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Frost on Spring

04/06/07 12:00AM By Peter Gilbert
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(HOST) With spring more or less at hand, commentator Peter Gilbert has been thinking of Robert Frost's poem "A Prayer in Spring", which, he says, is about one of those beautiful spring days that doesn't just give you spring fever; it touches your heart and soul at the deepest level.

(GILBERT) Too often we have difficulty simply being in the present. And so in his poem "A Prayer in Spring", Robert Frost asks that he recognize the stunning beauty of spring and take pleasure in the present moment. He asks that he not think about the uncertain future harvest, as farmers invariably do - whether it'll be a good one or bad. He wants simply to take pleasure in the beauty of the moment.

Flowers abound, bees buzz, a hummingbird "thrusts in with needle bill." The apple orchard, with its white blossoms, looks, he says, "Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night." Isn't that a beautiful line: by day the orchard in bloom has a beauty all its own; in the dark of night, the trees look like ghosts. (I think of a painting by Marc Chagall -- dark blue, and dreamlike.)

Frost wrote the poem when he was a young man, perhaps thirty-two. As the title suggests, there's a spiritual -- but not necessarily strictly Christian side to the exuberance the poet feels at the beauty of spring. And there's a sensual side - the thrill he feels at nature's beauty unites with the love he feels for his beloved. Frost's wife, Elinor, is not far beneath the surface of many Frost poems, including this one.

The poem has four stanzas; it's the last stanza that's hardest to understand, particularly just hearing it once. My advice? Don't worry about it. Here's the poem:

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

When he says, in that last complex stanza, "For this is love and nothing else is love," he's referring to that love that comes from taking pleasure in nature's beauty, from participating joyfully in the springing of the year, and from the renewal of body and spirit that comes from that sanctified beauty. But what is Frost to do with this powerful feeling? Frost asserts that it falls to God to direct that love toward some purpose, and it falls to us to fulfill that purpose.

And so "A Prayer in Spring" is both a prayer and a love poem. It expresses a desire to be keenly aware of springs staggering beauty, to take pleasure in the present moment, and to leave the uncertain future to the future.

Peter Gilbert is executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council.


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