I always think that Robert Frost must have been somehow remembering—in some vague, inchoate way—Philip Freneau’s “The Wild Honey-Suckle” when he wrote “Spring Pools.” The form is very close: Freneau ends a six-line tetrameter stanza with a couplet; Frost begins a six-line pentameter stanza with a couplet. Freneau and Frost turn to weak rhymes, expressive of the shivery frailties of flowers, and both poets rhyme flower with power or powers. Freneau closes “The Wild Honey-Suckle" with this: From morning suns and evening dews / At first thy little being came: / If nothing once, you nothing lose, / For when you die you are the same; / The space between, is but an hour, / The frail duration of a flower."
In both poems, the flower is tied to the brevity of life. Powers are opposed to the flower: in one, autumn and the seeing death of nature; in the other, a more surprising move—the onrushing sweep of life. There will be more life, but the flowers and pools will be lost in its great pour:
These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods--
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.
The pools and flowers belong to that tenuous time when the Snow Queen’s grip on the land has loosened and the first brave flowers bloom. The simplicity—the tendency toward monosyllables, the parallelism (“And like the flowers beside them”/“Will like the flowers beside them”, “To darken”/“To blot”) the almost “total” lack of flowery ornament—save for the very appropriate use of antimetabole to describe a mirrored scene: “These flowery waters and these watery flowers.” The use of the antimetabole, the repetition of words in transposed order, means that all ends “in balance,” though it is a balance that will soon be gone. The last line reinforces that balance by returning to a regular metrical line.
This is no allegory, and yet we sense our parallels to these small shining pools and tiny flowers and are capable are feeling grief for their passage in a reading of the poem. The unthinking trees whose branches lend “defect” to the reflected sky loom above in dark patterns, their pent-up life about to break from the bough. Their powers will make a fantastic Black Forest of the land; they will annihilate and suck away the delicate life of pool and blossom. The force is over-bearing; they do not merely “blot out” but “blot out and drink up and sweep away.” Any one of these would do, but the heaping up stresses the utter blank and dark to come.
Instead of joining with the greater life of streams, the pools will be strained through roots and not transformed into darkness but lost there. The snows that melted yesterday have assisted the rule of winter, and the forest likewise is a great power. Flower and pool are but ephemeral: “frail duration.” Already ruffled by chill breezes, they will yield to the dark forces of death and destruction, their own lives taken that there might be more life.
"Spring Pools" came to mind last week. During a sunny day, the snow melted from the two flower beds next to the warm southern wall of the house. Underneath proved to be many yellow flowers, tightly closed, of aconite. Then it rained and mist rose up from the heaped banks of snow, and melting snow and rain puddled in the flower beds. And then I thought of Robert Frost’s “flowery waters” and “watery flowers.”
Addendum, March 26, 2:00 a.m.: Without thinking, I posted something about Frost yesterday--and here today it is his birthday.
UPDATE ON STORIES
Last night I sent off some stories, and this morning I woke up to find them accepted. I always find that sort of thing pleasing. Enthusiam is always dear. New forthcoming stories: "The Red King's Sleep" (continuing the Carroll motif of the last post) and "The Horse Angel" in Postcripts (U.K.) The "Sleep" takes that old chestnut "then I woke up and it was all a dream" and turns it inside-out and sideways. "The Horse Angel" began with an elderly neighbor here in Cooperstown, and I make use of her character, her house and handed-down possessions, and her marriage of 63 contented years. There are a lot of stories in the pipeline labeled forthcoming, and that is good because I have been devoting myself to poetry lately. Another forthcoming story (from the same editor as the two last, so I just found out about this one as well) is "Static," scheduled to come out this year in Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology, ed. Nick Gevers (U.K./U.S.: Solaris Books). Never had my innocent little mind turned to the thought of writing a steampunk story, but I had a splendid romp in the writing. Lots of steam as well as peculiar characters, an imprisoned young woman, perilous lightning, and some enlivening combustion.
I know. Haven't done them. Will do, honest. At least one or two. Soon.
Photograph credit: The "spring shot of Llantisilio churchyard with snowdrops" is courtesy of www.sxc.hu/ and "Plutarch" or Sandi Baker of "Chester, Cheshire, U. K." It's not in the woods, and it has no spring pools. But it has spring flowers and bare branches and more than a hint of time's passage.