Frost treats the mechanism of poetic composition as a tool of philosophical concision, and that as long as we are using speech, and not algebra and mathematics, its beauty and clarity of expression are not strictly separate from its truth-value. Style also carries information. Here he conflates two conceits, a lyric one and a Pre-Socratic one. The first is the article of faith that beauty is truth, and that whatever aspires to the condition of song is also pursuing a parallel vector of truthful statement. And the second is that if something can be cleanly and concisely expressed, simplified to the aphoristic, to the demotic, to the plain-speaking, it has a better chance of being true than something which can’t, simply by its insistence on omitting the extraneous, emphasising the communicative foundation of language, and, maybe most importantly, leaving itself absolutely nowhere to hide.
Frost goes on challenging us not to deal with his poetry, but with what it proposes. A poem is not primarily written to provide an excuse to have a conversation about poetry, but as an emotional and intellectual provocation to which we are challenged to respond in kind.
- Don Paterson, closing his lecture on Robert Frost's poetry entitled "Frost as a Thinker" at the 2010 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. You can listen to the whole thing here.