What Fifty Said by Robert Frost

When I was young my teachers were the old.
I gave up fire for form till I was cold.
I suffered like a metal being cast.
I went to school to age to learn the past.

Now when I am old my teachers are the young.
What can’t be molded must be cracked and sprung.
I strain at lessons fit to start a suture.
I got to school to youth to learn the future.
Robert Frost

Ideally, a human being is a lifelong student, and everyone and everything in nature is his teacher. Infact, according to the eastern tradition, nature is the best of teachers. It lets oneself be. There is a story narrated in one of the Upanishads of the Vedas, that a student, after serving the guru for quite some time, thought himself to be perfect for initiation. But the teacher thought otherwise, so he sent the disciple to the jungle to graze the cows. At first, this seems to be cruel and unkind on the part of the teacher. But, on a closer look, we find that the teacher has given the student enough time to be by himself and nature and unravel many of its mysteries, thus realizing his natural potential.

The modern day education, as talked about by Robert Frost in his poem ‘What Fifty Said’, is confined to the four walls of classroom totally cut off from nature. Students sit together and learn, not at their own pace, but at a pace set by the teacher. All must learn the same lessons, and come to same conclusions. Individuality of a student is killed in the process.

‘I gave up fire for form till I was cold’

This kind of education system was designed for the industrial era to create obedient and disciplined workers to work in various factories and offices of the rich. They had set a mould- of a job the students must do after graduating. But, it was very painful to the free nature of an innocent child, just like being cast in a metal, as Frost says. Most people are never able to break free of this cast.

The ‘old’ in the first line of the second stanza refers to the age of the poet, as well as the old education system he has been educated in, which is a misfit in today’s world. Now, the teachers are young, and know the new methods. But, before something new is learned, the old must be unlearned. And, it is a painful process of breaking and a making.

‘What can’t be molded must be cracked and sprung’

(Does this line refer to a new kind of mould replacing the old one; but nonetheless, still a mould?)

The main emphasis in this stanza is on the fact that now we are looking towards future, and future in itself embeds hope in it.

But, the question is, has the future of education come yet? We still have those old classrooms, even though a sophisticated projector has replaced the black board. We still need students to cram their lessons, at least at the lower grades, and pour out the same way. What Frost was envisioning in this poem was a lifelong process of learning and development. Now we need to make our students learn to think; and to question- for questioning is the new knowledge.

… Sahar Raman Deep

 

 

 

 

A Late Walk by Robert Frost

When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.
….. Robert Frost

Robert Frost is a well known poet, known for his monologues; he does not need any introduction, so I shall go directly to his poem ‘A Late Walk’.

The title of the poem itself suggests the relativity of the present moment in time- it is past the moment that was perfect. The perfection may be of the poet’s life, of the season, or the day. It may be the poet’s individual experience which he has elevated to the whole of universe. The rattling leaf, the whir of sober birds, the withered weeds- they are not merely signs of an outward gloom. They represent a disharmony and imperfection too. And this imperfection may very well be that in the mind of the poet. May be he has not been able to preserve something precious to him, or in him, something which was not only worldly, but something transcendent too. May be he has lost his wholeness, so that he is doubtful that even the dry brown leaf may be disturbed by his thoughts. Earlier, he has scared the birds hidden in withered weeds.

This brings us to two things. The first is that the disharmony and gloom outside is natural. The imagery of autumn tells us that. At the same time, the the fear and discord has also been created by the man himself. Like, the birds get disturbed by the poet’s presence. The dying leaf is, feared by the poet that it may have been disturbed by his thoughts. At a certain level, whole of the nature is communicating with each other wordlessly. Discord at one place creates a discord everywhere. For example, when Macbeth kills the king, the birds cry all night and the the horses in the stable fight with each other indicating to the general public that something terrible has happened.

The poet is self conscious of having lost, or about to be losing, something precious. It may be his own self. The ‘you’ that he talks about in the last line may be his own consciousness, and gifting it the last aster may be his last attempt at saving his conscience. The personal being of a poet is not limited to his individual self, rather the the whole of the universe is engrossed in it. Of course, the ‘you’ can be his dying love too, which may be a person or a thing or an idea or ideal much adored by him.

The symbol of evening is also very striking. It is sad. The birds are whirring in the ‘withered weeds’. The general tone of melancholy becomes obvious with ‘ sadder than any words’. But, at the same time, evening comes and goes away with a promise of new dawn. Moreover, it is ‘a late walk’ not ‘the last walk’.

…Sahar Raman Deep