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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Number 51: Robert Frost "Choose Something Like A Star"

Choose Something Like a Star

O Star (the fairest one in sight), 

We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night, 

Since dark is what brings out your light. 

Some mystery becomes the proud.

But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn 

By heart and when alone repeat. 

Say something! And it says "I burn." 

But say with what degree of heat. 

Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade. 

Use language we can comprehend. 

Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid, 

But does tell something in the end. 

And steadfast as Keats' Eremite, 

Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height, 

So when at times the mob is swayed 

To carry praise or blame too far, 

We may choose something like a star 

To stay our minds on and be staid.
-- Robert Frost

Hap Notes: Since we just had Auden's "star poem" here's Frost's take on the star, which in some ways is very similar to Auden. Except in the case of Frost, he's telling us that this distance between us and a star is what gives it the qualities we most enjoy. A case could be made like this for Auden's poem, too, really. Auden, though, is not afraid of the dark.

Frost rarely pulls his punches with his symbols, i.e. they seem to be fairly simple to sort. Light is good, dark is not-so-good (although in "Design" that's not exactly true.) That sort of thing. So people often mistakenly figure they "get" the poem. This is Frost's craftiness at its best because just "getting" the top two layers of the poem leaves the reader with the idea that Frost's simple statements are well-worn, charmingly expressed homilies. Go deeper into Frost, always, after the first few readings. He's got some time bombs in the poem and this one is no exception.

Already in the first verses we get a whiff of what's to come. "Some mystery becomes the proud," implies that the star is above us both literally and figuratively. Who else is thought to be above and over humans, we wonder. God, maybe? It's amusing to hear Frost yelling at this star- speak up, tell us something! Why will you not speak to us in language we can understand? It's frustrating. No need to point out the god-like reference there, eh?

The reference to "Keats' eremite" is to the poem "Bright Star, Would I Were Steadfast" where Keats compares a star to a Christian recluse or hermit, one who has taken vows to be contemplative. Keats says in his poem that stars are steadfast, faithful, immovable.

In the end Frost says we need to choose "something" like a star to keep us steady. People need their gods-- it's good to have "something" over us to keep us on the mark. Sure, the poem says that.

But look deeper. Just for a minute. You can look away, then. Frost wants you to look away- he lets us back out of this one fact: it does tell us something by telling us nothing. Yikes! Let's go back to those first two layers quickly before we get too freaked out. Because we're just looking at this "thing" that comes out in times of darkness. We see it then only. It says nothing back to us except "I burn" and "I'm up higher than you." Hmmm, that's not much of a god, is it?

The sun is a star isn't it? Why do we not choose to stay our minds with it? Because it's not a time of darkness. We don't need it. We pick the "fairest one in site" whatever or whomever your god may be. It may be slightly difficult to understand (obscured by clouds) and that's okay. But we need its light in the darkness. Frost is sort of telling us that we choose "something" to steady us that is "above" us when we need to get away from the "sway" (not steadfast or steady) of the mob- whether they are praising or blaming. We purposefully choose an indifferent mysterious "thing" we can look on with safety. Then we can interpret this proud, burning, indifferent thing anyway we need when it's dark for us.

And it certainly doesn't say much for people who are a part of that "mob." Sometimes it's almost as if Frost is saying "Look at the shiny thing!" as though dangling a set of keys in front of a baby. Choose "something" like a star, not someONE.

And remember he says, "it will not do to say of night," i.e. how did we get to the darkness in our lives so that we needed the star? Why are we in the dark-- so that we will go to the star? Kinda sadistic, ain't it?

Once, again. Not much of a god. You can go back to the top two layers of this poem, if you like. It's still a very good poem that way.

Always good to remember that Frost said he had a "lover's quarrel" with the world. Feel a little better now? He's a lover.

Here's where we've talked about Frost before if you want to review:

1 comment:

  1. Sooooo helpful! I'm writing a paper on Frost and exactly what he was implying in Choose Something Like a Star, this is the best explanation I've found!