The Bear by Robert Frost

Robert Frost is my home boy.

He was quite the handsome chap in his day and the words which he penned in his time never fall short of beautiful. The Bear is the perfect example of his tendency to the rural in landscape and the sardonic in undertone, but even on the face of things there are beautiful words and turns of phrase to delight.

From “its chokecherries lips” to “his fundamental butt“, Frost draws up quite the character, but it’s the comparison the poet etches between this bumbling bear of instinct whose path cannot be averted by the human trappings which litter her landscape, and the pompous men of science and knowledge to whom “the universe seems cramped” which really charms.

The “nervous inward rage” that man constantly battles is a familiar motif with the ever greater awareness owed to mental health these days. That such inner turmoil or disturbance comes as naturally and instinctual as a bear’s cross country trail in the autumn seems a reassuring comfort and mature attitude to mental health. After all, our mental health is as delicate, if not more so, than our physical health, and no one would be considered weak for suffering the annual barrage of flus and colds (or the more beastly infections previously damned in these pages) so why should a tiredness or vulnerability of the mind be any different? Our lives now are much more strenuous on the mind than the agricultural and manual labour our ancestors endured, why should it be taboo or a matter tainted by stigma to be susceptible to fatigue or distress?

I think we should all be a bit more bear, to appreciate the room to roam this world has, and to hug the trees. Get back in touch with your hippy side. “Be the Bear” is a regular rallying cry between my other half and I, a kind of “Take the bull by the horns“, “Take no shit but do no harm” mantra which has emboldened me to brave many a dark day. As, coincidentally, has Mr. Frost.

The Bear

The bear puts both arms around the tree above her
And draws it down as if it were a lover
And its chokecherries lips to kiss good-by,
Then lets it snap back upright in the sky.
Her next step rocks a boulder on the wall
(She’s making her cross-country in the fall).
Her great weight creaks the barbed wire in its staples
As she flings over and off down through the maples,
Leaving on one wire tooth a lock of hair.
Such is the uncaged progress of the bear.
The world has room to make a bear feel free;
The universe seems cramped to you and me.
Man acts more like the poor bear in a cage,
That all day fights a nervous inward rage,
His mood rejecting all his mind suggests.
He paces back and forth and never rests
The me-nail click and shuffle of his feet,
The telescope at one end of his beat,
And at the other end the microscope,
Two instruments of nearly equal hope,
And in conjunction giving quite a spread.
Or if he rests from scientific tread,
‘Tis only to sit back and sway his head
Through ninety-odd degrees of arc, it seems,
Between two metaphysical extremes.
He sits back on his fundamental butt
With lifted snout and eyes (if any) shut
(He almost looks religious but he’s not),
And back and forth he sways from cheek to cheek,
At one extreme agreeing with one Greek
At the other agreeing with another Greek
Which may be thought, but only so to speak.
A baggy figure, equally pathetic
When sedentary and when peripatetic.

Robert Frost

My own, more domesticated, bear
My own, more domesticated, bear

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