dark vision and his contention that "nature for this poet is neither friend nor foe, nor is it the backdrop for human drama; it is this poet's terrifying self-portrait." I wish I could link to the entire essay as it is the best piece on Frost I have ever read but unfortunately it does not seem to be available on the web. I would encourage all those interested in Frost or poetry to find a printed copy of Brodsky's essay. It is well worth a read.

Here is the poem, "Come In", which appeared in the 1942 collection "A Witness Tree":

"Come In"

As I came to the edge of the woods,
Thrush music -- hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
Inside it was dark.

Too dark in the woods for a bird
By sleight of wing
To better its perch for the night,
Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush's breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went --
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars;
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked;
And I hadn't been.

And here are some fragments of commentary by Brodsky about this poem:

When a twentieth century poet starts a poem with finding himself at the edge of the woods there is a reasonable element of danger -or, at least a faint suggestion of it. The edge, in its very self, is sufficiently sharp.
In "Too dark in the woods for a bird," a bird, alias bard, scrutinizes "the woods" and finds them too dark. "Too" here echoes-no! harks back to - Dante's opening lines in The Divine Comedy: our bird/bard's assessment of that selva differs from the great Italian's. To put it plainly, the afterlife is darker for Frost than it is for Dante. The question is why, and the answer is either because he disbelieves in the whole thing or because his notion of himself makes him, in his mind, slated for damnation.
Still, should you choose to read "Come In" as a nature poem, you are perfectly welcome to it. I suggest, though, that you take a longer look at the title. The twenty lines of the poem constitute, as it were, the title's translation. And in this translation, I am afraid, the expression "come in" means "die".

Friday, September 05, 2008

Relentless Republican Hypocrisy Gets the Jon Stewart Treatment

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert can't change ugly politics in this country but at least they make it fun to watch.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Ahmed Faraz Dies in Islamabad

On August 25th, the celebrated Urdu poet Ahmed Faraz died in Islamabad at age 77 after a protracted illness. In Faraz Sahib not only have we lost an excellent ghazal poet but a courageous and honorable man whose consistent stance against Pakistani dictatorships will never be forgotten. He opposed military rule whether it came in the guise of a ruthless Islamist like Zia-ul-Haq or a self proclaimed "moderate" like Musharraf. To his credit he saw through veneers and opposed authoritarianism which has been the scourge of the Pakistani state since independence. As a poet he has long been acknowledged as one of the masters of modern Urdu ghazal but his return of the Hilal-e-Imtiaz in 2006 (Pakistan's highest civilian honor) as a protest against Musharraf's authoritarian rule once again demonstrated his lifelong commitment to the primacy of human rights and dignity.

Rest in peace Faraz Sahib.

Ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhaane ke liye aa
Aa phir se mujhe chor ke jaane ke liye aa

Ik umr se hooN lazzat-e-girya se bhi mehroom
Aye rahat-e-jaaN mujh ko rulaane ke liye aa

Dawn had an obituary on Faraz Sahib the day after his death written by Mushir Anwar which sadly lifted several passages directly from Wikipedia (hat tip: Abbas Raza). However, today's New York Times also has an obituary by Haresh Pandya which despite some elemantary errors does a good job of suveying Faraz Sahib's life (e.g. Urdu poets whose work is both read and sung are not rare). I can always count on 3quarksdaily and the Raza family for wonderfully original content on Urdu literati. Today, there is a simple but lovely remembrance by Atiya Batool Khan on Faraz Sahib. (Azra Raza's appreciation of Qurratulain Hyder that appeared on 3QD in August last year is one of the best personal pieces written about Aini Apa in English that I can find.)

To remember Faraz Sahib what better way than to listen to the above mentioned "Ranjish hi sahi" beautifully sung by the inimitable Mehdi Hasan Sahib, the virtual creator of modern semi-classical ghazal singing.