April 18, 1928

The bear puts both arms round the tree above her
And draws it down as if it were a lover
And its choke-cherries lips to kiss goodby,
Then lets it snap back upright in the sky.
Her next step rocks a boulder on the wall.
(She’s making her cross-country in the fall.)
Her great weight creaks the barbed wire in its staples
As she flings over and off down through the maples,
Leaving on one wire tooth a lock of hair.
Such is the uncaged progress of the bear.
The world has room to make a bear feel free.
The universe seems cramped to you and me.
Man acts more like the poor bear in a cage
That all day fights a nervous inward rage,
His mood rejecting all his mind suggests.
He paces back and forth and never rests
The toe-nail click and shuffle of his feet,
The telescope at one end of his beat,
And at the other end the microscope,
Two instruments of nearly equal hope,
And in conjunction giving quite a spread.
Or if he rests from scientific tread,
’Tis only to sit back and sway his head
Through ninety-odd degrees of arc it seems,
Between two metaphysical extremes.
He sits back on his fundamental butt
With lifted snout and eyes (if any) shut
(He almost looks religious but he’s not),
And back and forth he sways from cheek to cheek,
At one extreme agreeing with one Greek,
At the other agreeing with another Greek,
Which may be thought but only so to speak.
A baggy figure equally pathetic
When sedentary and when peripatetic.

This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.

Reviewing Robert Frost’s first book, A Boy’s Will, in 1915, The Nation described him as “a poet by endowment,” but “a symbolist only by trade.” Frost (1874–1963) wrote four poems for The Nation in the 1920s. When he died, the sportswriter Roger Kahn wrote in the magazine of his friend: “Robert Frost is dead and my mortality and yours is thus more stark.”