Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Trees - Robert Frost

     (A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods - the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn't thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I'd hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I'd hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
"There aren't enough to be worth while."
"I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over."

                                                "You could look.
But don't expect I'm going to let you have them."
Pasture they spring in, some clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded "Yes" to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer's moderation, "That would do."
I thought so too, but wasn't there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, "A thousand."

"A thousand Christmas trees! - at what apiece?"

He felt some need of softening that to me:
"A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars."

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 with 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.

In this classic Robert Frost poem, we can see the clash of the city and country way system of values, and the way in which they interact.  A farmer, our narrator, is glad that the city "has withdrawn into itself and left at last the country to the country."  He's glad that their spheres aren't intersecting.  That peace is broken however, when a stranger form the city approaches asking to buy the farmer's Christmas trees.

The farmer had never thought of his trees as Christmas trees.  To him, they are part of his land, part of its beauty, almost sacred.  "My woods - the young fir balsams like a place where houses all are churches."  He imagines them, his woods, riding off in cars, leaving the slope behind his house all bare.  The farmer doubts himself, wondering if he should be open to the offer, not wanting to seem rude or short of speech.

In the end, the offer of $30 for 1000 of his trees bothers the farmer.  Besides being a poor market evaluation of their worth in monetary terms, the farmer values these trees are more than just dollars.  He almost has a revelation.  "A thousand Christmas trees I didn't know I had!"  This poem, being a letter sent out with all of Frost's Christmas cards, remarks, "Too bad I couldn't lay one [tree] in a letter.  I can't help wishing I could send you one, In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas."

The core of this poem is the intersection of two walks of life, and seeing their values contrasted face to face.  Frost, clearly favoring the farmer, has a certain degree of disdain for the city, for its people, its market force approach to value.  Still, I don't think he has total dislike of the city or its people, because even the people in the city come to "look for something it had left behind and could not do without" that something being the Christmas tree, that reminder of the countryside.

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