On reading Robert Frost

On reading Robert Frost I’m struck by how he returns to the wood. As a metaphor, as a place, as a symbol. This image, in so many forms, appears again and again, and his work is never so powerful as when it is in the wood.

Compare ‘Snowy Evening‘ with ‘Acquainted with the Night‘ — Robert Frost is not a creature of city streets and urban darkness; though he may have haunted the city in his time, he is alien there. It’s the darkness of the wood that lives in Robert Frost’s soul, the supple green of lithesome birches, the ache of the lonesome places ‘lovely dark and deep’ and the yellow regret of roads not taken and paths unwalked. He never writes himself so fully as when he is writing of the wood.

Someone, a friend of mine, said she had only one novel in her, that she kept writing the same story in different books. As though it was a bad thing. As though the same story cannot be told again and again in a hundred ways, and as if, in each telling, there are not new facets turned to the light.

There are writers I read, and read again, writers who tell the same stories. Irving. Oates, though I’ve conceived a dislike of Oates, not for her sameness, but because of a sense of ugliness which seeps into her work. How many stories do we have in us?

I think we fall prey to the worship of novelty, which is not the same as originality, and the idea that we must write a thing that has never been written, something new. Something novel. I say we, but I speak of myself. I find this idea in myself, and I think this idea–the idea that a thing may be done only once, that it must be done only once–is a sickness, a mechanism of self defeat.

To say, ‘What newness can I bring to this subject, what can I say that hasn’t been said?’ is the voice of the censor. To feel before I truly begin that I have already failed, that it is hubris to think I have anything to say that hasn’t been said, and said better, is to guarantee failure.

I wonder what my wood is.

What is the thing that’s lodged in me so deep that I’ve grown around it, scar, muscle, sinew, until it is no longer foreign, until it has become a part of me, impossible to excise. There are thoughts and ideas I return to, metaphors. Alienation and sex. The joining of flesh, the isolation of souls. Creation. Abnegation.

I don’t know if thinking about this helps me or hurts me. Writing. When I think too much about what I’m really saying, and what I feel I ought to say, it paralyzes me.

A realization that came only recently, but now when I look at the work that remains unfinished, I can’t not see the pattern. I wonder if I understand myself, finally, will I have anything left to say.

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