Is that so?

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Is that so?

Post by zoofence »

The other day, I came across an extraordinary poem by Robert Frost. It is apparently based on an actual event that was recorded at the time in a local newspaper. The imagery in this poem is really something.

The poem’s title is “Out, Out - ”. One site on the internet suggests convincingly that Frost took the title from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where the following oft-quoted lines appear at Act V, Scene 5:

"Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

Here’s the poem. You probably want to read it sitting down.

The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "supper". At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap --
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all --
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart --
He saw all spoiled. "Don’t Let him cut my hand off,
The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!"
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then -- the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little -- less -- nothing! -- and that ended it.
No more to build on there and they, since they
Were not the one dead, turn to their affairs.

After Anna read the poem, she observed that the last two lines reminded her of U.G.’s insistence that human life is ultimately, fundamentally about survival. They certainly are reminiscent of scenes in some nature programs on public television, where, after, say, a lion takes down a gazelle, the rest of the herd simply returns to grazing.

Some years ago, I witnessed a fox snatch one of our laying hens, and disappear into the woods, followed close on the heels by our dog. Sometime later, the hen and the dog returned, the hen with several ugly teeth marks on her back. To my surprise, she made no fuss whatsoever. Instead, she simply went on about her life, scratching about in the grass, and then, in a bit, she wandered over to the henhouse, where she laid an egg, normally and naturally. Here, my instinct is to say, "As if nothing had happened", but I think her response to that would be, "No, not as if nothing happened. Rather, as if what happened was simply an aspect of this day's day".

One of our favorite titles is on a book about Zen by Christmas Humphreys. It is “Walk On!”. I read the book, which is apparently out of print, a very long time ago, and have forgotten much of it. But the title has stuck with me, as a constant reminder simply to embrace life as it unfolds. Or in Nisargadatta’s words, “Welcome the unexpected”.

Here’s a neat story from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps:

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbor as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parent owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.

This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger, the parents went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say.

After the child was born, it was brought to Hakuin. By this time, he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors, and everything else the little one needed.

A year later, the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market.

The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was, “Is that so?”