Robert Frost, “Directive”

Back out of all this now too much for us, / Back in a time made simple by the loss / Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off / Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather, / There is a house that is no more a house / Upon a farm that is no more a farm / And in a town that is no more  a town.

Something about the recent presidential debates and endless campaigning (and tweeting and Facebooking and social media-ing about the campaigning) makes me want to walk a country road with Robert Frost.  I suspect it’s timeless, this desire to go back to a simpler time, a time of things that have been lost. But the past only seems like it must have been simpler, as Frost reminds us, because it has been “made simple by the loss / Of detail.” The detail has been weathered away by time.

There is so much power in the seemingly plain speech of this sentence. That power comes in part from the repetition of words and phrases at the beginning and end of the sentence. It comes from the fifteen single-syllable words in a row that begin the sentence and the eighteen single-syllable words that end the sentence. Frost’s iambic pentameter is at work on us here too, a drum holding a count in the background as the syntax pushes on ahead, but this is a sentence that could begin a classic essay as well as it begins this classic poem. Its momentum is intoxicating; it makes me want to follow wherever Frost wants to lead.

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