‘Nothing is Far’ by Robert Francis is a short five stanza poem that speaks on the presence of God in everything on earth. ‘Nothing is Far’ has a consistent, simple rhyme scheme that unifies each individual stanza. The pattern of the lines stays true throughout and follows a scheme of, AAA, BBB, CCC…etc.
The poem begins with the speaker admitting that even though the world is basically the same as it was during the time of the ancients, he cannot have their experiences. He can hear the calling of the same birds as they did, but he does not hear the voice of God. He sees the trees at twilight, but no Gods emerge from them. He is not deterred by this lack of divine proof and still believes that a rock can be so much more than a common object. He is entranced by the idea that it holds more than it seems like it possibly could. He believes it is able to conceal “Something not stone, not seen, yet real.”
Hoping to come up with what that presence might be, he lists the fact that nothing today is farther away than it was. God, and answers, should be, and are, just as close as they were to the ancients and seers. Nothing, he believes is hidden now that wasn’t before. All things are imbued with God in the same way they were before.
The poem concludes with the speaker accepting his place in the world. He is somewhere between “the known and the unknown.” He will never know for sure and is content in that state of being.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of Nothing is Far
Though I have never caught the word(…)I hear all that the ancients heard.
The speaker of this piece begins the first stanza by making a concession. He says that even though he does not hear the voice of God in the sound of birds, he can still hear all that “the ancients heard.”
At the beginning of this poem, it seems as if the speaker is questioning spirituality and its relation to nature. He has been seeking some sign from God in the sounds of nature and has not seen or heard it. He makes clear that he is doing everything the “ancients” and “seers” did. He is seeing and hearing the same sounds and sights but does not sense God within them. There is no message hidden in the sounds of nature.
It will become clear later that the speaker is not doubtful of the presence of God, but reinterpreting what he experiences and accepting that he is never going to know the will of God.
Though I have seen no deity(…)I see all that the seers see.
The second stanza begins with another concession. He states once more that he has not experienced a divine presence where he was hoping that he would. He has not seen a deity…
Enter or leave a twilit tree,
It is common in myth and religion for those blessed by God of Gods to see spirits or embodiments of these deities residing within trees, but the speaker has not.
Adding to the mystical nature of such a sighting, the speaker says he hasn’t even seen one at “twilit” or twilight (generally thought to be the most “magical” time of day).
He makes this addition to further back up his claim. He has searched for a sign, taken advantage of the “magic hour” but still— nothing.
A common stone can still reveal(…)What may a common stone conceal?
In the third stanza, the reader comes to the turning point of the piece. It becomes clear that the speaker is not without faith as it might have seemed in the previous stanzas, but is only interpreting things differently.
The speaker describes a “common stone.” He still has the belief that the world is full of things he has yet to experience as he states,
A common stone can still reveal
Something not stone,
Common objects in nature can still, he believes, hold a force that is greater than the object itself. He has not been worn down by past attempts at divine communication —he still has faith. The stone to which he is referring is described as possibly holding something that, even though it isn’t “seen,” is still real.
Additionally, the speaker asks, what is this presence the stone is concealing? What is possible within it? He attempts to answer this question in the next two stanzas.
Nothing is far that once was near.(…)Nothing was God that is not here.
In this section of the poem, the speaker tries to reason out the presence of God within common objects. He is describing the state of the world and even though time has passed since the ancients were seeing Gods within trees, things are generally still the same.
Nothing is far that once was near.
Nothing, he says, has been lost since the time of the ancients. All is still clear, obscured by nothing. One simply must tap into the divine nature of the world.
He concludes this stanza by saying that everything around him is God. All objects, no matter the significance to humans, are imbued with God’s essence.
Here is the bird, the tree, the stone.(…)Between the known and the unknown.
The poem concludes with the speaker contemplating this new idea. He is there in the forest seeing “the bird, the tree, the stone,” and the sun, under which he sits “alone.”
There he is able to fully appreciate this world, the one that came before, and the realm of God. He places himself in the history of time and spirituality he is “Between the down and the unknown.” He is craving answers but willing to accept that he will never have them.
About Robert Francis
Robert Francis was born in 1901 in Upland, Pennsylvania. As a young man, he was educated at Harvard. After graduating in 1923 he moved to Amherst, Massachusetts where he lived in a small house he named, “Fort Juniper”. He would live in this house for a total of 47 years, it would be his only permanent home.
His first collection of poetry was published in 1936 and was called Stand Here With Me. It was and still is, compared with the works of Robert Frost. Most of Francis’ career was spent as a university lecturer in America and Europe. He led a simple life that consisted of writing poetry and essays.
Francis was never subject to much critical acclaim, but he did pick up a number of awards during his life, such as the Shelley Memorial Award in 1939. Robert Francis has been largely forgotten since his death in July of 1987.