As I head off for my Live Poets Society Meeting, I'll share with my e-audience the two poems I managed to squeeze in (write) between all the work projects: The Banshee E-Mail (written about the screaming, hysterical woman that won't leave me alone, otherwise known as E-MAIL; and Stopping Work on a Sunny Morning, a take-off on Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - and expression of how I look forward to leaving work behind and getting out in nature for a beautiful sunrise...
The Banshee E-Mail
hit keys faster
click click click
100 messages a day
Answer! Answer Now!
don’t stop to think!
She wants your very blood
and she will have it
more, more, more
The Banshee Creature – Defined by Wikipedia
The Banshee (pronounced /ˈbænʃiː/, BAN-shee), from the Irish bean sí ("woman of the síde" or "woman of the fairy mounds") is a female spirit in Irish mythology, usually seen as an omen of death and a messenger from the Otherworld. Her Scottish counterpart is the bean shìth (also spelled bean-shìdh).
The aos sí (people of the mounds, people of peace) are variously believed to be the survivals of pre-Christian Gaelic deities, spirits of nature, or the ancestors. Some Theosophists and Celtic Christians have referred to the aos sí as "fallen angels". They are commonly referred to in English as "fairies", and the banshee can also be described as a "fairy woman".
The bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy) may be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. Whatever her origins, the banshee chiefly appears in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag. These represent the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death, namely Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain.) She usually wears either a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman, and is seen apparently washing the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die. In this guise she is known as the bean-nighe (washing woman).
Although not always seen, her mourning call is heard, usually at night when someone is about to die. In 1437, King James I of Scotland was approached by an Irish seeress or banshee who foretold his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl. This is an example of the banshee in human form. There are records of several human banshees or prophetesses attending the great houses of Ireland and the courts of local Irish kings. In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass.
Stopping Work on a Sunny Morning
Whose work this is I think I know.
His house is in Chicago though;
He will not see me stopping here
To leave my work and rise to go.
My little dog must think it queer
To stop without an office near
And leave the reams in darkened rooms
The lightest morning of the year.
She gives her collar bell a shake
As if she sees the great surprise
The only other sound's the call
Of bird on wing and sweet sunrise.
The work I leave is deep and wide
But there’s a promise to myself to keep,
And miles to go before I die
And miles to go before I die.
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening – Robert Frost
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.
Commentary on Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening (from SparkNotes)
This is a poem to be marveled at and taken for granted. Like a big stone, like a body of water, like a strong economy, however it was forged it seems that, once made, it has always been there. Frost claimed that he wrote it in a single nighttime sitting; it just came to him. Perhaps one hot, sustained burst is the only way to cast such a complete object, in which form and content, shape and meaning, are alloyed inextricably. One is tempted to read it, nod quietly in recognition of its splendor and multivalent meaning, and just move on. But one must write essays. Or study guides.
Like the woods it describes, the poem is lovely but entices us with dark depths--of interpretation, in this case. It stands alone and beautiful, the account of a man stopping by woods on a snowy evening, but gives us a come-hither look that begs us to load it with a full inventory of possible meanings. We protest, we make apologies, we point to the dangers of reading poetry in this way, but unlike the speaker of the poem, we cannot resist.
The last two lines are the true culprits. They make a strong claim to be the most celebrated instance of repetition in English poetry. The first "And miles to go before I sleep" stays within the boundaries of literalness set forth by the rest of the poem. We may suspect, as we have up to this point, that the poem implies more than it says outright, but we can't insist on it; the poem has gone by so fast, and seemed so straightforward. Then comes the second "And miles to go before I sleep," like a soft yet penetrating gong; it can be neither ignored nor forgotten. The sound it makes is "Ahhh." And we must read the verses again and again and offer trenchant remarks and explain the "Ahhh" in words far inferior to the poem. For the last "miles to go" now seems like life; the last "sleep" now seems like death.
The basic conflict in the poem, resolved in the last stanza, is between an attraction toward the woods and the pull of responsibility outside of the woods. What do woods represent? Something good? Something bad? Woods are sometimes a symbol for wildness, madness, the pre-rational, the looming irrational. But these woods do not seem particularly wild. They are someone's woods, someone's in particular--the owner lives in the village. But that owner is in the village on this, the darkest evening of the year--so would any sensible person be. That is where the division seems to lie, between the village (or "society," "civilization," "duty," "sensibility," "responsibility") and the woods (that which is beyond the borders of the village and all it represents). If the woods are not particularly wicked, they still possess the seed of the irrational; and they are, at night, dark--with all the varied connotations of darkness.
Part of what is irrational about the woods is their attraction. They are restful, seductive, lovely, dark, and deep--like deep sleep, like oblivion. Snow falls in downy flakes, like a blanket to lie under and be covered by. And here is where many readers hear dark undertones to this lyric. To rest too long while snow falls could be to lose one's way, to lose the path, to freeze and die. Does this poem express a death wish, considered and then discarded? Do the woods sing a siren's song? To be lulled to sleep could be truly dangerous. Is allowing oneself to be lulled akin to giving up the struggle of prudence and self-preservation? Or does the poem merely describe the temptation to sit and watch beauty while responsibilities are forgotten--to succumb to a mood for a while?
The woods sit on the edge of civilization; one way or another, they draw the speaker away from it (and its promises, its good sense). "Society" would condemn stopping here in the dark, in the snow--it is ill advised. The speaker ascribes society's reproach to the horse, which may seem, at first, a bit odd. But the horse is a domesticated part of the civilized order of things; it is the nearest thing to society's agent at this place and time. And having the horse reprove the speaker (even if only in the speaker's imagination) helps highlight several uniquely human features of the speaker's dilemma. One is the regard for beauty (often flying in the face of practical concern or the survival instinct); another is the attraction to danger, the unknown, the dark mystery; and the third--perhaps related but distinct--is the possibility of the death wish, of suicide.
Not that we must return too often to that darkest interpretation of the poem. Beauty alone is a sufficient siren; a sufficient protection against her seduction is an unwillingness to give up on society despite the responsibilities it imposes. The line "And miles to go before I sleep" need not imply burden alone; perhaps the ride home will be lovely, too. Indeed, the line could be read as referring to Frost's career as a poet, and at this time he had plenty of good poems left in him.