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Parini: Vernal Pools

04/28/11 5:55PM By Jay Parini
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(HOST)  As April comes to a close, and spring advances, commentator Jay Parini has been contemplating the importance of poetry.

(PARINI) I’ve been reading Robert Frost’s poem A Servant to Servants, and there’s a line in there that means a lot to me: "The best way out is always through - no way out but through."

Life is complicated, in case you didn’t notice.  My wife and I often use a euphemism here; we say, "I think we’ve got a bit of a situation."  That’s code for saying: "We’re in for something."

We’re always in for something, but an old saying also holds true here: "In for a penny, in for a pound."  In other words, you can’t dip your toe into the waters of life.  You need to jump in.

I’ve been dancing around clichés here, except for the line by Frost.  And this is why we have poetry.  April is National Poetry Month, and every year at this time I begin to ask myself about the use of poetry.  Why do we bother?

I bother.  I write and read the stuff.  I read a lot of it, in fact.  And the poet I mostly read is Robert Frost, who lived in Vermont for a good part of his life.  I often wander in the woods behind his cabin in Ripton, and I think about him: the craggy-faced old man who had been through a great deal:  a difficult marriage, decades of near depression, the death of two young children, the suicide of his beloved son Carol, a daughter's death in childbirth, the madness of his sister and one of his daughters.  He was like Job, with countless personal tragedies: enough to bring a man down, as they say.

But he left behind a fat volume of poems that's a kind of secular Bible, full of country people, nature, wise sayings, turns of thought that give comfort and, perhaps more important, give pause.

Here’s a little one called Spring Pools that, in its way, says everything I’m trying to say - only better.  It’s a poem about looking into the mirrorlike pools that, in spring, gather below the trees in the forest.  They briefly reflect the sky and the flowers beside them.  But they disappear, not running away into brooks but sucked up through the leaves, bringing on the dark foliage of summer.

In other words, life is a process, a complicated one.  One state of being bleeds into or blends into another.  We know that in Vermont, as we see the shifting seasons, which mirror the seasons of life.  Here is Spring Pools -

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.
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