Sunday Poetry: Leaves Compared With Flowers by Robert Frost

So autumn has arrived at last. It seemed a long time coming. But it has been presaged for weeks now by falling leaves. As summer wanes, the poor tattered leaves that have been through months of blistering sun and scorching temperatures began to turn brown (we don't really get brilliant fall colors here) and flutter to the ground. The big wave of falling leaves is still to come in October but already the grass is littered with the ones that have left their posts early.

I love the falling leaves of autumn almost as much as I love the soft green new leaves of early spring. Apparently, Robert Frost had an affection for leaves as well. At least this strange little poem of his that I came across last week seems to indicate such feelings. 
Leaves Compared With Flowers 
by Robert Frost
A tree's leaves may be ever so good,
So may its bar, so may its wood;
But unless you put the right thing to its root
It never will show much flower or fruit.

But I may be one who does not care
Ever to have tree bloom or bear.
Leaves for smooth and bark for rough,
Leaves and bark may be tree enough.

Some giant trees have bloom so small
They might as well have none at all.
Late in life I have come on fern.
Now lichens are due to have their turn.

I bade men tell me which in brief,
Which is fairer, flower or leaf.
They did not have the wit to say,
Leaves by night and flowers by day.

Leaves and bar, leaves and bark,
To lean against and hear in the dark.
Petals I may have once pursued.
Leaves are all my darker mood.

Comments

  1. The poem is odd but it has appeal. I can see why Frost couldn't choose between leaf or flower. For me, in spring, flowers, in summer and fall, leaves. :-)

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  2. Yes, it is an odd poem. I don't quite know what "bar" is in this context, and really don't understand why "leaves are all my darker mood".

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    Replies
    1. The analyses that I have read of the poem postulate that this is Frost looking back on his life (the poem was written late in life) with some sadness and regret. He's talking about how his perspectives have changed; he once pursued beauty and ease (flowers) but now has learned to appreciate the simpler things (leaves and bark). I'm not sure about "bar" either. At first I thought it was a misprint and should be bark, but when I checked other renderings of the poem, that was the correct word.

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  3. I think it should be bark and was maybe a misprint that got carried on without notice. Great pick for the first weekend of fall!

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    Replies
    1. Since it appears twice in the poem and there are other instances of bark correctly spelled, I think he probably did intend it to be "bar," but what he meant remains a mystery to me.

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