Thursday, April 16, 2015

Poem of the Day: “After Hearing Frost at Eleven” by Delbert R. Gardner

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “After Hearing Frost at Eleven” by Delbert R. Gardner.  A veteran of World War II, Dr. Delbert R. Gardner taught English literature and creative writing for Keuka College.  Recent Science Fiction/Fantasy publications include:  a story in Lamplight, and poetry in Star*Line, Goblin Fruit, the 2010 and 2009 Rhysling Award Anthologies, and Tales of the Talisman.  Over forty of Dr. Gardner's poems and stories have appeared in publications such as: The Literary Review, Poetry Digest, American Poetry Magazine, Provincetown Review, and Christian Science Monitor, among others.  His nonfiction credits include the book An "Idle Singer" and His Audience: A Study of William Morris's Poetic Reputation in England, 1858-1900.  Learn more at www.gardnercastle.com.

After Hearing Frost at Eleven
Delbert R. Gardner

Robert Frost
            They played an album of the poet reading
Some of his works--"The Death of the Hired Man,"
"The Road Not Taken," "Birches," "Mending Wall,"
And more.  They smiled at his humanity,
Nodded at insight, and laughed at his wit.
The reading ended.  "Voila!" said the man.
"An entertainer for when the lamp is lit!"

            "An entertainer?" echoed his wife.  "That's not
The way I see him.  He's a poet who shares
His view of life, his feeling, and his thought."

            "He's what you say, but an entertainer too--
Or 'storyteller' might be a better word.
Cut from the same cloth as the ancient bard,
But sewn in a different style to suit our day,
With greater emphasis on work than war.
If his muse had picked heroic heights to soar,
He could have plied his trade as well, I'd say,
Back when bards were welcomed royally
To beguile the time and inspire the citizenry."

            The woman laughed: "Imagine sitting through
Long winter nights just listening to a bard
Chant through the Iliad or the Odyssey!
How would they concentrate without falling asleep?"

            The man said, "Oh, they'd stay awake, all right.
It did for them what movies or TV
Will do for us when they are up to snuff--
As they are at times, although not often enough.
They'd forget their common worldly needs,
Like having dry, warm shelter and getting food,
And clothing to protect them and adorn--"

            "Or how," she said, "to educate their brood."

            "And other unromantic things," he said.
"They'd lose themselves in following the deeds
Of Odysseus, wherever he would roam.
His aspirations and adventures they would share,
Enjoy the titillation of each affair,
But exult with him upon his coming home
To ever-faithful Penelope at last."

            "Now that's a myth!" she said.  "A wife so steadfast
Doubts of her man would never enter her head;
She'd never believe he could be dead--or untrue.
What woman would wait like that for twenty years?"

            "An ideal, of course," he answered: "we wouldn't ask
A living wife to fend off men that long--
It seems a more than Herculean task!--
But in that setting she's believable;
There's a poetic truth about her--beauty, too.
But Frost, I'm sure, would have understood."

           She pondered that.  "Yes, I think he would."

Commentary by Adele Gardner, literary executor for her father, Delbert R. Gardner:  Every night after putting us to bed, my parents would sit together for an hour or so enjoying one another's company, talking, listening to jazz, and sharing their lives.  Though they often spoke about us, one of the things they loved best to share was literature.  Dad had been a college English professor, and Mom was once his creative writing student (she asked him out after she graduated).  They often read to each other, and to us (I especially loved those rare occasions when Dad would read his own poetry).  
While pursuing my master's in English literature, I found a recording of Robert Frost at the library.  Dad loved Frost, and would often quote from his poems.  We were all excited to have this chance to hear the poet read his own work.  Dad told me how much he and Mom were enjoying listening to Frost in the evenings--long evenings of "us time," now that we kids were grown. Dad loved this special time with Mom that continued unbroken throughout the years, and I believe he incorporated many of these evenings past and present when sketching this tribute poem--a tribute both to Frost, and to my mother, Marilyn H. Gardner, who was "ever-faithful Penelope" in his mind, and no myth!

Editor's Note:  I like the back-and-forth debate, reminiscent of some scenes from the Iliad, and the adroitly executed back-and-forth between free and Shakespearean verse.  “After Hearing Frost at Eleven” was first published (posthumously) in the November 2014 issue of Songs of Eretz Poetry E-zine.

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