Reflection and Sinister Cycles in Robert Frost’s “Spring Pools”

Robert Frost’s “Spring Pools” is a fabulous little poem that I’m studying right now, so I thought I would do a short piece about it on Salvage. First here is the poem itself, thanks to lapsed copyright and Internet magic:

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods—
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

“Spring Pools” takes a hostile view to the cycles of the seasons, emphasising the importance of pause and contemplation instead of marching inexorably onwards from one season into another. Frost challenges the assumption that just because a phenomenon, such as the transition from spring to summer, is natural does not mean that the phenomenon is necessarily good or even beautiful, but has the capacity to be sinister and violent. The speaker is simultaneously seditious and resigned to the passing of seasons, recognising that although the change from spring to summer is not fair to the spring pools, there is little to be done to change the situation.

The “flowery waters and watery flowers” (13) of spring juxtapose the trees of summer. The chiasmus of “flowery waters and watery flowers” highlights that the spring pools are not only full of life and beauty, but they are also fragile. The flowers are watery because they are literally in the water and because the adjective “watery” means weak and pale. The spring pools also “reflect/The total sky without defect” (1-2), associating them with light and expansiveness. The pools’ nemesis, the trees completely contrast the pools and flowers. While the pools are bright and sparkling from their reflections, the trees and their foliage are “dark” (7), something Frost repeats several times in reference to the trees. The goal of the “pent-up buds” (8) is “to darken nature” (9) by using the water from the pools to nourish their roots. Choosing to make the buds “pent-up” associates the trees with violent outburst as the most common time the term “pent-up” is used is regarding repressed or frustrated emotions. The buds are impatient to eliminate the pools, using them to better the trees’ foliage. While the pools are connected to the sky, the trees are earthly because their roots are the primary weapon the trees have to “blot out” (12) the pools. This complete contrast between the pools and the trees creates an oppositional approach to seasons, suggesting the cycle perpetuates through violence rather than a peaceful transition. The contrast also indicates the speaker’s valuing of pause and contemplation rather than aggressive progress.

There is a privileging of taking one’s time within the poem; if the seasons must change, let them at least change more slowly. The speaker implores the trees to “think twice” (10) before soaking up the spring pools made “from snow that melted only yesterday” (14, emphasis mine). The final line carries an incredulity that the spring pools should have so short an existence, that somehow their disappearance would be more fitting if it happened later. Further, one of the spring pools’ most essential qualities is reflection as they are able to reflect, “the total sky almost without defect” (2). This means that not only are the trees darkening nature because the roots are eliminating the spring pools quickly, but because the spring pools themselves represent a reflexivity that their destruction is so troubling to the speaker.

Although there is a displeasure in the speaker’s tone when describing the future destruction of the spring pools, there is also a resignation to the inevitability of the seasons. Consider when the speaker says “let [the trees] think twice before they use their/powers” (10-11). The speaker uses an imperative but seems to be imploring the trees rather than commanding them, fully aware that no matter his entreaties the trees will ultimately use the water as nourishment. “Spring Pools” is one of many of Frost’s poems that recognize a truth about the world, i.e. the seasons will always change and with it spring pools will disappear, but there is still a longing for an alternative narrative (think of “Birches”). I think that is one of the merits of poetry and why it and other cultural creations are absolutely necessary for our sanity. Just because the world looks a certain way right now does not mean it always has to be that way. In the context of “Spring Pools”, I hope that there will always be seasons (if you are in a part of the world that has seasons), otherwise something has gone terribly wrong with the environment. But applying the poem less literally, imagining alternate perceptions of seeing the world is essential to keeping ourselves dynamic, hopeful, and generally happier individuals.

Frost, Robert. “Spring Pools.” Robert Frost’s Poems. 182-183. New York: St. Martin’s  Paperbacks, 2002. Print.

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One thought on “Reflection and Sinister Cycles in Robert Frost’s “Spring Pools”

  1. Pingback: Maintaining Appearances and Encroaching Death in Robert Lowell’s “Terminal Days at Beverly Farm” | Salvage

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