For the Birds Radio Program: Robert Frost

Original Air Date: March 25, 1996

March 26 is Robert Frost’s birthday. Laura Erickson talks about some of his bird poems on today’s For the Birds. 4:08

Audio missing


Tuesday, March 26, is Robert Frost’s birthday. He’s one of my favorite poets–his understanding of birds and the resonance of his poems about them appeal to something deep within me. He’s written bird poems for every season of the year. “The Oven Bird” is a poem of high summer:

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one is to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past,
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

Frost wrote a pretty little autumnal poem,”The Last Word of a Bluebird,” to his own little daughter Lesley.

As I went out a Crow
In a low voice said, ‘Oh,
I was looking for you.
How do you do?
I just came to tell you
To tell Lesley (will you?)
That her little Bluebird
Wanted me to bring word
That the north wind last night
That made the stars bright
And made ice on the trough
Almost made him cough
His tail feathers off.
He just had to fly!
But he sent her Good-by,
And said to be good,
And wear her red hood,
And look for skunk tracks
In the snow with an ax–
And do everything!
And perhaps in the spring
He would come back and sing.

Frost apparently was fond of crows, even ones who didn’t talk. In “Dust of Snow” he wrote,

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

One winter, perhaps a harsh one like this year’s, he searched for signs of life in the frozen landscape and wrote “Looking for a Sunset Bird in Winter”:

The west was getting out of gold,
The breath of air had died of cold,
When shoeing home across the white,
I thought I saw a bird alight.

In summer when I passed the place,
I had to stop and lift my face;
A bird with an angelic gift
Was singing in it sweet and swift.

No bird was singing in it now.
A single leaf was on a bough,
And that was all there was to see
In going twice around the tree.

From my advantage on a hill
I judged that such a crystal chill
Was only adding frost to snow
As gilt to gold that wouldn’t show.

A brush had left a crooked stroke
Of what was either cloud or smoke
From north to south across the blue;
A piercing little star was through.

As spring creaks into the northland with rumbling ice floes and cawing crows waking us up at ungodly hours, we may think of his poem “A Minor Bird.”

I have wished a bird would fly away
And not sing by my house all day;

Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if l could bear no more.

The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.

And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.

That was Robert Frost.