July 5, 2011

"House Fear"

        When I think of the poetry of Robert Frost (1874-1963), fantasy is not what springs to mind.  Indeed, Frost is known for realism, for comfortable colloquialism, for ordinary moments in ordinary lives.  Yet he wrote a number of poems involving the
supernatural, particularly ghosts.  These include "The Ghost House," "The Fear," "The Lockless Door," and one I particularly like, "House Fear," published in 1921.  With so few words, and such ordinary ones, Frost has evoked what I can picture as a moment of thinness between worlds, a twilight between real life and all the things we don't understand.

     House Fear
Always - I tell you this they learned -
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night,
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.

        I think a block print could make a dramatic illustration of this, just black and white, the lit and unlit worlds.  Perhaps Wanda Gág could have done it best with her brooding arcs of shadow.  This isn't a scene of horror with anything so gothic as grinning skulls or rattling chains.  It is rather a perfect picture of simple and subtle uneasiness.  The unnamed people involved react as they would to any troubling shadow in their lives: it's wiser to take certain precautions.  All will be well as long as we uphold the truce with the things beyond our knowledge.

[Picture: Silent Night, wood block print by AEGN, 1998.]

2 comments: