Newmown hay and ancient woods

Here's some more Robert Francis, whom I like a lot. He's like Frost, who liked him too; and, like Emily Dickinson, he lived a long, lonely time in Amherst, Massachusetts. He died in 1987, at 85, having published a dozen books (mostly poetry, some travel writing) and collected a handful of prizes. Apart from the poems, there's little else to say about him, he lived so simply and, it appears, deliberately. Poetry was about all he wanted to ever do or leave. The poems are simple, but not easy to classify. They're Frost-like, of course, but Frost's wryness here rises to something more playful, more like Hopkins in its capering pursuit of sound. He's grounded, surrounded by grass and woods and farm animals. He was a nature poet of New England, after that was already a thing, so he's self-conscious: he writes as much about nature as about poetry itself. Yet there's a transcendent element, too. The landscape is enchanted. He works in it and on it not only with wry affection, but with reverence and a knack for the uncanny. This is “Evening Ride,” which makes an ordinary ride in familiar countryside radiant with mystery.

The world lay still and clear like a long mural
And we who watched were all that moved and we
Could overlook that we ourselves were moving.

There was no wind to flaw the level sunlight
And the long shadows lying on the hills
And chimney smoke pale blue on deep blue air.

Three children by the roadside stopped their play
To gaze. A woman sewing on her porch
Paused with the lifted needle in her hand.

Two farmers with a load of hay half loaded
Stood with their pitchforks idle as we passed.
Even a dog looked and forgot to bark.

The road was always upward. Now it was day,
Now twilight, and now day again. Now warm,
Now cool. We felt the cool grow ever cooler.

Woodsmoke was in the air, late supper cooking,
Fragrance of newmown hay and ancient woods
And evening vines in sudden deep ravines.

We reached the summit but only after the sun
Had gone. The road beyond dipped down to darkness
While all the higher hills round us were bright.