Robert Frost at the Inauguration
Of JFK, Jan. 20, 1961. (As he was
Installed as Poet Laureate.)
I saw the gaunt, lined face
With craggy brows, troubled silver hair
The puzzled peering eyes fight back
The tears born of the wintry chill.
There he stood before the world
From his platform where the wind
Kept whipping at his rueful pages
While he groped for old familiar words,
With voice that fumbled on the lines
He knew so well, and all the while
Those knowing, “North of Boston,”
“Boys’ Ways” swinging birch boughs,
“Two Roads” and the “Woods at Night”,
Awaited, and a brand new President
Behind him leaning forward
As though to prompt encouragement.
The voice found sound.
“We were the land’s before the land was ours”..
He fought the tears but then
With breaking voice he turned
Finding the struggle just too much,
“I can’t see to read this any more.”
Folded his papers and slowly turned away.
Here where the morning mists arise
Above the ice-splashed winding river,
I hear the leader’s sound
Vibrant, exultant end the echo call
Of the vanguard in the wedge.
Here where the marshland makes a fringe
For mountain shadows, here they come
Clamoring for the northern reach,
For Alberta’s welcome plains
The old-time home, so well-remembered.
Returning to ancestral nests
To start again the pulsing life strain
Of these dauntless masters of the air,
Winged arrowheads of feathered grace
Keep full the cycle of migration awe.
Now the rising mists have cleared
I had no sight of them but knew
They passed this way; that Spring
Has come and all is well.
[“One swallow does not make a summer” but one skein of geese clearing the murk of a Marsh thaw, is the Spring.” Leopold]
When all his fellows had gone by,
I saw this straggler in a tree,
Plain black and white against the sky:
Heard him sing exultingly
“The other warblers left last week
You see I’m really quite unique,
Last in the Spring; last in the Fall
I am the vanguard of them all”.
[“I think we were sorry to see the Blackpoll (as he) “forms the rear guard of the northward parade of the spring warblers” e.w.teale, “Circle of the Seasons” May 14th P. 94.
The Blackpoll delays into June before leaving the area south of the breeding range—Again in the Fall the Bp. seems loath to leave, waiting behind the other warblers. He does not leave the northern states before October. L.M. Nelson, Birds of America, Sect. 3, p. 137.]
This is the sight I thrill to most of all,
A rising cavalcade of wings,
Triggered by a hidden leader’s call
The feeding flock of pipers springs
Up in frantic tousled flight
Close ranks, then whilst in unison
Flashing patterns black and white
Climb up to brush against the sun,
The signature of Spring spelled out
In vibrant letters on an April sky.
I watched them with no room for doubt.
Come October they will spell “good-bye.”
These things the Lord made plenty of,
Weeds, sparrows and the myriad poor.
And in His special way His love
Has seemed to make them all secure.
Ignored by gentry these unwanted three
Bid well to cover all the earth,
A hardy vibrant trilogy,
His saving grace their own true worth.
[The hardiest perennials in the vegetable kingdom are the weeds, one of which our Lord called “the lilies of the field”; Of the birds he named only the sparrows; of the world he said, “The poor you shall have with you always.”]
[While the term “Sparrow” is an English root “Spearive,” The bird of Israel must have been a small common type. I am not sure that our common House, or English sparrow existed in Palestine in our Lord’s time. The name is apt.]
LAMENT FOR A GARDEN
I do not have the grace of some
Whose magic touch makes all things bloom,
Mine is a different colored thumb
And in my garden there is room
For filling where some plants have died.
They all elude my tender care,
Sweet Baby’s breath and hardy phlox,
But for the one thing I have a flair,
My rock garden’s full of rocks
A salvage for my waning pride.
But I’m a gardener with a will,
Each failing plant gives way to hope,
And so I keep on planting still
And like my buried seed I hope
For flowering and Lord knows I tried.
Ah sin sits before his orchard gates
And looks so very wise,
And as Ah Sin sits there and waits
There comes before his eyes
The vision of his long past youth,
The pleasures he had known
And he who only speaks of truth
Recalls the wild plums sown.
The village folk who see him there
Dare not disturb his reverie.
The wise one with the studied air
Does not encourage company.
“He thinks upon the ancient ways,”
Each villager agrees
“For he is wise and full of years,”
As Ah Sin counts his trees.
SEQUEL TO: “A TREE”
I thought the story had been told
Of my boyhood maple tree
But now I find I must unfold
The epilogue that you may see
What time has wrought and how
The unkind years and nature too
Conspired against my tree, and now
It brings a sorry sight to view.
A photo taken recently
Shows a torn off upper part
Of what should be maturity.
A half tree lanced by lightning dart.
Despite the grievous wound it grows
Sturdy, vibrant, heartwood sound
Aged, infirm, it proudly shows
Its leafy greenness all around.
Sometimes I thought it must have died.
Would be no wonder if it had,
But it lives on still sound inside
And somehow I am glad.
Most anthropologists agree
That twenty million years ago
A monkey clambered down a tree
And started all this human show.
Accompanied by, no doubt, a she.
But there’s one thing I’d like to know,
The theory’s not quite clear
When their companions saw them go
Did all the other monkeys cheer?
Perhaps they saw the awful fate
These later years would bring,
Preferred by far their own estate
And went back to their swing.
Now when a monkey stares at me
From his refuge in a zoo,
A faint resemblance I can see,
He could be me or you.
Except that on that fateful day
Some twenty million years ago
His ancestor said he would stay
While ours chirped up, “I’ll go.”
Which one made the better choice?
Maybe we’ll never know.
MONKEY MAN #2
Too bad we didn’t have a voice
Back twenty million years ago.
But maybe it is just as well
No choice was left to me
The way I choose things – what the hell
I’d likely still be up a tree.
Of curving sand,
This principal beach,
This glacial land
Blue sky above
Wide ocean view
I come to love
Tho lately, true
This narrow land.
The wind clipped pines
Huddled in leeward dunes
Trailing branches, tracing lines
In restless sand; and the tunes
The south wind brings
Softer than the grey gulls wings,
Respite from the winter knife
Pruning all green struggling life.
Stunted trees that seem to know
There is always time to grow,
Lean against the wind and sigh
There is always time to die.
[The dwarf pine of the outer Cape described by Edwin May Teale, “North
with the Spring,” which I have seen at Calhoun’s Hollow. Trees barely two
feet tall, yet often fifteen to twenty years old.]
Along an old New Hampshire road
We sped, that bright and sunny day,
When suddenly I heard explode
A blur of brown and black and gray
From out the wayside brush.
I had no chance to swerve or slow
My auto’s hurtling rush.
Then came the fatal blow.
My car window showed me then
Wild tumbling feathers of a bird
That would not rise to wing again,
Whose drumming would no more be heard.
I stopped, went back, for a feather or two
which now rest here in my house
Still give a sad remembrance view
Though they looked better on the grouse.
[On a trip to Jaffrey a few years ago on a visit to Dick, along route 124 near Jaffrey, we had the above experience. I kept the feathers until today, when I decided to mount them since I could not salvage the grouse.]
I’ve harvested my yesterdays
Except for one small plot
I somehow hope to raise,
But then like as not
I’ll not be round for reaping.
Stuff ain’t worth much any more
So there seems no point to keeping
Goods you can’t sell at the store.
But there still will come a day
I’ll have to pay the cost
For all the ones I threw away,
For others I have lost.
My sorry crop cannot compare
With others bright and new
I only hope that at the Fair
The Judge will give a kindly view.
I know I’ll never win a prize
At that last convention,
I’d even view with great surprise
A word of favored mention.
I have no winter crops to sow,
No frosty chores that cannot wait
Till all the world is clear of snow,
So I’ll just sit and hibernate.
Let the farmer mind his farm
And till his latest furrow,
I’ll find a spot all snug and warm
To shame a hedgehog’s burrow.
I’ll venture out doors now and then,
Catch the nice days when they come,
Just to watch the busy men
Make the work wheels spin and hum.
When I tire of this diversion
And I hear the sleigh bells ring
I’ll revert to my conversion,
Safely snooze again till spring.
I saw October’s golden flame
Slowly growing up the hill,
And merely scorching oaks.
But maples make prime targets
Tall sumach rush to fiery red,
Birches show a yellow fright
While silvered deadwood snags
Immune, display their skeletons.
They have been through all this before.
I have to see some friends of mine
Each morning at the garden fence.
They keep sharp watch from six to nine
To see the snow of crumbs commence.
They show some very human traits,
Self preservation is the rule.
That nothing comes to him who waits,
A lesson learned well at their school.
Nor do they lack a certain guile, –
One swiftly breaks from out the pack,
The others scatter for a while
Then comes alarmist, first one back.
The bully bird exploits the weak
Not chancing on direct assault,
Grabs purloined crumbs with greedy beak,
The loser gives up by default.
And some again resort to stealth
Disdaining all the fare that’s near,
Feast on the almost hidden wealth
Of crumbs dropped at my rear.
FEEDING TIME #2
I guess because I know them well
(I think it’s always true with friends)
He learned it well, the Prodigal,
Deserted when the feeding ends.
I’m going to buy
A scarlet tree
And even try
My luck and see
If it will grow,
So small a thing
Will winter’s snow
Nurse it till spring
And make it green
With warming rain
Till autumn’s scene
Turns red again?
[I bought a Burning Bush to plant in back of St. Francis’ shrine, but gave it to Phil, and
planted instead a red beech sapling we dug up together with a maple, on a lot off Long Road.]
DREAM OF SPRING
November’s chill is yet a month away,
October nights no hint of snowstorm bring.
Each northern barn still holds its dusty sleigh,
And yet my soul keeps yearning for next spring.
The winter months are yet to come I know.
The icy North wind’s bound to have his fling
And make our world a prisoner of snow,
But vaulting over this I come to spring.
I’ve had too many winters anyhow
And missed too many months that sing.
But calendars have little meaning now.
I’ll close my eyes and dream a while till spring.
These are the last entries in our family collection of Ray (C ) Philip Harding’s poems. In hind-sight it would be too easy to read some sense of heightened mortality in some of these lines. He had a history of heart problems going back to 1955 and family were often focused on any signs or symptoms that he might be in danger of another heart attack. No one knows for sure what he was experiencing during those years.
He complained simply of not feeling well one October evening and of having pains in his stomach. He went to lie down on the living room couch but things got worse. An ambulance came to take him to St.Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, MA. He apparently died on the way from a ruptured aortic aneurysm, October 25, 1965.
photo by Laura N (Harding) Tallen