If we think our own lives tragic, and I certainly view my own life as often difficult, consider Robert Frost's: his father died when he was 11, leaving the family destitute; his mother was a depressive, dying of cancer 15 years later; and both Frost and his wife, Elinor, suffered from depression. Of their six children one died of cholera at a very young age; one was committed to a mental hospital; one died just three days after being born; one died of fever after giving birth; and one committed suicide. Elinor herself developed cancer in 1937 and died the following year.
I love Robert Frost's poetry. One of his great English friends, who encouraged Frost in his own work, was Edward Thomas, probably my favourite English nature poet after Wordsworth and John Clare. Indeed, it was in England where Frost's poems were first published.
The Oven Bird
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
This sonnet is, I think, quite a well known one of Frost's, and among my favourite poems of his. It's open to various interpretations (just consider the different meanings of the word 'fall'). If you're interested, this link will take you to some critical analysis. However, it's probably best simply to enjoy the poem, and ponder yourself what Frost means when he writes '. . . he knows in singing not to sing.'
Myself, I think the poem is ultimately about how all of us are capable somehow of framing — in inadequate, less-than-pretty, ordinary words or songs or in other ways — a voice, an utterance, a protest, a lament, a celebration even. Even if time is running out, if we have fallen from grace and innocence, if things are 'diminished', there is still that sort-of song. And, of course, Frost the poet frames these subtle thoughts in this wonderful sonnet, which is almost conversational in tone, yet beautifully modulated: a song, indeed — though a 'new' kind of song in the canon, repudiating the high-flown and rhetorical language of the poetic past.