the risk in being good

Oh my goodness. Robert Frost’s Exposed Nest. What a poem.

What is it to do good? What harm can come from intervention? How swiftly do we turn “to other things” and often have no measure of the consequence of what we think of as our “caring”? Quite a raw spot this one, I think, and not just on microscopic level.  Just think of the abundant socio-political parallels for interventionism and the righteous certainty of doing-what’s-best OR for-your-own-good …

And yet we want to care, we need to care. I’m quietly terrified that we might forget. This impetus to care, and the infrastructures we imagine into being and create around us in order tor care for one another, these are key to Wind Resistance.

The Exposed Nest

You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But ’twas no make-believe with you today,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clovers.
‘Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasking flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once–could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might out meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven’t any memory–have you?–
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.

by Robert Frost

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