So I was reading Robert Frost’s poem, “Directive,” about getting lost in a small, old town. He mentions Panther Mountain, so it is probably set in the Catskill Mountains of New York. It is full of Frost’s individualistic syntax, starting out:
“Back out of all this now too much for us
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather…”
My college freshmen would probably oversimplify this to “back in the day” but then we would lose the photographic detail and the lovely iambic pentameter (five feet of unstressed/stressed syllables) that is at the heart of much great poetry in English. He goes on to say:
“The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry—“
And this reminds me of the irony of anyone who has ever given directions and insisted, “You can’t miss it!” when we all know that is almost never true. Also, it reminds me of dreams I have often had about places I have lived, Middlebury, Vermont, Matsuyama, Japan, used bookstores in Boston long defunct, and small, hilly towns in New England and New York, when you are on the way to someplace else and slow down to drive by the statue to the men of the town who served during the Civil War. Often there is a small Congregational church, white wooden clapboard and a tall pointed steeple. And then, in a moment, the village is left behind and once more you are on a road from somewhere to somewhere else, and a forest of a hundred greens lining either side of your road.
“As for the woods’ excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.”
The urban soul hungers for green upon green: sprint, mint, old oak, malachite, jade, evergreen. The leaves overlap like Earth’s eyelashes, the whole forest flirting with you as you let the road drive you through and away, content to let it take more time than travel takes in even your small city.
“And if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home.”
We think we travel to get to another place, to achieve something: to participate in a conference, a wedding, a family meal, a family fight, a game, a job. But such things are simply the excuse for being on the road, seeing the unfamiliar multitudes of green, the all-too-familiar tarmac stretching out before and behind. Ideally, if you let it, even such simple travel can change you.
“Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.”
Frost, Robert. “Directive.” Beginning with Poems. Ed. Reuben A. Brower, Anne D. Ferry and David Kalstone. New York: Norton, 1966. 330-331.