Robert Frost’s “Reluctance”

I’ve started re-reading, or perhaps reading for the first time, The Complete Poems of Robert Frost, 1949, and will admit that I am finding it harder to read his poems than I expected. Although I’m sure I had to read many of Frost’s poems in classes I took, I’m not sure I ever really sat down and read his poems in a systematic way. (Since there’s very few marks in the volume I’m reading, I doubt I’ve ever read the book from front to back in any systemetic way.) So, I’m coming to the poems with some preconceptions based on specific poems that I remember but without a real understanding of Frost’s underlying philosophy.

Nor is it easy to suddenly put yourself in the same frame of mind that Frost must have had when he wrote these poems. After all, the earliest of these poems was written nearly a hundred years ago, and that generation saw the world rather differently than we did, even if they are commonly referred to as “modern poets.”

And, there’s no denying that “formal” lyrics impose some unique demands of their own, no matter how polished or modern they may be. Which, of course, is not to say that what has been gained may not outweigh what has been lost by employing such techniques.

Truthfully, I found very few poems in the first section, A Boy’s Will, that impressed me. Still, when I reached “Reluctance” on the last page of this section, it reminded me why “great” poets are considered “great,” and why they remain relevant to our lives.:


Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

At my age this poem rings true in so many ways it’s impossible ” and far too boring ” to list them all. But as a I walk through the old-growth forest in Pt Defiance every day I’m more and more aware that another summer has passed us by, and winter can’t be far behind.

Is it really possible that I went another summer without a single long backpack in the mountains? Is it possible that I never did get out on the Sound in my kayak the whole summer? Is it really true that I will have to wait another five months to see flowers in bloom again?

I know, I know, it’s not like I sat around doing nothing all summer, feeling sorry for myself. Still, Frost is right that I’m reluctant to let this summer pass by, trying to squeeze one more activity in before the fall rains begin.

Who can go through life without regrets? Who would even want to go through life without regrets? To do so would be to deny the very dreams and aspirations that give life so much of its depth and meaning.