On Technique and Ideas
Bread Loaf School of English, 27 July 1960
Typed transcript, 35 p. Abernethy Manuscripts [Frost] / Tape Transcriptions. Transcribed by India Tressault '80.

RF: Uh, it says, uh, John Ciardi says that I, that I said I reveled in technique, that I revel in ideas, too, I hope, That's all right enough. Th—this technique question comes up in another place, uh, let's talk abo—move to that right there. Uh, it said, uh, uh, speaking of technique. I said sometimes that there are never more than two unaccented syllables between the accented. Never, see. Sure I know two or, this syllable I know one in George Meredith and I know one or two in De la Mare. And I don't know any others. And somebody says that, confronts me with a Shakespearean sonnet, and says, uh, uh, "Let me not to the marriage of two minds permit impediment," They say, what do you make of that, then? [Unclear] How many accents are there in it? Three, in a line of ten. So there must be more than two between the accents for some reason [unclear].

Uh, now let me tell you s—an amusing thing. I've, uh, lived with this a long time. There are all sorts of metricists kicking around. One of the most noted of them in the old days was a man named Charles Cobb. Charlie Cobb, He was also an authority on, uh, Persian rugs and on the song of the lark. The lark, uh, at some times went off note, and he knew when it did. He kept a record of it [laughter]. [Unclear] He'd take out his [unclear] [laughter]. [Unclear] I knew him very well, And he went around the country on this subject. Uh, not where I went but to, uh, some of the colleges, I don't know who [unclear].

Now I knew another great authority on it, and his name was Robert Bridges. And I had adventures with those people. Charlie Cobb said to me one day on the street, "Let's hear you say—" we'd been talking about these lines, uh, uh, uh, uh, pentameter. It's called that, isn't it? Five beat, five foot, five foot line, isn't it? Always known it's five foot line, All those sonnets of Shakespeare are five foot lines. Five foot; get that into your head.

And, uh, that's been the name for ages, so in Latin, so in English. And, he said, "Let's hear you say the first line in, in, uh, E—Endy—Endymion." And, I—I knew what he was after and, and I, we stood on the street corner de—defying each other. We were old friends, [unclear], you know, the insulting kind, we bothered each other. And, uh, he said, uh, I said, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." He said, "Four beats." I said, "Five beats." [Laughter] He said, "You have no ear." I said, "You have no ear." We didn't speak to each other for two or three weeks after that, We parted on that. No ear.

Why, it's silly to talk of the—uh, uh, look. There are five beats. The—it's a pentameter line, that's all. That means five by the metronome; five by the measure; five by the number, by count. And, uh, now, you've got to learn to talk about two things in them. Rather loose-minded talkers that had never gone into it far enough to see that there's a, a rhythm meter, uh, beat and a metric beat, meter beat and a rhythm beat, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds—" if you cut that off without no sense of the meter at all then you're [unclear] nature. It ought to be in your nature, it ought to have been planted, uh, planted before you came to school, uh, in Mother Goose and all that. Uh, and, uh, if it isn't in your nature, if you aren't aware of that beat —under, under it all, your metronome going, [unclear] you're, you're not in the game.

Uh, now old Bridges is another adventure of mine. He was a good deal like Sidney Lanier, that—I never knew him but that was another adventure. I ran into him through great admirers of him. He, he w—he said that you couldn't think about poetry at all unless you had a thorough education in music. And then you know that terrible book of his, all on that terrible theory, that you do it by music. [Unclear] The music of poetry, if you want to use it, its a difficulty. The music of poetry is mmmmmmmmm not like the music of music.

And, and there's a conflict always, uh, always a conflict when anything's set, set to music. You, you're honored by having things set to music, uh, I never, I feel flattered a little. But I'm always uncomfortable. The whole thing spoils my fun. It spoils the acc—the o—the other, th—there's a double thing that is in the poem, the m—the meter, which, which the music has, too. But the rhythm is an entirely different thing than this. So many things you can do with the music. Music can't do the double thing with your poem.

Now the tune, see, is the third thing. The tu—you don't notice me probably but some of the time when I'm, uh, when I'm reciting I'm keeping the, the metronome going with my toe or my finger, something or. And sometimes I lead a 1—I favor the, sometimes I favor the meter a little, more than I should, maybe. Sometimes I don't. I favor the rhythm, and, uh, Robert Bridges [unclear] went into the pentameters of Milton and worried hell with them before he got to hell [laughter]. It's awful. And you could do things with, if you, uh, if [unclear].

A young poet coming along who followed, uh, followed Robert Bridges [unclear] his theories about Milton and all that, could get his attention by putting some false accents on the words in his first book. Have begin instead of begin; put an accent on it, that [unclear] type of oddity. Bridges thinks you must be a great poet. Understands the theory, uh. Now the, the, the, you talk about tension alot. Th—that's part of the jargon, the slang, uh, uh, of, of, bunch of cant of literary criticism. [Unclear] Everything's tension, tension, tension, uh, uh, that kind of jargon makes me sick anyway. But if you want to talk about tension, he— here's tension right away between the meter and the rhythm.

And, and if the tension breaks then it's, i—uh, it's love, the thing that's gone. It's got to be a tension that ho—[unclear] and sometimes a very big strain, see, in that, in that one, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds." "Let me not to the marriage of true minds." [Unclear] all in all that in—in the, in the scansion. And if you haven't been brought up to, to scansion, some scansion, you know, and the interest in that, as well as the interest in the rhythms, or if you get, if somebody thought you'd fall in with somebody who'd decided to throw that all away. Now why should he throw all the, the scansion away?

Why did, if Shakespeare wanted to have three li—three beats in a line, why didn't he have three feet in the line? [Unclear] Why didn't he—why didn't he get along with six syl—six syllables? Eh. But he always [unclear] every one of the sonnets, every single one has ten syllables to the line. And s—and sometimes to make it there's, there's, uh, uh, uh, something [unclear] well, the poetic license [unclear]. Ther—there'll be this [unclear] to make it come there'll be the "-ed" will be sp—uh, spoken. [Unclear] say, uh, uh, let's see, uh, "unmoved" [unclear] and to sensation slow unmoved. [Unclear] the way you, uh, the way people wr—talk who want to 1—call up, think that's the troublesome line. They'd say "unmoved." Why not? But Shakespeare always wrote it, accent on that, unmoved to make [unclear] to get the feet all right.

The feet are always there, and they're always all right. And that's so all through the plays except for a certain amount of carelessness you'll find. The most, one of the most care-less people in, that ever lived in, a, in, uh, the way his [unclear] plays were issued, you know, got into print, was Shakespeare. Only the scholars that have come after him have tried to set him right. He didn't seem to give very much thought, he didn't give much thought to it. I don't know how it got out of his hands so much, He was a theater man and probably didn't, wasn't as much interested as the people that have come after him. But that—tha—a—all, all through his plays there are, there are lines that are broken, of course, lines and lines [unclear] doubtful a—about, and, uh, corrupt lines, the lines that have got misprinted enough to be, must be wrong [unclear].

Take a, take a play, take a sonnet like "He who has power to hurt and will do none." See, that begins that way. "He who has power to hurt and will do none," No, how many [unclear] you see, "He—" no, "They who have power to hurt," it is. "They who have power to hurt and will do none." They who have power, they who have power, hurt, and will do none. [Unclear] in this rhythm. Three and a half, the rhythm is, if you want to call it. But the rhythm is, uh, i—is not fighting it, it's straining it, though, straining the, the meter, or the meter straining the rhythm.

And this little, I brought around this little book in case anything came up. That little book that I spoke of is such a poem in itself. Palgrave. And, [unclear] curious thing I noticed I, looking at, looking at some of the son-nets and, I noticed that that sonnet that I just said, started with [unclear] "He who has power to hurt and will do, do none." Always been one of my great admirations. Uh, but, uh, lately somebody's told me that it's considered one of the great puzzles.

And I know that Strachey, wri—[unclear] Strachey, and, writing about the, uh, uh, the Victorians, [unclear] some famous Victorian, say it was evidently about somebody that Shakespeare disliked. And I'd always thought it was the opposite. I thought it was about somebody that Sha—he admired, because he was like George Washington. "He who has heart, but doesn't do the thing he most do show." That's the next line, and so on.

But the deeds, deeds, and deep [unclear]. You're dealing in the, in the corruption that comes from d—doing a deed [unclear]. A person that refrains, holds back, you know, that's [unclear] doesn't matter. In e—evidently, uh, uh, few of the sonnets are named by Shakespeare, by himself. You see they have many names. But in the Palgrave, some of them are given a name. That one's given the name, "Life Without Passion." That's interesting. That's my idea of it. But it's supposed [unclear] supposed to be controversial.

But now, uh, you see I'm, I'm, uh, quite long, long time, it began when I first fell in with Robert Bridges. I knew him pretty well, He was really a fine old bully. He sounded as bullyin' as I'm sounding tonight. Uh, but he, uh, he, oh, goodness, uh, when I said you've got to, why did Shakespeare, why did Marlowe, why is everybody think—talking about pentameter? Are th—is that just for the eye? Fi—ten sy—ten syllables [unclear] ten or eleven syllables for a, for a feminine ending. But ten syllables—why? Just, just becau—uh, there's no regard [unclear] no regard to the accent at all. Must be.

When it says, uh, uh, when, when, when Keats calls, uh, calls [unclear] speaks this way, you know, he says, "prince of organic numbers—" see that, numbers. Then somebody lisped in numbers, he, numbers. Numbers is the nam—one name for poetry. Numbers, numbers. Count. Metronome. Meter. Measure. And if you wa—you, you can, you, that's verse, uh, [unclear] as I've said, you know. I'm not saying that's poetry, I'm not using the word "poetry" necessarily about it at all. This is, I'm being, uh, I'm revelling in technique.

Uh, uh, if you come to poet—can come to poetry another way, you know, I said, uh, the other night, uh, uh, uh, I think I said [unclear] there's probably more love outside of marriage than in, more religion outside of church than in, more poetry outside of verse than in . See, I hesitate, take verse the same way after I said those others. [Unclear] That is those institutions. Verse is an institution of metrics. And, and if you want to get outside of it and write free verse, you may be more poetical than the people inside. But you're not, you're, you're not a high priest of, of verse. You're something else.

Now the, the, uh, the whole thing seems to me, you have to fake, that there, you gotta get it used to two words there: one is the meter and another is the rhythm. The re—meter is iambic, and the, if you want to change that, you can, uh, turn it into trochees, you know, by just dropping the, having a short, having a long, short, long, short, long, short, long, short, instead of, uh, short, long, short, long. That's all. That's practically the same thing [unclear]. And that's got to be kept the same way. All right, that's that question.

RC: Where does Gerard Manley Hopkins come in here—

RF: [Unclear]

RC: —with his sprung rhythm?

RF: That doesn't matter at all, that's just got nothing to do with it, except that you can leave out if you want to, y—you can jump a, uh, crowd, crowd out a syllable, but that's not getting three in. I can remember when I was young, I, uh, one of my first friends in this thing was a poet, an editor and all that. He was, uh, he would be, uh, Dick Wilber's grandfather-in-law. He's i—he was an, uh, uh, poet, he's in the, he's in the anthologies of that time and the Stedman anthology: an old fellow named William Hayes Ward. And, uh, I h—I wrote [unclear] without any talk of sprung rhythms. Uh, I, I did that trick. It's been done many times. Uh, he made a business of it.

You know what he did that, uh, that's—the, uh, you notice, "He who has power to hurt and will do none" w—rhymes with, uh, let's see, "...unmoved, cold and like a stone," I guess. "Stone" and "none" rhyme. In Shakespeare, "come hither" and "weather" rhyme. Now, that is a slight flaw that you get all through poetry. And you get this same flaw occasionally in the sprung rhythm. And tha—but, uh, uh, the only thing about it was that, uh, certain poets that I know now, uh, would put all the rhymes off that much. It's all the rhymes, that's a regular [unclear].

When I see a poet's been doing that as a matter of business I don't read the poem. And I d—the—the sprung rhythm, [unclear], you know, I like it a—as a fall. But in—have every rhythm, every line sprung to make an interesting word in the [unclear] fall. And the off-rhyme, I don't know what I'd call that. I guess they call it off-rhyme. [Unclear] n—near rhyme. [Unclear] I've forgotten, uh, the name of the fellow that first did this steadily, that first got all the rhymes a little off, but it was somebody in England, and he was a friend of [unclear]—

RC: Owen?

RF: —of Edward Davison.

RC: Wilfred Owen, wasn't it?

RF: What?

RC: Wilfred Owen?

RF: Now I don't know whether he did or not. [Unclear] Somebody that, I don't think he did it, uh, a—announced it, somebody declared it as a program, program. [Unclear] Some-body who was just coming over here lecturing. I don't know.

Well, that's two things: that's your sprung rhythm, and then there's [unclear]. Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediment. Love is not love
That alters when it alternation finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove...
[Unclear] I'm hearing the metronome all the time. Coul—I, uh, I couldn't think of it, couldn't read it without the sense, sense of it. Dull, dull-eared not to hear it, seems to me. [Unclear], and then, then [unclear] I heard Pound say once how hard it is for people brought up in the, in the, uh, meter, the metronome, ever to learn to write free verse, to shake off the iambic. Whitman didn't, he said. And Masters was terrible. He just couldn't shake it off, all, it's all the time bothering him in there, the, the me—the, the, the met—the iambic.

[Unclear] They, they got it, they got kind of a, not a strict iambic, no—uh, when I say there can o—there can be two short lines between the long, then that lets in dithyrambic; that's a good word for the other. The, two shorts and a long. And, and when I call, what I call ballad verse has sometimes two shorts between the longs and sometimes one, that's as it happens in the spring of the verse. But never three shorts strung along. That's in the meter. [Unclear] I, I told Charlie Cobb once, "I bet I could write a line with only one beat in it, in ten feet." [Laughter] I bet I could. I didn't [laughter]. Do it with two, anyway. It would be hard to get w—down to one. And, that'll be in the rhythm. Well, let's see what else there is.

RC: Do you know this, this might lead into the question here. In the training of a poet, which should come first—prosody, figurative speech, content?

RF: W—what's that th—the second one?

RC: Figurative speech; metaphor.

RF: Well, that's content. Somebody mixes things up there. That doesn't need—

RC: W—would you develop that, uh, Mr. Frost?

RF: [Unclear]

RC: This whole idea about thinking as metaphor?

RF: Well, the thinking is always n—association, isn't it?   [Unclear] more or less veiled metaphor. Always association, and that's thought. Thought is association. [Unclear], see, that's all it is. Being reminded of something you hardly knew, knew you knew, uh, by something that's in front of you, something that's happening to you [unclear]. The emer—sense of past emerging out of the various levels of your knowledge. Books and life and, and all that—that's the material. Then the prosody is another thing. [Unclear] That's what we've been talking about, prosody, [Unclear] this little book which I, which I admire so much.

You know, I admire so—that little book so much, I haven't handled it much, but I have one of the early editions of it. Fell into my life. Uh, I have it in, [unclear] it was a very fancy little copy of it, that didn't have any hard covers on, see. I, I never got any covers on to it, and, and it's wrapped up now with a string put away somewhere, I don't know just where. But I got it somewhere. And, and I wouldn't have that book violated any more than I'd have one of Shakespeare's sonnets violated. Uh, it gets violated all the time now. People are always faulting it, putting in more poems, calling it Palgrave's still.

It is, it's a little book that was, uh, very beautiful in its collection. Left out some things of course, you could, you could put it [unclear] it isn't everything but it's a pretty little [unclear] of a book. The whole book. Shake—and Tennyson was in it, uh, and it's, it's like throwing away Tennyson. It's the legacy of Tennyson. You'd be surprised to know how I just had a letter from England a—asking me to do something about a, a, uh, a society for, to keep us from forgetting Tennyson [laughter]. Asked me to do that, I, I shall join it. Some of my friends belong to it but mostly lords belong to it [laughter], "0, Lord," I'm going to say to the man that wrote me the letter. He's a lord, a very [unclear], a very noted man. Funny he's taken that interest. It's as [unclear] if Eisenhower should get to wanting to defend Lo—Longfellow.

RC: Tennyson also revels in metaphor, doesn't he? Remember that—

RF: Yes.

RC: —one about the eagle that has a beautiful language.

RF: Yes. Oh, it's all metaphor [unclear]. And again, uh, I don't want to be pitching too hard but thought, you know, what is thought? What [unclear]? How can you tell when you're thinking? I lectured on that once at Smith College. How can you tell when you're thinking? The way you can tell is whether you, uh, anything you, uh, uh, presented, that anything presented reminds you of something, recalls something. That's, that's the science and all, all that. Thoughts of science, all association. [Unclear]

And the word "metaphor" is an [unclear] is a, is a, is, uh, subsidiary thing, that's part of it. Call it metaphor if you want to. I might call the whole thing [unclear]. Synecdoche is another. I used to call myself a synecdochist just for the hell of it [laughter]. And, and there's once I had a friend living in Schenectady [laughter]. And I sent, sent him a card once or twice [unclear] uh, uh, with his address "Synecdoche," and he never got 'em [laughter]. The post office refused to deal in that word. They wouldn't deliver it. Brought up in Synecdoche. Next to New York. Part for the whole, a hem of a garment, and all that. [Unclear] just another, just another, uh, comes under the head of association. Now what else. [Unclear] You, you bring 'em up 'cause I...

RC: There, there seem to be many people here who are interested in this matter of teaching poetry.

RF: Yes.

RC: Teaching poetry in the classroom.

RF Yes.

RC: Probably the high school classroom.

RF: Yes [laughter]. Well—

RC: Here's a—

RF: That's a fair question. [Unclear] what you wan—ought to ask, uh, what authority have I in that matter? Did I ever do it? And, no more than all the time, you know. I had Latin, I had philosophy, I had mathematics, which is numbers, too. Uh, nice man I saw the other day, I, uh, just re-tiring from having taught mathematics a—all this life, and, uh, he and I had quite a talk about this word numbers in poetry. He said he never knew that we used it for poetry. Numbers. That's the connection with mathematics. And that's very deep. Na—the, the teaching of it is just like this with me. [Unclear] It's best when you don—when you can teach it without, without their knowing what you're up to.

How can you do it? You, uh, you can do it by, oohhh, you can do it the way you do it in a good home, you know, when you, you don't, uh, uh, if they, if the children say, you know, "Papa's preaching poetry," you know, you to—[unclear] lost your hold on the children. Look out for papa. [Unclear] You got to do it without, oh, as if you weren't doing it. You got to, no, I think it's rather dreadful to, uh, to memorize on purpose, but you do a little of that, you can't, you can stand a little. I think it's too bad that a person doesn't care enough to for poetry so that a lot of it clings to him.

asked in, later along there they asked me [unclear] the connection of natural things and spiritual things. What is that question? And I, in poetry it says somewhere, "How to all rule the hard divorce that parts things natural from divine." What is the hard divorce that parts things natural from divine? What does it mean in, in the Bible when it says, "He is more to me than my necessary food"? Can anything be more to you than what's necessary to you? God. "He is more to me than my necessary food." That's a good one, too, [unclear] "How to all rule the hard divorce." Probably that's all we're about in, in the poetry. All ruling the harsh divorce. Harsh divorce. I [unclear] "...that parts things natural from divine." [Gap in tape] ...It [is from] having [stood] contrasted
That good and bad so long [have] lasted.
Now I make 'em of equal value, see, by that, don't I. And that might demoralize some people. They think they were just as, they were just as valuable when they were being bad as they are when they're being good. [Unclear] That's the way —that's why they executed Socrates. It was taught that way I suppose. That was thought to be demoralizing. They gave him a chance to leave to—town but he wouldn't, Big jury—five or six hundred, wasn't it, condemned him. Not, not a small jury like ours.

And it's all, you know, what you're talking about, what you're mind runs on, and how it—how much words comes in. A teacher, teacher ought to be [unclear] teacher that's teaching poetry ought to be so full of it that, that he [unclear] come into some of his conversation. I had a funny thing turn up the other day, uh, a book that I left, uh, a little booklet that I let a fellow print, uh, in c—college, uh, uh, containing only one poem of mine, and that was in the days when I didn't know how valuable those things were going to be [laughter]. And, uh, at Amherst. And this is the way that occurred.

I one day—this question, how you're going to teach poetry—I wrote on the blackboard everything anyone would tell me [unclear] about what you could do with a poem, dust have written ten things. And then I added, uh, "What can be done with a poem? What can you do with a poem?" And, well one thing, read it. Another is remember it. Another is, print it. And, another is analyze it. Another is, uh, uh, glorify, praise it, so on. Then I wrote, I added, "What can we do with a poem," and then, "without outrage," I said, "to the Muse?" Then [unclear] then we crossed off everything but those first three, I think: read, memorize, and print.

But anyway they c—they crossed 'em off, I didn't. And, I crossed them out on the [unclear]. Handy to have. Used to have a board in that room. Amherst this was. And the boy—one of the boy—two of the boys in that class became printers [laughter]. One of them, uh, uh, one of them is quite a noted one. Do you know this magazine, the Vermont magazine that you see on the stands? The, [unclear]—

RC: Vermont Life.

RF: Vermont Life. Uh, uh, he made that. And then he's had a lot to do with Sturbridge, down there and things they do there. He's quite a [unclear] of, uh, uh, about antiquities and things like that, and then printing. Well, he printed that poem of mine; it's called "The Gold Hesperidee." And then he—and he made a mistake in it. And I was mad at him, and scolded him, and he said, "Well, let me do it again." So there are two printings of that poem that are worth quite a lot of money. One of them turned up for me to autograph the other day. That's thirty years ago. But it came right out of that class [unclear] we went through this very question of what you can do with a poem, without outraging the Muse, Without outraging decency and everything else, you know.

You got to go easy, you got to go softly. [Unclear] I, I've thought, oh, many, many things I've thought of doing. I, I spent an hour 'bout that, you see, that's one way of getting rid of an hour [laughter]. I was always thinking of things like that to do. What could I do with [unclear]. I, I got to get, how was I going to do, stand three hours a week of it, you know, How you gonna, what kind of spirit could you put into it. You couldn't be reading all the time. That's horrible.

I can remember reading certain things. I remember some things, occasionally with pleasure. I think we read with pleasure Milton's Comus. Real pleasure. I had a good crowd. And, that's very lively poem, That's better than the, the big ones. It's just big enough, just the right size, and, won—wonderful. Then, uh, then I, I couldn't insist too much on the, on praise, or blame, finding fault. I'd tell—I'd confess sometimes, I said if you hear me liking a poem very much, you know I'll never say anything against it. I never do any "on the other hand"—ing. I'll cheat about a poem, Watch me, I said, I'll cheat for a poem I'm ca—care about.

And then I, oh, it was years and years of, uh, I didn't do too much of it. I try to, I relieved with prose and. Not with literary criticism at all. The prose was some-thing else, you know. One of the m—one of my favorite books in that class [unclear] was [unclear]. [Unclear] one of them was Voyage of the Beagle, I can remember. And, uh, and, that, that, that wonderful book, [Unclear] And, and Thor-eau. Then it—that brings me to another memory here. My friend Conrad Aiken says that, that, uh, Emily Dickinson was a better naturalist—[unclear] quote that, will you?

RC: Uh, Conrad Aiken, in introducing the Modern Library Edition of Emily Dickinson's, says: "In her mode of life she carried the doctrine of self-sufficient individualism farther than Thoreau carried it, on the naive zealots of Brook Farm. In her poetry she carried it, with the complement of passionate, moral mysticism, farther than Emerson: which is to say that as a poet she had more genius than he."

RF: Hah, hah, hah. We excuse him—I'll forgive him because he's a friend of mine,

RC: I think your laugh is the answer.

RF:Yes, it's a great joke. Uh, she, she's the greatest lady poet ever lived. That's another extravagant statement [laughter]. She was, I think. That's true. But these are, uh, that, that's nonsense. And, you know, I had a funny ad-venture with her in England. You like to tell adventures. I used to say to boys when they had a—any book to write about for me, tell me something that's happened to 'em in connection with the book or the poem. See, that's the kind of thing I like. Tell me something that happened to you, how you courted a girl with it or something, Tell me some-thing that's happened to you.

Well, I tell you what happened to Emily Dickinson's first edition with me. Somebody was so kind to me in England, an important lady, that I gave her my first edition of Emily Dickinson. And the next time I was at their house, in the mornings I's getting up, I wandered into a hall. And there was a little bookcase of discarded children's books. And that was among 'em. And, but that was before Conrad Aiken did what he, did what he did for Emily Dickinson in England. He had a lot to do with their waking up to who she was. He was ver—he, he, he meant, [unclear] he meant, [unclear] he meant this. I suppose he, he, he'd temper that somewhat now. But he did that for that, for the Modern Library [unclear]. This is the Modern Library [unclear] the little Palgrave that I have. [Unclear] All right, anything else?

??: Several of the questions about education seem to, uh, want to know h—how bad a thing you think amateur poetry is and whether you think it should be encouraged in the class-room.

RF: Well, you know, that's one of those big problems that I never solved. I think that, I read a good deal of, quite a load of a—aspiring poetry, you know. That's what you mean, don't you? I d—I never, I—my—I remember my daughter in, down at Barnard and another girl, uh, took a course [unclear] I remember see—[unclear] hearing 'em talk about together. They took a course of writing a sonnet a week, or two sonnets a week. That was under quite a noted teacher of English down there. And, I don't think much of that [laughter]. That is, I wouldn't do that with anybody. Neither of them are now writing sonnets [laughter].

But I don't, uh, [unclear] Edward Davidson, who c—used to come here and who's now connected with education [unclear] at Hunter College and all that, and poet himself, president of the Poetry Society for the last, re—recently two—last two or three years. He, uh, he once ran a department in the Saturday Review, uh, that, that was nothing but this. [Unclear] He gave the people a set of rhymes right down the side of the sonnets. [Unclear] words in a line. And they, they had, they filled it with meaning. That was sort of a good practice. And he asked me to do that and I said I couldn't. He said there are better men than you have [laughter]. [Unclear] education [laughter]. I couldn't do that.

I, I can't play a parlor game with anything like that. I care too much about it. That's too much like a parlor game. Some very clever things get done that way, I have no doubt. But that's not my interest in it. [Unclear] I might, uh, revel in technique, but not to that extent, The word "revel" is a queer word. Uh, uh, Dr. Arnold called it revel-ling when you did anything at night that hurt you for the next day [laughter]. That was his definition of revel. But I don't revel.

I've revelations, oh, the freedom of words, you know, the beauty of the freedom of the words. I've weathered all the, the things like, a—again, friends of mine, one of my great friends is, is Ivor Richards. Put all his, put all his discipline of eight hun—his eight hundred basic words. And by gracious, uh, uh, that's a very useful thing in China in place of pidgin English. That's all I know about it. Breaking native in somewhere in short order.

I, I, I, understand that they do that in the Army, [Unclear] they got a scheme for learning any language very fast way, you're gonna have to [unclear], you know, [unclear] for a while. Love or hate. And, uh, uh, they do it on somewhat the same sim—principle. They just. They [unclear] eight hundred basic words that they can do the whole, almost anything with. Almost anything [laughter].

I, we were talking about that [unclear] Phil Wylie and I were talking about it lately. And, uh, he knows Ivor Richards, too. [Unclear] Richards had a great influence. He's one of the great powers in Harvard, you know, and the teachers, and the teacher of the teachers. And that thing simply devastated all the prep school teaching. Everybody thought that these children who'd had it, the language, grown up in the language, needed to be thrown back on eight hundred basic words, you know. Nonsense. And, but he's got over that, they got past, he got past [unclear].

I said, "Did you once think that you—you were going to, that way, gonna make English a universal language?" [Unclear] I put it right to him once. And he very, very modestly and very sadly, he said, "I did, once." That's what that was. Phil Wylie said to me once, "There's only one word for 'talk' in there," I think, in the eight hundred. And I sai—I, I, I said, "I know a lot of people who would prate. And he said, "I need to rant." [Laughter] Talk isn't enough. I want the word "rant," and I want the word "prate" for certain kind of people. I'm prating tonight, maybe. Watch it.

But you see, it's always, uh, uh, there's, there's no teaching any more than there is preaching without some misgiving. You're no teacher if you don't, aren't afraid of the job. What you going—how are you going to touch these things, these great thoughts, these great, great things that we care about. The beauty of poetry is that it admits of intimacy that you can't have any other way. You can be more personal that way with, with things. You can, you can go further in good taste, in good taste. It holds it just right. And that's so, that ought to, uh, some of my objection to what they do with a poem is just, just [unclear] it grates on my ta—sense of what's decent, you know, I can't bear it for the poem. It's in bad taste. I can't bear, I can't bear some things that are said. [Unclear], very bad. It's a kind of... It's so with philosophy. Some, some way, some cant, uh, philosophic cant I can—I can't take. Jargon. [Unclear] Why don't you say it in basic English? I'd get that down,

But this, that's what I mean by the teaching. You do it, tread softly and speak low, you know. And still remember that there's a delicacy about it. Some of the things they s—you, you hear 'em coming and you think, "Oh, [unclear] this [unclear] indelicate. I can't stand it. An indelicacy I can't listen to." [Unclear] That's all, n—how you get so you know about that, and how you get to tell people with you or, would, wouldn't dare to say certain things about a poem. This isn't making mistakes but ju—just, just going too far with it. Na—uh, further than I w—uh, than I go in a poem, see. I stop, uh, the poem, it tells me certain place. I don't want somebody going on with it. I can't bear it.

And that's so about some other people's poetry, that I care for that has gone into my nature. I wouldn't have 'em carried any further. It's just as if some people—nice people, they are—they, they take you by both hands and, and say, "I, I see what you mean, but I wonder what's eating you." Y'know, and they try to pull you across the line and make you say more about how that happened to you.

That's an experience, a poem is, but I don't want to go any further with it. That, and then I'm only saying that, uh, you know, you n—it's [unclear]. You see, sometimes I say it, perhaps too extremely, I [unclear]. For instance I sai—I said, uh, lately I been, I said that around two or three places, that anybody who never encountered poetry, until, until he reached the, it as a study, is lost, Eh. But I'll not say that, I've known some that never encountered poetry till they got to high school or somewhere. And, and, and the—for that reason they ought to be let into it very gently. They ought not to be made too studious of it, you know, they ought to have it, the teacher, that's the teacher's place that, to, uh, to ease it, ease it to him, you know [unclear].

At least he ought to be, uh, uh, he ought to [unclear] something for the ear and the play, and, and the, uh, the beat [unclear], you know. And [unclear] until he's ready, till he's got some of that. The approach to it ought to be through Mother Goose. Ought to begin there. But that, that's, that's, time's gone by for that when they come to high school. Th—they're lucky if they began with Mother Goose. And lucky if they didn't have some of this made verse in the teacher's, teacher's magazines, you know, the stuff that's made for the, uh, by people that have no business to write it. Ther—there are only two or three people that have written for, children's poetry that's [unclear] that's fit to, fit to, fit to read.

There's no—there's nothing good for a child to read that isn't good for his parents. [Unclear] The reverse isn't true, you, [unclear] there are many things that, uh, there's Milton's Paradise Lost. That's good for his parents, that isn't good for the child. Anybody that says, uh, say that [unclear] you hear people—I hear, I hear, I meet people who say, "My infant never goes to sleep without my reading some of Paradise Lost to him." [Laughter]

Well, now you haven't had chance to, uh, retaliate about all this, See, now that's a very dan—I, I ought not to say that. I—it's frightening to say, you a—you ought n—[unclear] if you, weren't prepared, if yo—if you're first en-counter with poetry was as a study, you're lost. [Unclear] You're not. But it, that's very dangerous to come on poetry without having ha—ha—had it as a pleasure at first. Plea-sure first. Pleasure first; study it later. It may, i—it m—uh, I, I hate to hear anyone say his pleasure's increased by the study. I don't know. I don't belong with that class of society, at all.

I'm s—I have to be tolerant. [Unclear] I wonder, yeah. Uh, I don't know. See that—you, you, [unclear] I, I fear I've got [unclear] you, uh, in front of me, and are having a good time with, uh, w—with you. And I'm enjoying that, uh, but I've never seen anybody operated on yet. I've never s—been at the operating table. I don't like you any better for not having you, seen you, seen you operated on [laughter].

RC: Just before we [unclear] here, Mr. Frost, the other evening we were talking about words, and I, I thought you said something that was, you simply said something that was very interesting to me. You think that there's something before the word.

RF: Well, well that's just what, uh, that I, you ho—you heard how I said that, Mr., you and Mr. Hadas and Mr. Hadley, wasn't it?

RC: Yes.

RF: Yah. You, uh, we were wondering if there's such a thing as a thought without words. And you hardly think there is. And yet, there's always, when a thing is going on, when you're coming into it a piece of writing into a poem, and finding, and finding the words that come along, you know. It seems to come out something else, something in-side you, just before the words. You can just feel it, feel it.

RC: That was rather nice about that exchange that you had with, uh, Julian Huxley. It was Julian, wasn't it?

RF: Yeah. [Unclear] Well, uh, uh, it, you know, where the, the [unclear] you hardly ever make a new word, as that's, uh, n—you never do almost. And so it's, it's as if you caught the old counters, the old pieces, you know, the old words. [Unclear]

RC: You made one: Thoreausian. That's yours.

RF: Yeah, but that's—

RC: Pin it on you.

RF: —that's stran—that's a little quite. And, ma—a liberty taken, and but, and once in a while you do something like that. Everybody that writes ventures a little [unclear]. But this very word comes to you. It seems to come on something that's risin' in you. Just as if something was, something [unclear]. [Unclear] I don't know what. Butthey—nobody that talks psychology will admit that you had any thoughts without words. And you... I think I have this all the time, uh, I ha—I'm in a place, see, that's where, where a poem comes from, and all of a sudden I'm transported. I'm in a, in a place. And, I'm, and just as I said that I was suddenly beside a bare cliff with some cliff brake in it. Ferns, see. And a—just that came to me that way. But I'm in a place. And I can pick words out of—off that place, I can pick sentences and phrases and things like that. And that's certainly before any words. I, I, I can, it, it comes to me very much that way if I'm very much in the place.

See, it's a poem. That's what I write a poem from. I'm with somebody or with a—in a place, in a situation [unclear]. Uh, the rest follows. And, uh, i—if I g—uh, I can feel the right away that all sorts of things come tumbling to it, 'course all the details all around me. Eh. But that's not, that's just, uh, when they ask where, where a poem comes from, that's as near as I can get to it. [Unclear] I think it's al—nearly always that way. I'm with somebody, I'm in a place, way off as a, unaccountably [unclear] a reverie, in a kind of reverie, and all of a sudden something is, it becomes prominent in the reverie. And I can pick poem off it. Sentences, see [unclear].

And it's so with a, you see, I can carry that down to this, I've often said that when a, I, I, use this analogy. Coming down the street I—toward somebody, you know, coming the other way, somebody that I've always passed the time of day with as we, uh, a—as we met, as we went by each other. And often in, in tease, in an insulting way, you know, the way you [unclear] cock you head at each other. You take each other, both of you [unclear]. And sometimes you say something pretty good, sometimes you don't [laughter]. But it's like that. It's something in him that does that to you, rouses that [unclear].

These fellows, uh, I, uh, sometimes you get a name—a nickname for somebody that way, you know, It comes over you what to call e—call him. And.., that's where these nicknames come from, I suppose. Somebody just thinks it that way, by some, over and over again till he e—gets the word for him. Just unexpectedly, you know, you can, hunting for it [unclear] get into the newspaper the next day, but.

This, uh, that question of the origin of it all. You, you don't, another a—quest—question somebody asked me was, do, uh, do I write under pressure? And I think that means do you write Phi Beta Kappa poems and things like that, when you have to? And l never did. There are three or four of my books that I read i—as Phi Beta Kappa poems, but they c—they, they knew I wouldn't write one so they said, "Bring us anything you have." That, they were always that way. One I tried to bring their name into it. I changed it enough to bring in Columbia once. I was reading at Columbia and I got that in [unclear]. Tribute to them.

But under pressure? What do you mean by pressure? Money? Goodness, if I thought, well this, uh, this little poem would be worth ten dollars to the family, couldn't write it. That occurred to me. I wouldn't know what that meant. The only pressure I know is this other thing that they were, that [unclear] comes over me, uh, something special, specialness in this place where I am, or the place—or the situation I'm in. The place, situation, the place I'm in.

It has to be of something special, you know. And then [unclear]. Uh, and it just gets you so the joke coming, too. It's the way a joke comes you know, just saying what is a joke, you know. [Unclear] Where do you reach the point where you say, uh, that sort of thing. After years and years of this question of good and evil, I make what is a sort of a joke about it, little joke to myself. It [is from] having [stood] contrasted
That good and bad so long have lasted.
See that. After years, pop! goes the weasel [laughter]. And, and—

...and, and then, uh, then th—the other one about science, you know: "We dance round in a ring and suppose," see, "But the Secret sits in the middle and knows." We suppose and the secret itself knows. Somebody sa—somebody said to me, "I don't like that poem." I said, "Well, what's the matter with it?" And that's in the book. That's an old one. And th—and, uh, I said, "Sits." She said—it was a lady. "Sits. I don't like to have anything sit. Everything's in motion. The world is going forward." [Laughter] Secrets can't sit still. Secrets must be on... Sitting on a hot stove.

Now that, [unclear] that's an interesting question that I never answered. Again I try and try at it but. [Unclear] I'm, when I think of some of the, [unclear] long time somebody's been bothering you about something for a long time. And the world has been bothering you. The world's full of the difficulties about war and peace. Now I, I, uh, I was reading in, oh, where was I reading? Somebody, oh, I guess it was Henry the Eighth was talking as if they just, that the one thing a King ought to give the world is just what Eisenhower wants to give the world. Peace. Peace. [Unclear] He was campaigning for peace. Just as, 1500 and what? Fifteen hundred and… Talking peace with a capital "P." And th—they were arming for peace, I believe [laughter].

Ain't it a joke? And if the, if the U.N. gets to do any-thing about peace it will have to have an army of its own. It's getting one. That's the great joke, isn't it. They can't do it by, by lying down in the road like Gandhi. Can't be [unclear] about it. He just, le [unclear] the road, so they had to do what he wanted. And he did it. [Tape fades out] [The remainder of this tape is missing]