Q. How important is theory in this poem? It seems as though it just starts, goes nowhere, tells us nothing we need to know.
A. The concern here is with necessity, not fact. The poem could tell you everything you wanted to know, but doesn’t. Some poems begin in the rinse cycle. This one goes right to spin.
Q. We noticed how marvelous the upper strata of the poem is. It suggests the appeal of authoritarian faith in the old-fashioned middle class. Did you write it on a train?
A. One day I heard laughter coming from some mysterious source. First I thought it came from several people who were stuck at the bottom of a well. Then I speculated it could be a group of teenagers on the level right above me. After a while, however, I wondered if it might actually be weeping. I got out my address book and started calling around. In fact, people were crying when I managed to get in touch with them. Where are your social contracts now, I snarled, your precious theses on the absolute? I averted my gaze as their beliefs unraveled.
Q. We can’t help but notice how you seem to be suppressing what you really mean. Are you naked in this poem?
A. I have these pastes and mud packs that I smear all over me, so I’m never really naked, even when I have no clothes on. The same thing goes for this poem. It’s beautiful, stark, totally blank, yet colorful, like a sin you’re considering but haven’t yet committed.
Consider this: a moth flies into a man’s ear One ordinary evening of unnoticed pleasures.
When the moth beats its wings, all the winds Of earth gather in his ear, roar like nothing He has ever heard. He shakes and shakes His head, has his wife dig deep into his ear With a Q-tip, but the roar will not cease. It seems as if all the doors and windows Of his house have blown away at once— The strange play of circumstances over which He never had control, but which he could ignore Until the evening disappeared as if he had Never lived it. His body no longer Seems his own; he screams in pain to drown Out the wind inside his ear, and curses God, Who, hours ago, was a benign generalization In a world going along well enough.
On the way to the hospital, his wife stops The car, tells her husband to get out, To sit in the grass. There are no car lights, No streetlights, no moon. She takes A flashlight from the glove compartment And holds it beside his ear and, unbelievably, The moth flies towards the light. His eyes Are wet. He feels as if he’s suddenly a pilgrim On the shore of an unexpected world. When he lies back in the grass, he is a boy Again. His wife is shining the flashlight Into the sky and there is only the silence He has never heard, and the small road Of light going somewhere he has never been.
“Something we were withholding made us weak.
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.”—from The Gift Outright by Robert Frost