Thursday, September 01, 2005

"The Flood," by Robert Frost; and the 1927 Mississippi Flood

The Flood

by Robert Lee Frost

Blood has been harder to dam back than water.
Just when we think we have it impounded safe
Behind new barrier walls (and let it chafe!),
It breaks away in some new kind of slaughter.
We choose to say it is let loose by the devil;
But power of blood itself releases blood.
It goes by might of being such a flood
Held high at so unnatural a level.
It will have outlet, brave and not so brave.
weapons of war and implements of peace
Are but the points at which it finds release.
And now it is once more the tidal wave
That when it has swept by leaves summits stained.
Oh, blood will out. It cannot be contained.

Update: This poem was published in 1928, in a collection called West-Running Brook.

I believe it is a response to the great Misssippi River flood of 1927, which killed and displaced thousands of people -- including, again, many African Americans. Herbert Hoover, one of the most incompetent Presidents in U.S. history, supervised the rescue efforts. His betrayal of African American victims of the flood led blacks to leave the Republican party, and may have changed the face of American politics.

Here is a PBS timeline detailing the events. The racial nastiness of the era makes this week's FEMA failure seem almost small.

With "blood," I think Frost is in some sense referring to the ugly human politics that came with (and followed) the disaster.


Anonymous brimful said...

Thanks, Amardeep. Since I hail from NH (and, as such, have Frost ingrained into my system), I'm especially touched by this post.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

Charlie Patton penned the "High Water Blues" about this, which is incredibly haunting. Its mentioned in Alan Lomax's book and is beautifully drawn in R. Crumb's biography of Charlie Patton. You can hear it in the Yazoo release Best of Charlie Patton". The recording is crap, but the enormous power of his singing and playing packs a fantastic punch.

8:11 PM  
Blogger MAHARAJADHIRAJ said...

Bout your race n hurricane post, it's funny how the American 'corporate media'
(Arundhati Roy's coinage, I s'pose) fails to take note of the American class system. And then it turns around and calls us the third world (whatever that means). I think most westerners have a very twisted notions of social grading. I think from an (truly) Indian perspective the West would probably be the 25th World. Strange how most things (news) in America gets colour coded. Very subtle yet very effective!!

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Karthik said...

This is the most touching post I've seen on Katrina - thanks.

Hurricanes are the most "discriminating" among all natural disasters - the well-to-do usually get away with minimal damage (they can protect their houses better, and they can get out if they need to). I've been through many hurricanes in Florida, and in the days after we would talk about how long we were without power, and how a few shingles flew off our roofs. We've driven through poorer neighborhoods, mostly deserted areas where whole roofs are gone, and mobile homes have been razed to the ground.

This seems like 10 times worse than what we saw - if Florida had gotten hit by something like this, I'd like to think we'd have fared a little better, because people "know" hurricanes better.

Sorry for the disjointed comments - I saw this post and felt I had to.

6:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This poem has nothing to do with floods. It is a commentary on the human potential for violence. Our display and love for it. Our thurst cannot be quenched of blood even if it comes in floods.

6:25 PM  
Blogger makjjj said...

Of course, "blood will out" is a revision of Shakespeare's "truth will out" (Merchant of Venice) but more violent.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why can't Frost write about a topic such as a flood and relate it to something else, like violence. the way Amardeep Mississippi is spelled like that...

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the flood did not kill thousands...

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand what that guy is mainly saying, in a real sense. but i think Frost had a deeper meaning in this poem, i believe that the main symbol, blood, means war, and that no matter what you do to prepare youself, war will always happen, and that peace can never be achieved...

10:03 PM  

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