Sunday, February 17, 2008


I am not a huge poetry fan, but there are a few poems and a few poets who I enjoy. Like most people, I have drawn inspiration from Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken". However, few people know how much inspiration and wisdom, as well as enjoyment, can be drawn from a compilation of his life's work. While flipping through a compilation edited by Edward Connery Lathern, I found a poem that I had previously ignored. I'd like to share it with you:


A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what has made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

I like this poem mostly because Frost leaves its interpretation so open. This makes its usefullness almost limitless. I had several applications occur to me at once.

First, I have always been intrigued with Hemingway's idea about writing. He said he tried to write for a specified time each day and leave a little left unwritten. That would be like taking some apples from your tree and leaving some unharvested. When I write, I feel like I have to empty myself. If I leave something unwritten, I either lose the thought or lose the motivation; therefore, I write until I am void of feeling and ideas. Obviously, Hemingway knew more about writing than I did so I have always been intrigued by that idea of leaving something left in the tank. Frost's poem reminded me of that idea, and helps me ponder the value.

This poem also makes me think of the Old Testament concept of gleaning. Basically, my understanding is that as a farmer, you are to only make one pass over your fields for the harvest. Whatever is left after that first pass either belongs to the poor for their sustenance or will become part of the soil again. It was considered greedy and cruel to go through your crops and harvest every single grain or fruit. We now know that it is also a good agricultural practice to return more of your crops to the soil.

I am reminded of a friend's front yard when I was a teen. There were three apple trees, but only two residents. After eating all the raw apples that they could, making apple pie and apple sauce, and giving away shopping bags full to everyone they could, the trees would still make a ring of red. As fall wore on, the rotting apples would give off a pleasant odor. A week later, that front yard would smell like feet--apple cider vinegar anyone? That is when we would pick up the apples and, being teenagers, throw them at eachother. Then we would stink like vinegar and laugh like idiots. Maybe I looked forward to that week every year? At this point in my life, I would break the arm of anyone chucking rotting apples at me, but back then I guess I was more tolerant of stupidity.

I wondered what other people had thought about this poem so I Googled it and found another interpretation that I agree with. On her blog, Loren Webster mentions the fact that we humans are terrible at controlling nature. I agree; we have much better results when we leave ecosystems alone rather than trying to control or improve them. Perhaps Loren's last sentence catches the essence of Frosts meaning best, "Still, left alone, nature can usually heal even man’s worst insults, given enough time."

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