Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Robert Frost, One of America's Greatest Poets"

STEVE EMBER: I'm Steve Ember.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I'm Faith Lapidus with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we finish the story of Robert Frost and his poetry.

STEVE EMBER: When Robert Frost left the United States in nineteen twelve he was an unknown writer. When he returned from Britain three years later he was on his way to becoming one of America's most honored writers. Publishers who had rejected his books now competed against each other to publish them.

Unlike many poets of his time, Frost wrote in traditional forms. He said that not using them was like playing a game that had no rules. He joined the rules of the form with the naturalness of common speech. Other poets before him had tried to do this, but none with Frost's skill.

FAITH LAPIDUS: The common speech Frost used had the words and way of speaking that was clearly American. For example, a poem called "The Death of the Hired Man" begins:


Mary sat musing on the lamp-flame at the table,

Waiting for Warren. When she heard his step,

She ran on tiptoe down the darkened passage

To meet him in the doorway with the news

And put him on his guard. “Silas is back.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: Frost is telling a story about an old farm worker named Silas. The discussion between Warren and Mary continues:


She pushed Warren outward with her through the door

And shut it after her. “Be kind,” she said.

She took the market things from Warren's arms

And set them on the porch, then drew him down

To sit beside her on the wooden steps.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Warren says:


“When was I ever anything but kind to him?

But I'll not have the fellow back,” he said.

“I told him so last haying, didn't I?

If he left then, I said, that ended it.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: And Mary says:


“He's worn out. He's asleep beside the stove.

When I came up from Rowe's I found him here,

Huddled against the barndoor fast asleep. . . .”

Robert Frost had an unhappy childhood which some believe helped make him a very good writer
STEVE EMBER: Through the discussion between Warren and Mary the reader discovers more and more about Silas. In some ways he is a good worker, but he usually disappears when he is most needed. He does not earn much money. He has his own ideas about the way farm work should be done. And he has his own ideas about himself. Instead of asking for help from his rich brother, Silas has come to Warren and Mary. She says:


“... he has come home to die:

You needn't be afraid he'll leave you this time.”

“Home,” he mocked gently.

STEVE EMBER: She answers:


“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,

They have to take you in.”

STEVE EMBER: Without ever having Silas speak, Frost has made the reader know this tired old man, who has come to die in the only home he has. In the final lines of the poem the story of Silas is completed. Mary says:


Warren returned -- too soon, it seemed to her --

Slipped to her side, caught up her hand and waited.

“Warren?” she questioned.

“Dead,” was all he answered.

STEVE EMBER: The poem tells of the understanding that Mary and Warren have for a man who has worked for them for many years. The poem also presents a sadness that Frost repeats many times.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Robert Frost was like an earlier New England writer and thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson. They never were good at joining others in programs or movements. Frost was politically conservative and avoided movements of the left or right. He did this not because he did not support their beliefs, but because they were group projects.

In the poem "Mending Wall" the speaker and his neighbor walk together along a wall, repairing the damage caused by winter weather:


Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it

And spills the upper boulders in the sun,

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast…

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

FAITH LAPIDUS: The speaker questions his neighbor who says: "Good fences make good neighbors. " The speaker says:


Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

As he grew older, Robert Frost's idea of the world became more difficult
STEVE EMBER: Robert Frost's later poetry shows little change or development from his earlier writing. It confirms what he had established in such early books as “North of Boston.” For example, a poem called "Birches," written in nineteen sixteen begins:


When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees,

I like to think some boy's been swinging them.

But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay

As ice storms do.

STEVE EMBER: And it ends:


I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,

And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk

Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,

But dipped its top and set me down again.

That would be good both going and coming back.

One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.


FAITH LAPIDUS: In the nature poems there is often a comparison between what the poet sees and what he feels. It is what Frost in one poem calls the difference between "outer and inner weather." Under the common speech of the person saying the poem is a dark picture of the world. In "The Road Not Taken" he says:


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Poet Robert Frost poses at a dinner at the Theodore Roosevelt Association in New York, 1954
STEVE EMBER: Among Frost's nature poems, there are more about winter than about any other season. Even the poems about spring, autumn, or summer remember winter. They are not poems about happiness found in nature. They are moments of resistance to time and its changes. And even the poems that tell stories are mainly pictures of people who are alone.

Frost shared with Emerson the idea that everybody was a separate individual, and that groups weakened individuals. But where Emerson and those who followed him looked at God and saw a creator, Frost saw what he says is "no expression, nothing to express." Frost sees the world as a "desert place. "

In a poem called "Desert Places," he says:


Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast

In a field I looked into going past,

And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,

But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.

All animals are smothered in their lairs.

I am too absent-spirited to count;

The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less--

A blanker whiteness of benighted snow

With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars--on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Robert Frost received almost every honor a writer could receive. He won the Pulitzer Prize for literature four times. In nineteen sixty, Congress honored Frost with a gold medal for what he had given to the culture of the United States.

In the last years of his life, Frost was no longer producing great poetry, but he represented the value of poetry in human life. He often taught, and he gave talks. Usually he would be asked to read his best known poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:"


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.

STEVE EMBER: Robert Frost died in nineteen sixty-three. He had lived for almost one hundred years, and had covered many miles before he slept, many miles before he slept.


FAITH LAPIDUS: This program was written by Richard Thorman and produced by Dana Demange. The poetry reader was Shirley Griffith. I'm Faith Lapidus.

STEVE EMBER: And I'm Steve Ember. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3 files at voaspecialenglish.com. And you can find us on Facebook and YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Rescue at Sea" by Edcon Publishing.

The "Butterfly" is in serious trouble now that it is caught in a hurricane.

Captain John had five young men as his crew. They set sail late in the afternoon of Saturday, June 26,1975, from the island of Bermuda. All six had vacationed there since Wednesday, resting and enjoying themselves. At the start of their voyage, the ocean was as smooth as glass. Each of the six men was eager to begin the pleasant journey home to New York. Because there was no sign of a breeze, Captain John ran the motor of his sailboat, "Butterfly," both day and night.

When the wind picked up on Sunday, several of the crew raised the sails of the "Butterfly." They enjoyed most of the day, thankful for the gentle breeze. They watched the flying fish and the birds that followed them. By afternoon, the winds grew stronger, and as they did, the waves grew larger in size. In the evening, clouds covered the sky and rain began. By Sunday night, the storm had become a hurricane, and the six men were in serious danger. A hurricane is the most dangerous of all large storms. In these storms there are heavy rains and strong winds that travel
at speeds of seventy-five miles or more an hour. These dangerous winds cause damage over a great distance to everything in their path. The "Butterfly," a small boat about thirty feet long, could easily be wrecked by a hurricane.

Because of the high winds and the rough seas, Captain John and four of the crew became sea sick and were not able to do much work. This left only one young man, Howard, in charge of steering the "Butterfly." Howard had never sailed a boat before, but he took charge for six hours while his friends rested. The little boat was tossed and thrown about by waves. The rain continued to hammer down.

Howard began to lose hope of ever being saved. As he grew more tired, he began to think that he and his friends would drown. Even as he thought this, things began to go wrong. Late Sunday night, one of the sails began to split. Shortly after this, the radio stopped working, making it impossible for Howard to reach another ship. Not too much later, Howard noticed that the small boat was beginning to fill with water.

The sea began to break over the "Butterfly." Howard thought it would be just a matter of time before they would all be lost at sea. He knew that the "Butterfly" had been blown off its course. He had little hope of someone rescuing them.

At one o'clock Monday morning, Captain John was finally able to help Howard. He took over the wheel of the "Butterfly," asking Howard to tie him into a chair so that he would not be thrown into the water. When Howard shouted his fears, Captain John refused to listen. instead, the captain tried to calm Howard, telling him he should never give up hope. Captain John continued to talk to Howard over the roar of the ocean, telling him that men had worked their way through more terrible problems than this. He said they would be saved only if they worked hard and did not give up hope.

It was hours later when Captain John first spotted the light of a ship in the distance. As he headed his boat toward the light, Howard tried to radio again. To his surprise, he reached the other ship. The men on the "Butterfly" were amazed at the size of the other ship as it came near. It was a huge ship from Russia, many times larger than the "Butterfly", and was far safer in a hurricane.

Over the radio, the men made plans for their rescue. By using large ropes, the crew from the Russian ship would lift them to safety. Howard, swinging in the strong wind, was the first man lifted over the wild water. He landed safely on the larger ship, and the other men followed. Captain John was the last to leave the "Butterfly."

When the six men were safe on the Russian ship, they danced and shouted with joy. The Russian men were kind. They gave them food and warm clothing, and allowed them to sleep in the most comfortable rooms. They all continued the voyage to New York. The Russian ship arrived there on Wednesday, the storm far behind. The thankful crew of the "Butterfly" shook hands with their Russian friends, grateful to them for their kindness. Then the men from the "Butterfly" shook hands with Captain John and Howard, thanking them. The men realized that the courage and hope of Captain John and Howard had helped save their lives.


1.Captain John's boat, the "Butterfly," _____________
a. ran only by motor.
b. had both motor and sails.
c. was huge in size.
d. had no motor.

2. In a hurricane, ________________
a. there is no wind.
b. there is no rain.
c. there are strong winds and rain.
d. there is little danger.

3. Howard and his friends ________________
a. were on vacation.
b. lived in Bermuda.
c. worked in Bermuda.
d. did not like ships.

4. The "Butterfly" was blown _____________________
a. back to Bermuda.
b. off course.
c. near an English ship.
d. to New York.

5. The young man named Howard ___________________________
a. very often steered ships.
b. did not like sailing.
c. was very seasick.
d. had never steered a ship before.

6. The men were rescued ______________
a. by a Russian ship.
b. by a small boat.
c. by a sea plane.
d. when the storm was over.

7. The men on the rescue ship ________________
a. were not friendly or kind.
b. were in great danger from the storm.
c. were lost at sea.
d. gave Captain John and his crew the most comfortable rooms.

8. When Captain John saw the light of the huge ship, ________________
a. he was more frightened than before.
b. he thought that they would drown.
c. he thought that they might be rescued.
d. he was angry with Howard for not seeing it.

9. Another name for this story could be ________________
a. "Travel in Bermuda."
b. "Courage at Sea."
c. "Hurricanes."
d. "How to Sail a Ship."

10. This story is mainly about ____________________
a. the danger of travel by ship.
b. Bermuda as a vacation island.
c. Russian rescue ships.
d. not giving up hope when faced with difficulty.

Life in an Ant Colony

Susan B. Anthony