The Crimson Stroke

The woods are lovely, dark and deep…

The Crimson Stroke

I’ve never really been able to truly appreciate Poetry until now.

Until I equated it to Art – or more specifically, to Abstract Art.

So, I can see now, that sometimes, there’s as much unsaid in between lines, as there is stated in plain sight. What’s written – is often cryptic and open to interpretation.

Perhaps, all this time, I was unable to understand the subtle nuances and layers in Poetry because despite reading some occasionally, I’ve been more so very deeply into music.

In music, there’s lyrics which are spoken, whispered, and screamed aloud. Growled and snarled out as well (this genre holds a special place in my heart.)

The vocal delivery of the lyrics, combined with the accompanying atmospheric music creates and sets the mood and specifically indicates the emotion conveyed. Of course, you’ll find some symbolism and depth in the songwriting as well.

I think, it’s relatively easier to decipher a song than a Poem.

A Poem is just words written down on a blank paper.

No vocal delivery.

No accompanying music.

Just words.

On a blank paper.

Like strokes of Paint on a blank Canvas.

Obvious in terms of what it says and states clearly – yet having lots of potential for personal interpretation (depending upon who’s reading.)

The reader’s interpretation speaks volumes about the person far more than the Poet or the Artist.

I must quote one of my favorite quotes once again.

Generally speaking…

“One can only see what one observes, and one observes only things which are already in the mind.”

~  Thomas Harris

It takes exceptional awareness, mindfulness and conscious desire to observe, interpret, absorb, and accept something new and beyond our existing sensibilities.

We all have a “set point”. To grow, it needs to be recalibrated.

As usual, I digress…

Coming back to the point and the scope of this article…

Let me use this classic as an example.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

~ Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost. Reprinted with the permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.Source: Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays (Library of America, 1995)

What do you think this means?

I know that you know what it says… but – what does it really mean?

Don’t confuse that question with “What do you think Robert Frost meant?” Cause he’s already presented you with whatever he wanted you to read. His delivery is done and what’s left now is for every individual reader to interpret it personally.

Think about it, if you have a moment to spare – about what this means to you.

If you have the patience and the inclination to do that – take a pause here to do that & once you’re done, read on to what I think it means to me.

Without any interpretation whatsoever – yours or mine or even Robert Frost’s… the words – on their own, as presented – paint a picture on the canvas in our minds… stroke by stroke… word by word… sentence by sentence… a visual is created. A story is told.

Obvious at face value – On a cold winter evening – A man and his horse, taking a pause to ponder and wonder… while passing through the woods

This is what I see (to summarize briefly in a sentence) – A tired man in a dark unforgiving cold, once beautiful world, taking stock of goals and promises unfulfilled towards the end of his journey in life.

However, if I isolate and take just the line “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” without the rest of the poem and its context – by itself, it is so very beautiful and powerful.

The words in that line set off dark and deep, buried primal triggers and evoke a spectrum of everything that lies and can be imagined in between a sense of dread to a predatory thrill.

Something on the lines of, “Hunted or the Hunter… You decide who to be.”

Perception and interpretation decides and defines how we absorb Art.

~ The Crimson Stroke

My summary of the Poem as a whole isn’t too different or deeper than the obvious…

To be perfectly fair and honest, this is the first poem I’ve given conscious thought to. So I’m a novice at this. For a moment, it occured to me that possibly my interpretation was influenced by my research about this. But then in retrospect, I’m quite certain that my interpretation on the first encounter of the poem, was this as stated above – even before any further research.

Here’s what further research yielded ~

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
Frost didn’t publish his first book until 1913, when he was almost 40. But in the decade that followed, he published three more books, the last of which, New Hampshire (1923), won a Pulitzer Prize. That volume contained this poem, one of his best known and most beloved, which was apparently inspired by a real incident, one that may help explain what was behind his enormous burst of creativity. In the years before he found literary stardom, Frost lived in poverty in New Hampshire, farming to support his family and struggling to finish his first book. Riding home on the winter solstice, the story goes, Frost stopped and began to cry on the side of the road, overwhelmed by shame: he hadn’t sold enough at market to give his family a good Christmas. Such personal details are left out of the poem’s final version to accommodate a much broader series of interpretations, but their impression lingers: the woods, dark in literal and perhaps figurative ways, offer oblivion for the dispossessed speaker, who nonetheless chooses obligation and the hard work ahead. After all, he believed “the woods are lovely” because they are “dark and deep.” The spellbinding repetition at the end of the poem—“And miles to go before I sleep”—has been interpreted to reference the big sleep of death.

Writing is Art. Poetry is Art. It can be as precise and / or as abstract as you perceive it to be. Perhaps, even both at the same time. Duality does exist after all… everywhere and in everything.

Perhaps, if I can (unfairly) compare an essay to a Portrait and a story to a Landscape…

Then, Poetry = an Abstract.

The Crimson Stroke
The Crimson Stroke

As opposed to a Poem creating a visual for you to imagine (based on specific words and crafted sentences), here’s a visual already created for you to see.

Let’s take a look at the above Painting and then inspect it some more…

Its predominantly grey. Some white. A bit of black.

A slash of Crimson… Should I call the slash a stroke?

I painted it horizontal as displayed above.

Without the unnecessary specific details, here’s the process behind it –

Like we all do… I experienced something that must’ve triggered feelings / emotions – almost certainly disturbing in nature.

I can tell you it wasn’t joy or pleasure – for sure. Cause if happy or pleased, I don’t Paint. I cook, drink beers, watch a movie or hit a brewery with close friends. I’m social when I celebrate.

But – Painting isn’t celebration for me. It’s a private and a personal coping mechanism. Sometimes, damage control.

So experience lead to disturbing thoughts. That lead to thinking and introspection. Perhaps research and conversations or discussions with mentors and people I consider my betters. Whatever else happened doesn’t really matter cause bottom line is it remained unresolved. Human interaction based on cognition, thought processes and logic failed…

So – I had to Paint.

Doesn’t matter what I specifically experienced or how I perceived and processed it – All that matters to us in the scope of this article is… The eye of the beholder.

What do you see? What does it mean to you? How do you interpret the resulting Painting?

Do words or terms like “energy” “vibes” “positive” “negative” etc spring up in your mind?

Does it go with your interiors? Exteriors?

Does it depict the sky, the sea, or a barren desert?

Does it seems like a landscape?

Does it resemble your mindscape?

Does it please you? Disturb you? Do you find it pleasant? Unnerving?

Do you see your favorite color or shade in there?

Does grey calm you? Stabilize and balance everything within and around?

Does it make you feel isolated, lonely and alone?

Why is that crimson there?

What does it represent?

Is it too less? Perhaps you crave more…?

Do you see a hint of blood?

A suggestion of Violence and Pain?

Or… does the Crimson signify birth and life? A new beginning?

Or perhaps… even Death and an end?

Can you vaguely equate it to anything?

Dreams? Hopes? Perhaps… Aspirations?

WIth some imagination, can this rectangle of grey, white and black reflect your beliefs? Morals, values… Perhaps personal philosophy?

Can you imagine that Painting as a Landscape and visualize yourself in there… standing tall against all elements or lying down lifeless in complete indifference?

Or is that Painting inside your head like a Mindscape – a panorama of beautiful and desolate grey… leaving you searching for the cut that is leaking and leaving a trail of Crimson…

It could be anything and / or everything above or perhaps nothing at all. Could be something entirely different. Something beyond my imagination and comprehension…

Beyond the obvious and the visual delivery or even interpretations… how does this make you feel?

That’s all that really matters in the end…

Robert Frost’s “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” makes me go through a series of emotions eventually contradictory collectively, but most important of all – It makes me feel alive.

WIthout music, there’s no Post or Canvas. Here’s what I’ve been listening to while writing this…

On a different note – unrelated to the context of this article whose main goal was to draw similarities between Poetry and Abstract Art…

As an Artist or a creator… I feel a sense of deja vu while gazing at my own Painting now. A faint trace… of the memory of an emotion, I perhaps once felt… or thoughts I indulged in far more than I should have…

The Painting served it’s purpose during the process of creation.

Now it’s a record of an event. A page in my diary. A reminder of what happened and the way it made me feel… and the method I used to process it.

If I dwell too long over it… I may begin to find faults in the technical aspects of the Painting and that serves me nothing at all. It’s not a Portrait that needs refinement to resemble it’s subject better.

It is exactly what it was meant to be and should be. Regardless of my skillset or execution, It came out exactly as it should have at that point in time and has captured all that I felt and thought and that phase and period is recorded – now frozen in time.

I wonder what Poets feel when reading their past Poems…

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