Man oh man. Robert Frost can really bring it, can’t he?
There’s a reason he is one of the 20th century’s most celebrated poets – while this is not as famous as “The Wall” or “The Road Less Traveled” or “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” this poem too had impact and depth and meaning.
It’s almost a shame that it’s set to a hymn tune.
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.
Now why on earth would I say that? Especially when it’s a lovely tune, one I love, that has its own tinge of melancholy (which is apparently something I am drawn to). For the record: I adore the Coolidge tune.
However: what I know about hymn singing is that the song moves right along. Hymns don’t meander, so we don’t get a chance to ponder the lyrics we’re singing, that is even if we notice them at all (I am convinced that while the lyrics are important, if a singer is learning the tune, the lyrics are just syllables, and the meaning goes right by). And these lyrics especially beg to be noticed.
And herein lies the problem – this poem is written in four equal verses, making it easy to set to a hymn tune. But I wish it wasn’t, because there is a masterful build in the poem that takes us into nature, deeper and deeper, and then POW! “For this is love, and nothing else is love.” We don’t need quite yet to move on to the next powerful phrase of the verse, we need to sit with that for a bit. Ponder. Consider the path Frost has created for us. Lean into the meaning and depth. Only then can we entertain the rest of the verse, which is as powerful as the turn phrase at the top of this verse.
This isn’t to say I wouldn’t use it – I probably would. But I am grateful today for the chance to ponder the poem.