Poetry in a Glass: Always Wrong to the Light

A few weeks back I wrote a post about the poem “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath, in which I talked about the difficulty we sometimes have with seeing our own reflection, especially if we’re not being true to ourselves. Our poem for today, “For Once, Then, Something,” is one that was originally written by Robert Frost in 1920 for Harper’s Magazine, and then was later included in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book of poems called New Hampshire, published in 1923. Like “Mirror,” Frost’s poem also deals with the idea of gazing into a reflective surface, but his focus is on what lies beyond the image of ourselves that we see. His position is that we are always searching for truth, rather than potentially avoiding it, but our own reflection prevents us from seeing deeply enough to uncover it.

For Once, Then, Something

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

In order to find the truth, or to at least find profound meaning in life, we need to look deeply into things and think about what it is that we see. The well represents that necessary depth, but it is true that in the act of gazing into one we find ourselves “always wrong to the light,” because the sun sits above us, and our own image stands in our way. If we take the symbolism one step further, we see that we often obscure our own understanding in our quest for truth because we are constantly trying to exercise that same power and control that we talked about last Friday. We assign meaning, rather than allowing meaning to come to us instinctively or intuitively, or through the intervention of a higher power. We become attached to the outcome of our expectations because we are afraid to yield to anything larger than ourselves. We are the center of our own universe, “godlike looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs” like some part of a Renaissance fresco painting. Frost suggests that if we are to discern truth we must look beyond ourselves and through ourselves, in order to see a glimpse of more, but when that “something white, uncertain” is revealed we must be careful not to attach meaning to it, or attempt to define it in terms of ourselves. Instead we must allow it to be, we must accept the divinity of it, and we must realize that its relevance will be revealed to us without any intervention on our part. The process of attaching meaning takes us out of the present, propels us into a future that we cannot know or control, and denies us the opportunity to seek truth in life’s moments, rather than in the orchestration of what lies beyond those moments. As soon as we pick up the conductor’s baton, that glimmer of truth transforms back into a mere pebble of quartz.

For today’s cocktail, I tried to think as intuitively as possible. I began with a fabulous base of rye whiskey infused with honey from Catskill Provisions in NY. That put me in a fall frame of mind, despite the fact that Frost’s poem was set in summer. I am hoping you’ll let me slide! My head was filled with thoughts of cider spices and the smell of the woods, perfectly captured by Bonal Gentiane-Quina (think along the lines of a French amaro) and Barrow’s Intense Ginger liqueur. I needed a simple syrup that would take these flavors a step further so I created my own with butternut squash, maple syrup, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and bay leaves. Sweetness requires an acid to balance it which led me to lemon juice, and what better bitters than Blackstrap from Bittercube to tie everything together. Their molasses, vanilla, and spice flavor profile conjures up the perfect fall day. Was there divine intervention at work? Possibly. I love the fact that the syrup prevented the cocktail from being perfectly clear. My reflection was nowhere to be found. Cheers everyone. Happy Monday!

Always Wrong to the Light

2 oz Catskill Provisions Honey Whiskey
½ oz Bonal Gentiane-Quina
½ oz Barrow’s Intense Ginger liqueur
¾ oz maple butternut squash syrup (mine)
½ oz lemon juice
2 dashes Bittercube Blackstrap bitters

Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker over ice and shake until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish. Enjoy!

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