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Thursday, January 25, 2007

A lump in the throat

I'm not so huge on most of Robert Frost's poetry (though I acknowledge that his poems are not the easy, simple ye-olde-Americana-scratch-the-surface-and-get-more-surface rhymes that some people seem to think), but I am getting to like his literary criticism. "The Figure A Poem Makes", his most-oft anthologized essay, is lovely and lyric enough so that you can tell a poet wrote it, yet it remains clear, succint, and definite.

I kinda love it.

Admittedly I enjoy reading literary criticism, period. I love Orwell's essays in particular (possibly even more than his novels), and Martin Kellman's T.H. White and the Matter of Britain is brill, but Frost's essay on the nature of poetry left me a little dizzy. I actually read it three times in a row, and I never read anything for American Lit classes more than once. (Not even "The Waste Land". Ick.) Frost manages to articulate ideas and give structure to thoughts of mine that have only ever been ethereal; while reading his essay I felt that essential recognition, the likes of which I have only previously experienced while reading White.

Anyway I'm about to quote, and with relish.

"If it is a wild tune, it is a poem...to be wild with nothing to be wild about."(The joy found in the everyday--the telling of the mundane in a way which is anything but.)

"For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn't know I knew."

"Scholars get their [knowledge] with conscientious thoroughness along projected lines of logic; poets theirs cavalierly and as it happens in and out of books. They stick to nothing deliberately, but let what will stick to them like burrs where they walk in the fields."

"Read [a poem] a hundred times: it will forever keep its freshness as a petal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went." (The pleasant shock of discovering something in pages read over and over.)

Longwinded, yet deserving, I think. Frost's words can be applied not only to poems in their technical sense, but any writing with the smoothly lyrical, off-kilter and frightening, or purely lovely qualities of poetry. Even prose, at its highest, is a form of poetry and contains the joys of remembering things we didn't know we knew, of recognition, of sparkling newness.

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