Friday, April 22, 2016


Two poems about change, stone, farming, New England — and, obliquely, the ancient world. First up, Robert Frost:
Of the Stones of the Place

I farm a pasture where the boulders lie
As touching as a basket full of eggs,
And though they’re nothing anybody begs,
I wonder if it wouldn’t signify

For me to send you one out where you live
In wind-soil to a depth of thirty feet,
And every acre good enough to eat,
As fine as flour put through a baker's sieve.

I’d ship a smooth one you could slap and chafe,
And set up like a statue in your yard,
An eolith palladium to guard
The West and keep the old tradition safe.

Carve nothing on it. You can simply say
In self-defense to quizzical inquiry:
"The portrait of the soul of my Gransir Ira.
It came from where he came from anyway."
Second, Paul Goodman:

These people came up here
only two hundred years ago.
A half a dozen names
of fathers in the graveyard
have brought us to the farmer
who used to be my neighbor.

But now his sons have quit
the beautiful North Country
for Boston where they will not find
a living or even safety.
The boy has joined the Navy
to bomb other farmers
where our Navy ought not to be.

“I set my mind on Ritchie.
I bought all the machinery for him
and the blue-ribbon cattle.
Now it has no point.”
So they have sold and gone
to San Diego
to see the boy on leave.

There will not be another
generation in America,
not as we have known it,
of persons and community
and continuity.
This poetry I write
is like the busy baler
that Sawyer bought for Ritchie,
what is the use of it?

But I am unwilling to be Virgil
resigned and praise what is no good.
Nor has the President invited me.
Frost's "eolith palladium" caught my eye. An eolith is a kind of flint nodule once thought to be artifactual in nature, but now considered to be the product of natural geological forces. The original Palladium or Palladion was an icon of Pallas Athena taken from the citadel of Troy and eventually transported to Rome by Aeneas; the word has since become generic for any kind of protective icon. The name of the element palladium is a later coinage, also ultimately derived from the compound epithet Pallas Athena.


Michael Leddy said...

I wish I’d known the Goodman poem when I was teaching the Aeneid. It must date from the war in Vietnam, yes?

Chris said...

Yes, that's right, Michael.