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Ora sono ubriaco d'universo. (Ungaretti)

Notes On Frost’s "Hyla Brook"

Hyla Brook
Robert Frost

By June our brook’s run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)—
Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed,
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent
Even against the way its waters went.
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat—
A brook to none but who remember long.
This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.

Commentary:

I suppose formal criticism would ask, “How do we get from the first line to the last line? How does a brook being gone inform us that love exists, in an important sense, only in the present?”

Well, something is curious about this brook. It has been “sought for much” even after it has run out. By whom? I think we can assume our speaker is doing the seeking. He considers two possibilities for where the brook has gone: 1. It has gone groping underground, taking with it life that makes itself manifest in a joyful noise, & 2. It has gone underground, but come up again, this time in lousy plant life that the wind throws around.

What do we make of these two possibilities? They’re both bleak, obviously. And both speak to the lack of volume of water. It is the volume of water that allows for animal life to congregate. It is the volume of water that allows for resistance against the wind. (Frost is very subtle about his baptism imagery – cf. “The Pasture.” Also, in “The Pasture,” note how companionship and a baptism reference are tied. One person alone does not baptize.)

The water was there in the Spring, that time of love. Now it has taken the music of nature – something we lovers pay far too much attention to – away. And if it is still around, it is only manifest in something weaker: mere plants, plants, that like thoughts, proliferate after a failed relationship, but are useless against the moods that are like the wind, against the circumstances that are like the wind.

“A faded paper sheet of dead leaves stuck together by the heat” reminds us that this poem exists, that the writer/speaker has remembered, and remembered what the brook was, and what its full significance was. Those who see the brook now could not possibly believe the magic of what went on there once. But the writer preserves the best of times, even when the heart aches. And hence “We love the things we love for what they are” – this brook only truly mattered when it existed. The writer remembers it because love was there, not because the “brook” is anything now. One wonders, if love is indeed sacred, about the temporality of the divine.

3 Comments

  1. Really enjoying your commentaries on these 2 Robert Frost poems, as well as a few of the Emily Dickenson poems. I’ll be back to read more later. Thanks :]

  2. Thanks for your observations. You helped me see the poem from an angle that I was totally missing but that makes much more sense to me.

  3. Not where the brook has gone, where the Hylla (treefrog) has gone.

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