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Directive: A Starting Out Point

We live in spaces where there is too much information all the time—information designed to get us to buy things, every statement a marketing pitch. The goal of what I am about to begin is to provide a retreat from all that noise propped up by dollar signs. At Embitterment, Ethan, Russell, and I have the good fortune to make a product that is fun to sell, so we don’t feel the need to spend every waking moment pushing our bitters. We think that there needs to be time for fun and for contemplation of what is good and beautiful in the world, so we’ve set aside space on our blog to do just that.

From here out, when you see one of our Liquid Poetry posts, take it as a signal to slow down, tune out, and read something that luxuriates in the beautiful space where flavor and art mingle. You can expect a healthy dose of poetry, a bit of humor, and some fresh spins on things we may tend to overlook or take for granted. In this first post, I look at a strange little poem by Robert Frost and explain how it acts as a sort of “tuning fork” for all the posts that will follow.


 

Directive: A Starting Out Point

 

Robert Frost Directive

 

In perhaps his most mysterious poem, “Directive,” Robert Frost’s speaker encourages you (the reader) to follow “a guide…who only has at heart your getting lost.” This is not an atypical move for Frost, who crafted around himself the persona of the sly New England trickster—wily, colloquial, testy, and yet also tender and elemental. Indeed, one of the keys to enjoying Frost and his poetry is knowing when his tongue is in his cheek and when he’s being frank.

At its heart, “Directive” is about rediscovering things that are in certain ways simpler and more essential than the high-maintenance lives we try to sustain day after day, and it puts us in contact with this simplicity through a series of “directives” (or instructions) from which the poem earns its name. The speaker takes the reader, willing or not, on a journey back in time to a place “where two village cultures faded into each other” and disappeared. There’s a palpable sense of anxiety in the narrative, and you can hear Frost’s speaker both acknowledge it and attempt to steer the reader toward a place where that anxiety can be shed. The poem begins:

 

Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.

 

When the speaker and the reader finally arrive at this farm, all that is left to see are a few cellar holes, some “pecker-fretted apple trees,” and a couple broken dishes. At this point, in one of the poem’s most curious instructions, Frost directs:

 

…if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.

 

Looking away from the poem for a second, I think it’s important to consider what role a good cocktail can play when you’re overwhelmed or off-center. For me, it’s a flavor-inspired retreat from rushing around, a deep breath in followed by a deep breath out. After a long week, I sometimes find myself holding my drink like a talisman against everything I’ve done to and for myself and against everything that still remains undone. It’s no secret that cocktails aren’t normally considered “health food,” but there is nonetheless a great deal of value in finding a pleasurable way to focus on what is physical and immediate—to pull in your life and put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.

Frost seems to understand this because, back in the world of the poem, his speaker discloses an important and very personal secret to the reader:

 

I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it…

 

It’s almost like he’s showing us the high cabinet where he keeps the good liquor, but in a less alcoholic, more poetic way. Like all of us, Frost sees the magic and the reward in being able to extract oneself from the world and have a hidden retreat, whether that retreat exists in space, time, or flavor. And, if at any point in the poem he has annoyed us by being too bossy with his directives or confused us with his somewhat opaque motives, Frost redeems himself in the final two end-stopped lines, declaring:

 

Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.

 

In the closing of one of his most evocative poems, Frost inadvertently strikes right at the heart of what is good and beautiful about getting lost in a cocktail. It’s about arriving at a place that others may have forgotten, about knowing the spell and discovering the Grail, and about drinking deeply and becoming whole again, beyond confusion.

In posts to come, I hope to create that type of space here, and I hope that you’ll follow me willingly, even if I turn out to be a guide who only has at heart your getting lost.

 

Cheers,
Eric Kozlik

 

 

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