Friday, March 24, 2017

Pages from a Commonplace Book

from Vermont by Hayden Carruth

Have I been too hard on Frost? Let's say I have.
Let's say he made, out of his own bad temper
and this forsaken and forsaking land,
a large part of our context. Not the whole,
not that by any means, but nevertheless
a large part. We must come to terms with him,
or find ourselves cut off completely. Frost,
whatever else you say, possessed a saving
curiosity. That's it, he got around,
he knew this people, he explored this land;
he saw, he apprehended, he perceived,
at least at his best he did, and by God that's
seven-eighths of the battle and five-eighths further
than most of us ever get.

* * *

from PFC Timothy Robinson in Vietnam, April 7, 1968, to his family in Minnesota

Im still waiting for my first letter from someone back home. It would be nice to get a package from home about once a week if you could because your son is starving over here. Some of the things you can send are: cans of fuirt, cokies, hard candy, caned meat, anything in cans our jars, hony or some strawbarry jam, joke book, comics book, hot rod books, paper's, baked food's and "kool-aid" The water over here teast like "H" apple sauce. About once a month send some stationary like Im writtin on now. Im going to try and write grandma, Nancy, and Joyce to because they always have good coked foods around but it is hard to get the time and the equip. over here.

I heat to write and ask for food like a pig, but I losing whiegt fast. Dad I would love to have that big hunting kinef with me over here Do you think you could send it to me. Dont get any cold beer or Coke any more. Maybe one or two cans a week

Haven't seen a base camp in a mounth. That's why we can't get any of that good stuff. Im still wearing the same cloth as when I got over here but they gave me new socks last week. We get a chance to swim in the ocean here but the water is to salt to get clean. We have a mud piled in front of our bunker to wash up and shave in. Got to go now

Love and miss ya all lots
Your loven son and brother Tim

P.S. I don't know what good Im doing over here but I'll keep fighting in hopes that my brother may never have to see this dam land.

["The special care packages the family had put together for Robinson were returned several weeks later. On April 19, 1968, Robinson caught his foot on the trip wire to a booby-trapped mine and, quite literally, was blown to pieces."]

* * *

from War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, trans. Constance Garnett

"Now where, your excellency?" asked the coachman.

"Where?" Pierre asked himself. "Where can I go now? Not to the club or to pay calls." All men seemed to him so pitiful, so poor in comparison with the feeling of tenderness and love in his heart, in comparison with that softened, grateful glance [Natasha] had turned upon him that last minute through her tears.

"Home," said Pierre, throwing open the bearskin coat over his broad, joyously breathing chest in spite of ten degrees of frost.

It was clear and frosty. Over the dirty, half-dark streets, over the black roofs was a dark, starlit sky. It was only looking at the sky that Pierre forgot the mortifying meanness of all things earthly in comparison with the height his soul had risen to. As he drove into Arbatsky Square, the immense expanse of dark, starlit sky lay open before Pierre's eyes. Almost in the centre of it above the Prechistensky Boulevard, surrounded on all sides by stars, but distinguished from all by its nearness to the earth, its white light and long, upturned tail, shone the huge, brilliant comet of 1812; the comet which betokened, it was said, all manner of horrors and the end of the world. But in Pierre's heart that bright comet, with its long, luminous tail, aroused no feeling of dread. On the contrary, his eyes wet with tears, Pierre looked joyously at this bright comet, which seemed as though after flying with inconceivable swiftness through infinite space in a parabola, it had suddenly, like an arrow piercing the earth, stuck fast at one chosen spot in the black sky, and stayed there, vigorously tossing up its tail, shining and playing with its white light among the countless other twinkling stars. It seemed to Pierre that it was in full harmony with what was in his softened and emboldened heart, that had gained vigour to blossom into a new life.

* * *

from Vermont by Hayden Carruth

Well, I’ve said Robert Frost had curiosity
and took the trouble and go and satisfy it,
on foot or driving that bay mare of his;
he saw the state, he met the people. Yet
my guess is that he traveled by himself.
Your typical Vermonter is a man
of, say, sufficient winters, or a woman
for that matter, walking the back roads,
the pastures, woodlots, hills, and brooks, alone
or with a dog, mostly looking down.
Curiosity? Yes, but it bears inward
as much as outward, maybe more. My dog
is Locky, a mixed-breed bitch, though shepherd
predominates, and in her eleven years
Locky and I have walked these thousand acres
ten thousand times, I reckon. Do you think
we go on sniffing the same old rabbit trail,
examining the same old yellow birch
forever? We grow stiff. We plod now, I
with my stick, Locky with her lame forepaw,
and mostly we look down. And so did Frost.
Which brings me to the “all-important question.”
What is the difference, now at last, between
the contemporary and the archaic?


Carlene said...

Painful post, Dawn...except, Carruth: Frost's "saving curiosity" makes me feel like there may be hope, a type of hope that stems from people wanting to know, to explore the painful as well as the beautiful, and then share what they have discovered.

For better or worse...

Maureen said...

Robinson's letter was like the letters my brother used to send home from Vietnam. My mother didn't keep them, to my knowledge; often, they described some unimaginable things, emotions all over the place. One line from one of his letters that I've never forgotten: "I hate Vietnam with a purple passion."

Anyone with a family member in that war dreaded the day letters stopped coming.

Dawn Potter said...

Carlene, I see much hope in the Tolstoy extract, and even some in the Carruth's, though certainly with a heavy dose of grouchy old man. The Robinson is heartbreaking. That big kid, hungry for snacks. Maureen, I am so sad for you and your family.