Thursday, July 30, 2009

Robert Frost on Poetry

Last night I was dead tired when I got home, for some reason. Was it the emotional letdown after the successful class I taught during yesterday's noon hour? Or was it my bagworm ministry for 35 minutes before church yesterday evening? Or might it just be over-eating and under-sleeping while the wife's away? For whatever reason, I slept the sleep of the dead last night--until about 3:30 AM, when I woke up and felt something crawling on me, something insect-sized. I pulled it off, squished it between fingers, and rolled over. I suspect a tick picked up from the bagworm infested bush. Of course, after that I imagined every little itch to be a tick and probably pulled off several imaginary ones. Still, I got back to sleep and slept well.

I'm working on several articles for, including one on a book I checked out from the Bentonville library, The Notebooks of Robert Frost. I waited for this book to come in, then was somewhat disappointed in it when I finally got it. I guess I expected to see drafts of all of Frost's famous poems and observe how he went about his compositions. Or maybe I expected copious notes of his poetic philosophy, or preparation for his many lectures.

The book has little of that. I'm going to write a review of it for, so I can't put all of what I want to say here. But I did find an interesting segment with some quotes on poetry. Quotations allegedly from Frost about "Poetry is..." are rampant, such as "Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom." Maybe he said this, maybe he didn't. I never see those with source citations. But this book documents some things Frost wrote about poetry. In his Notebook 38, he wrote the following under the heading "Poetry":
  • Poetry is prowess
  • Poetry is the renewal of words
  • Poetry is the dawning of an idea
  • Poetry is that which tends to evaporate from both prose and verse when translated.
  • Poetry is the Liberal Arts. The Liberal Arts are Poetry.
  • A poem is a momentary stay against confusion
  • Poet is a master of sentiment
According to footnotes in the book, the prowess comment would be related to Frost's lecture titled "Poetry as Prowess", and the renewal comment is related to his lecture titled "The Renewal of Words".

Now, I have not yet studied these sayings of Frost. Perhaps he wrote them together in notebook 38 as a list of lectures given or that he thought he might give someday. I see that he repeated a couple of these in notebook 26.

The notebooks are hard reading, and I can see I would need to own a copy to really get much out of them, for in the little time I have the book for (actually, it's already three days overdue), and as difficult as it is to read for long sittings, I'm not getting all that much out of it. But he has some gems in it that are worth thinking and remembering. In the same notebook 38, after his list of what poetry is, he has this statement, evidently intended to be another statement of what poetry is:
  • Difference between smoke and smoke rings.
That's good enough for me. Off to the library now to beg forgiveness and hopefully renew this overdue book for a couple of more weeks. I need to see a few more gems in it.

1 comment:

Gary said...


I noticed several typos in your piece on Frost's notebook that you might want to clean up.


"about" when I think you mean "abound"

"arenot" lacking a space between words.