Sunday, 9 March 2014

Language Absolutely Unliterary

In reviewing a collection of Robert Frost's savvy, cultivated letters, Michael Lista reminds us not to mistake the cliché of Frost as "a sensible, tender, humorous" poet for the hard-worn achievement of his poetry:
In this first volume of letters, we get to see how that plain-spoken sausage, for which Frost became so famous and misunderstood, gets made. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it turns out it’s an affected literary voice, nothing like Frost’s erudite, wide-referencing letters, which revel in multi-level puns and literary riddles as much as anything in Joyce. “In North of Boston you are to see me performing in a language absolutely unliterary,” Frost writes in December 1913. “What I would like is to get so I would never use a word or combination of words that I hadn’t heard used in running speech.” But since we find no evidence in the letters that Frost’s neighbours had the happy habit of speaking in masterful paragraphs of blank verse, or lived their lives, as Frost said of the poems in North of Boston, “in a form suggested by the eclogues of Virgil,” we should take him at his word that these unselfconscious colloquialisms are actually artificial, rehearsed performances.

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