Thursday, March 21, 2013

Provide, Provide

The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag
Was once the beauty Abishag,

The picture pride of Hollywood.
Too many fall from great and good
For you to doubt the likelihood.

Die early and avoid the fate.
Or if predestined to die late,
Make up your mind to die in state.

Make the whole stock exchange your own!
If need be occupy a throne,
Where nobody can call you crone.

Some have relied on what they knew,
Others on being simply true.
What worked for them might work for you.

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide! 
Robert Frost (1874-1963)


  1. If I recall correctly, Robert Frost recited his own poetry at JFK's Inauguration. I was about 8 years old and have a memory of the grainy television image of a hoary-haired man at the podium that day. In any case, what I heard sent me running to the encyclopedia to look up the name "Robert Frost." My aunt, a poetry lover, gave me a little book of Robert Frost's poems the following Christmas.

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  5. There's a lot of wisdom in that.

    Time makes fools of us all, and brings our projects to nought.

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  7. I couldn't agree more, Jez. I'm glad you, as an Englishman, can appreciate one of our most quintessentially American poets.

    Do you derive a "message" or a moral" from this particular poem -- or do you see it simply as a wry comment on the ironies of life?

  8. The time you won your town the race,
    We chaired you through the market-place;
    Man and boy stood cheering by,
    And home we brought you shoulder-high.

    To-day, the road all runners come,
    Shoulder-high we bring you home,
    And set you at your threshold down,
    Townsman of a stiller town.

    Smart lad, to slip betimes away
    From fields where glory does not stay
    And early though the laurel grows
    It withers quicker than the rose.

    Eyes the shady night has shut
    Cannot see the record cut,
    And silence sounds no worse than cheers
    After earth has stopped the ears:

    Now you will not swell the rout
    Of lads that wore their honours out,
    Runners whom renown outran
    And the name died before the man.

    So set, before its echoes fade,
    The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
    And hold to the low lintel up
    The still-defended challenge-cup.

    And round that early-laurelled head
    Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
    And find unwithered on its curls
    The garland briefer than a girl's.

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  10. You're attracting some live ones today, FT.

  11. He's my favourite American poet. Not sure about a moral, I don't think he's quite sincere and I don't think it's quite addressed to us readers. Lovely language though "what worked for them might work for you".

  12. Thank you, Ducky, for giving us one of Frosts many eloquent reminders that Time is The Great Equalizer.

    I was not familiar with that particular poem of his, but -- like Beethoven, et al. -- his tone and style make him easy to recognize. One of the signs of greatness, I think.

  13. Frost was not noted for his kindness and consideration, Jez. There's a certain wry detachment and austerity that marks much of his work, so you are probably correct in thinking Provide, Provide may not be an earnest, straightforward piece of fatherly advice to the young.

    Of course it's satirical -- "Abishag, the hag, pail and rag," and all that -- , and yet the obvious "message" reminding us that the glories of youth, fame and fortune are fleeting, so it would be wise to plan and save our resources to aid and comfort us in our years of decline might well be taken as sound practical advice, whether Frost had that particular purpose in mind or not.

  14. Like State, like man,—the change in the latter begins with the representative of timocracy; he walks at first in the ways of his father, who may have been a statesman, or general, perhaps; and presently he sees him 'fallen from his high estate,' the victim of informers, dying in prison or exile, or by the hand of the executioner. The lesson which he thus receives, makes him cautious; he leaves politics, represses his pride, and saves pence. Avarice is enthroned as his bosom's lord, and assumes the style of the Great King; the rational and spirited elements sit humbly on the ground at either side, the one immersed in calculation, the other absorbed in the admiration of wealth. The love of honour turns to love of money; the conversion is instantaneous. The man is mean, saving, toiling, the slave of one passion which is the master of the rest: Is he not the very image of the State? He has had no education, or he would never have allowed the blind god of riches to lead the dance within him. And being uneducated he will have many slavish desires, some beggarly, some knavish, breeding in his soul. If he is the trustee of an orphan, and has the power to defraud, he will soon prove that he is not without the will, and that his passions are only restrained by fear and not by reason. Hence he leads a divided existence; in which the better desires mostly prevail. But when he is contending for prizes and other distinctions, he is afraid to incur a loss which is to be repaid only by barren honour; in time of war he fights with a small part of his resources, and usually keeps his money and loses the victory.

    Plato, "Republic"



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