Monday, October 17, 2011

Ten Thousand Thousand

Stilleben Mit Fruchtschale
At the Hannover Landesmuseum
By Prague Artist Emil Orlik, 1870 - 1937

In each of these two excerpts from the poetry of Robert Frost , the honorable farmer is so solicitous, so respectful of his crops, so determined that none should be wasted or disrespected. The apple farmer cherishes each of his "ten thousand thousand fruit," while the woodsman, in response to the city buyer's casual proposition to purchase his wild pines, marvels at "A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!"

from After Apple - Picking

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.

from Christmas Trees

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

[Click to read entire poem]

Illustration by Garth Willlams
from A Little House Christmas by Laura Ingalls Wilder

At first I wondered what Frost meant by "Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools / Could hang enough on to pick off enough."
Then I remembered the Little House story of Christmas on Plum Creek, and the big tree in the church covered with popcorn, mittens, boots -- hung with enough surprises for everyone to pick one off.

Even better, my mother sent me this incredible old photograph from the early 1900s (she's guessing somewhere between 1900 - 1904). On the back, in my grandmother's elegant cursive, is the notation: "Our Christmas Tree at the Evangelical Church in Emporia, Kansas." I was initially perplexed by the perspective. Was that a set of doll furniture underneath the elaborately festooned tree? No! That is an arched window to the left, then the pulpit, appearing tiny in comparison to the gigantic tree, with pews in front and to the right. How tall is that tree? Twenty feet? Who climbed up there to hang all that popcorn and lace? I guess that's what Frost means by a regular vestry tree!

For more "harvesting" poems
by Robert Frost and Larry Levis

see my recent post Apples, Leaves, Walnuts

on The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker
A Fortnightly [every 14th & 28th] Literary Blog of
Connection & Coincidence; Custom & Ceremony

No comments:

Post a Comment