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There are roughly zones, Robert Frost | Beginning the illustration sequence

David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1062

11 May 2020, 3:27 PM

I've made a page for Art Class which is a quick look at developing an etching project.  I'm currently working on two Robert Frost poems.

One is being done with copper plate electro-etching, the other with linocuts. Neither is going to plan, very frustrating!

You can view progress here. And I've put There are roughly zones also on the About page of Creative Spaces. Soon we might have a forum discussion about what it means. Suffice to say now, Frost is a favourite poet.

We sit indoors and talk of the cold outside.
And every gust that gathers strength and heaves
Is a threat to the house. But the house has long been tried.
We think of the tree. If it never again has leaves,
We’ll know, we say, that this was the night it died.
It is very far north, we admit, to have brought the peach.
What comes over a man, is it soul or mind
That to no limits and bounds he can stay confined?
You would say his ambition was to extend the reach
Clear to the Arctic of every living kind.
Why is his nature forever so hard to teach
That though there is no fixed line between wrong and right,
There are roughly zones whose laws must be obeyed.
There is nothing much we can do for the tree tonight.
But we can’t help feeling more than a little betrayed
That the northwest wind should rise to such a height
Just when the cold went down so many below.
The tree has no leaves and may never have them again.
We must wait till some months hence in the spring to know.
But if it is destined never again to grow,
It can blame this limitless trait in the hearts of men.
Stuart Manins's profile picture
Posts: 140

12 May 2020, 6:35 PM

This is my first reading of There are Roughly Zones and a number of things about it stood out.

  1. There are clues to its meaning in the relationship between form and content. 
    It has 21 lines with no breaks, but a rhyming scheme of ababa, cddcdc, efefe,gkggk indicates four blocks of thought: a storm threatening a house and a tree; human nature which transplants a peach tree in the Arctic; some moral reflection on the nature of right and wrong; and the potential to survive what appears catastrophic.
  2. As in Hebrew poetry, the punch line is in the middle, “Why is his nature forever so hard to teach”
  3. It has particular relevance to our Covid 19 times but could apply to much more.
  4. It's really satisfying to read aloud.

I welcome the thoughts of others to assist my continuing reflection.

David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1062

13 May 2020, 12:33 PM

Stuart, that's a helpful set of insights into the poem. Let's take the format of content first. Your excellent content summary is:

  • a storm threatening a house and a tree;
  • human nature which transplants a peach tree in the Arctic;
  • some moral reflection on the nature of right and wrong;
  • and the potential to survive what appears catastrophic.

I suspect many people on first reading the poem will have difficulty with it because they find it hard to differentiate all the things that are in that one solid block of text. I wonder why the poet chose to format it that way?

Many of his poems are broken into stanzas yet this sits on the page as a single block of ideas. It's printed that way in our book of Frost's poems, and also is formatted that way in the online versions. 

That makes think, from the printmaker's point of view, that the image created in the mind's eye by the block of ideas is somehow solid, three dimensional, a carefully delineated space within a chaotic space. So I attempt to capture this with the etched lines and textures. It doesn't work first time around, how about a second go, here.

Stuart Manins's profile picture
Posts: 140

13 May 2020, 3:19 PM

First, what a great process to be involved in; you with your art work and me with the words only.  A happy dialogue!
Regarding the point raised in your reply to me.  I immediately thought of the lines:
        That though there is no fixed line between wrong and right,
        There are roughly zones whose laws must be obeyed.
The one solid column of lines allows for no subdivision of the  poem into the usual stanzas. There are no fixed internal structural divisions. Only zones, with their necessary laws. I presumed Frost chose the rhyming pattern to reinforce that.
What about making more of the comment that I saw the crunch line as line 10, exactly half way in the 21 lines:
      Why is his nature forever so hard to teach?
And I see a reflection of its importance in the final line (More common with English poets):
     I can blame this limitless trait in the hearts of men.

A post by Stuart Manins was deleted

David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1062

15 May 2020, 5:21 PM

As I read it, I thought Frost made the poem one solid block of text because he felt it was one coherent idea, a conversation on one subject.

As you point out, the poem has four building blocks, and they cohere to make a whole, a unified foundation. 

Somehow the illustration has to convey the sense of zones, diversity, and a zone, unity.

When I've got some acceptable proof prints, I will show how the geometry was constructed as both arbitrary—Why is his nature forever so hard to teach?— and inexorably mathematical law, something inevitable—which you could read as— I can blame this limitless trait in the hearts of men.

Stuart Manins's profile picture
Posts: 140

15 May 2020, 5:24 PM

David has also posted this poem, Unharvested, on his art page

A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady's fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.


Underlying this poem is the ancient Jewish requirement of tithing described in Deuteronomy of the Torah. It includes the practice of withholding a tenth of any agricultural crop for giving to the poor. I don't know if this is deliberate or not but is seems to be a very strong possibility, and the idea is seminal to understanding the text.

As with There Are Roughly Zones, there are clues to be found in looking at the poem's structure. There are 14 lines, which echo the length of the traditional sonnet. This time the first 10 lines are separated with a gap before the final 4. Maybe this gives emphasis to the concluding universal wish for sharing the good things of life with our neighbours.

The rhyming scheme is aba, cbc, dede, edff – a mixture of first, conformity, and then variation of the usual sonnet form of 6 lines followed by 8 lines. Not unusual for Frost's verse. This format suggest 4 thought centres which could be describes as:

  • seeing and smelling ripe fruit over a wall

  • identifying a bare apple tree with its crop below on the ground

  • musing on the quiet way the red carpet had fallen (like man?)

  • wishing us to include help for others in our plans

This is an uncomplicated, relevant expression of worthy aspiration for such a time as Corvid 19.

David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1062

29 May 2020, 5:22 PM

Leaving aside Stuart's excellent forum comments about the poem Unharvested—I've not begun any artwork for this yet—and returning to There are roughly zones, I feel I am getting closer to what I want to say in the prints.

This afternoon I spent an hour or so with Stuart discussing the print sequence. He was finally able to see the size, the textures and the colour sequence real eyeball-to-real paper, rather than through a glass darkly, as it were.

There are a couple of additional prints onto page 3, though none of these will be included in the final sequence. I had been experimenting to see how the different plates interact with different tints and shades around one colour, then with one another. Not great results but certainly great learnings for me..

I said to Stuart that the problem was how to find the 'sub-Arctic' colour palette that would portray all the information of plates in combination. This is hard when working with transparent inks rather than opaque colours.  I also need the colour palette to remain clear, simple and without undue ornamentation. Again, easier said than done.

Stuart made a telling observation from the composer and music educator Karl Orff, how important it was for young students to learn to listen with their eyes and see with the ears! And we agreed that might be a way of saying how the final prints would have to enhance the text and vice versa. I can use that in all kinds of ways!



Stuart Manins's profile picture
Posts: 140

30 May 2020, 9:35 AM

A good discussion and a useful quote about 'inner hearing, 'seeing with ears and hearing with eyes,' although I'm fairly sure now that it should have  been attributed to Zoltan Kodaly and not Karl Orff.

This has set me thinking about the differences and similarities in art and poetry and how they can be related. Essentially, art is placed in space, and recited poetry occupies time. One can see the whole of an art work at once, whereas a poem needs to be read, starting from the beginning, and proceeding step by step to the end.

In English, the eyes read from left to right, but not all languages are the same. I was looking at a mosaic floor scene in a early synagogue in Israel a few years ago, and wondered why I couldn't easily follow the story of Abraham and Isaac although the individual characters in the drama were obvious - particularly the buck-toothed father. Of course I was not following the pictures from right to left as in reading Hebrew and Arabic. Think of the challenges of linking Chinese characters and art work in this respect.

David, I notice that most of your art examples have upper and lower, as well as left and right sections as the poem has a first section and then a second one. There are bi-lateral divisions also. When you created them did you generally work from left to right and top to bottom or start anywhere and move in any direction as the space allowed you to? I noticed a tendency in Frost's poem to start with the conventional poetic structure and then diverge from this base. In the top section of the predominately yellow example, did you establish form and texture on the left first and them modify them by wiping out and simplifying things on the right? If so, isn't this being influence by your literary tendencies?.

David Bell's profile picture
Posts: 1062

30 May 2020, 5:17 PM

Hi David, I am finally getting back you having read the two poems again.

I am not familiar with the work of Robert Frost, so I was delighted to be introduced to these two poems.
There are roughly zones is striking in that it has the poet pondering in context of storm. Then out of this ordinary reflection comes a polished insight related to ethics that claims our attention. 
Zones are preferred to lines by the poet and this seems a truth to be embraced. We are asked ‘why are we so slow to recognise or accept this’? It is an important question.
Thank you for sharing it with me. Cheers, Terry


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