Robert Frost: The Most of It


He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder-broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter-love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff’s talus on the other side,
And then in the far distant water splashed,
But after a time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush—and that was all.

from Robert Frost’s Poems

Here the poet’s testament arises at once fatal, solipsistic, and negative; nihilistic and gnostic both – the mark of the mind’s call and answer against the indifference of the immutable power and effacement of the universe that neither needs us nor will respond to us or our humanity. Yet, he begins in the illusion of “thought”, rather than knowledge: “He thought he kept the universe alone…”. He did not know this to be fact, but rather surmise; an illusory event of the mind in its “mocking” realization that nothing natural answers the mind’s deep call, the voicing of the poet that seeks something in the blankness of the natural that will respond in like kind. Rather than the poet’s solitary speech, the “copy speech”, the echo from the far cliffs with their mindless reflection of the mind’s turbulence, the poet seeks a “counter-love” something unnatural in the natural, a power equal or greater than his own – an originary response out of this indifferent universe.

Yet, here he is closer to Lucretius than those acosmic gnostics, seekers of some acosmic power beyond this catastrophic order of time. Instead we are in the kenosis, the great emptiness where the nothing that is responds not as one wishes, not even as one needs, but rather – as Lucretius once realized, in the only way the universe can – naturally and impersonal – the way of things; that hard law of time and the energetic forces immanently circulating throughout the cosmos. Useless to our human mind, but bound to the cosmic rather than the acosmic shock the mind expects, the earth goes about its own business oblivious of our human designs or intentional (phenomenal) consciousness and its passionate and needy illusions; its false beliefs.

Here the poet’s nihilism and mocking spirit taunt the universe until suddenly out of the dark morning a fatal response is heard not seen, an invisibility arising out of darkness and in appearance: a power “crashed” and “splashed” – a great and terrible being from the natural order, a “buck” appeared in appearance, manifest in the light of the natural eye rather than the mind’s inner light. Natural came this answering power from a realm of impersonal indifference. Only in and through the order of appearance-in-appearance can this great power, a force of nature whose power pushes, crumples, pours, stumbles, and forces its way through the embattled and conflicting world and in a moment passes, lost among the indifferent things of the earth; “and that was all”, nothing more. This is no Platonic Idea manifesting itself out of another order, not even an Idea within this order – to one side of the things appearing. No. This is the order of no Ideas, of things as they are without Ideas. Things that do not need anything other than what they are, immanent and without purpose or design; without telos or some final cause. A world that is not human, a non-human world that will not answer our deepest call because it does not know we even exist. Only we are lonely, only we seem incapable of facing the harsh truth of things as they are in this realm. It is only us, the humans who afford such erroneous labors of the mind and heart, who are not at home, homeless in this fatal order on non-meaning and being, who most of all are afraid and fearful, and powerless before the fatality that is the universe without-us.

This is the gospel (good news) according to Robert Frost. There can be no other, not even a big-Other. We are alone in a realm that does not need us, and furthermore does not even know we exist. What does exist is the magnificence and strangeness of things and us. We who are inexplicable even to ourselves, we who exist in a realm both open and incomplete, a realm that is full of conflict and struggle, gaps and cracks; a realm that has produced this anomalous and accidental thing called mind out of the mindless indifference of things. A realm without purpose or meaning that yet has produced out of the repetitious cycles of collisions and metamorphosis, dust and stars this accident of time named humanity. We are the inexplicable indifference of things seeking a meaning that is not there, struggling against the power of the universe of things with an answering power of the mind – at once natural and strange. Alone, mocking, ironic – we who are homeless seek a home in the non-human Order of things.

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