Thursday, June 27, 2013

Poem Discussion: The Master Speed, "Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar"

Today I was in a meeting when I noticed this book on a shelf in the conference room. I've heard good things about the Kasses' anthology before, so I decided to Google it when I got back to my desk.


Imagine my delight to find that the title comes from a Robert Frost poem. (Frost is Frank's favorite poet, and we're both big fans.) The poem, The Master Speed, is addressed to a young married couple and discusses the nature of marriage. Since marriage is such a big topic around these parts (I wonder why...), I thought maybe you'd enjoy reading it:

The Master Speed

By Robert Frost

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have a speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will.
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still—
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.

There's so much to think about in this poem, isn't there? I love the line about "the power of standing still." I asked Frank what he thought that meant, and he said, "An anchor in a storm, that holds the boat steady—that's what a family is." Funny, because I thought more of time standing still, so that a couple could be 75 years old and still feel young to each other. I loved how different our interpretations were—it expands my mind to hear his perspective.

I liked this poem so much I wanted to read some analysis of it—something that would tell me its significance and what it means. But I couldn't find a whole lot out there. Then I thought, "I bet the friends who read my blog would have some thoughts about this."

So if you don't mind... and you get a chance to read it... would you tell me what you think? :)


  1. "A dead thing goes with the stream. Only a living thing can go against it." --G.K. Chesterton

    1. Lauren, thanks—that quotation applies really well to that line. A couple truly living out their vocation to marriage is given the strength to, as you said, "go against the stream." Beautiful!

  2. I wrote about this poem and the book you referenced on my blog a few months ago!


    Thought you may be interested :) It's such a beautiful poem, isn't it? I'm sure you'd love a lot of the essays in the anthology too--they're brilliant!

    1. Also that line you pointed out--"that you may have the power of standing still"--to me is about peace. I associate stillness with peacefulness and serene calm, and this line, to me, links a strong and beautiful marriage with contentment and inner peace. It reminds of this verse from Exodus (which I often repeat in my head when I'm feeling anxious or overwhelmed): "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."

  3. I don't understand the line "Off any still or moving thing you say." The repetition of "still" from the previous line, sure. It makes me wonder if it's a typo, if the line is really "Of any still or moving thing you say." I have to read this at a wedding this weekend, so I could use some tips.

    1. Funny you mention it—I also feel like I don't understand that line at all. I wonder if it would make more sense in the context of boating, like maybe watching an oar move through the water? Hm.

      On the other hand, this is an AWESOME poem to read for a wedding. I hope your reading goes well and you have a great time this weekend!!

    2. Hello guys!
      My personal interpretation is that the line has to be read together with the previous one, so "That you may have the power of standing still off any still or moving thing you say". I think maybe it means that you have the power to remain detached from your and your partner's words, wether they are good or bad. So like loving each other despite everything, perhaps? I'm not english, so maybe I don't really get the poem, but that's my opinion.

  4. Frost is observing that they have this Master Speed. I have 3 meanings in my mind about Off and of.. and the poem itself, which I love, and read outloud at a wedding ... the 1st; it is "a wish that the person/couple may have the power of standing still (tranquil), during their life. or 2nd: have gotten the gift of "speed", so they would have the power "of standing still or moving" when necessary. or 3rd: moving also has an emotional connotation, that could be buried in the statement... time to reflect or hold back... from (instead of off or of) any still or moving thing you say. This master speed keeps and/or will keep you together wing to wing... etc.