Tag Archives: Robert Frost

Self Flagellation

In the dark old days of Mao’s China, erring party disciples would, if they were exceptionally lucky, be made to write self-criticisms.  In these documents, the straying member of the flock would abase themselves, detail their crimes against the collective and swear to be a better and truer comrade in the future.  For all I know, this sort of thing still goes on.

In the short life of this blog, I find I have urinated copiously from the lofty internet heights on Robert Frost, Inga Clendinnen, Nick Hornby, Francis Collins, Emma Beare, Don DeLillo, Ron Rash, Madeleine St John, Andrew Porter, Bret Easton Ellis, Margaret Atwood, Norman McGreevy, Michael Leunig, Colleen McCullough, J D Salinger (the day after he died), Bryce Courtenay and Tim Winton.  Well over twenty per cent of my posts, in other words, have been more or less slavering attacks.

The tables must turn, however.  In the interests of fairness, I’m going to have a go at me.  Ladies and gentlemen, the scorpion is about to sting himself.  Let the Mao-style self-criticism begin.  I direct this not to Mao, but to George Orwell, whose Politics and the English Language is and shall always be my final guide to writing.  The idea of taking up a totalitarian epistolary notion and directing it at Orwell is grievously inappropriate, but I can’t resist. Continue reading


Nixing Frost

Robert Frost (1874-1963) provided one of the most convincing, and one of the most unhelpful definitions of poetry ever uttered.  He said that ‘Poetry is what is lost in translation’.

This seems convincing to me since it alludes to what is ineffable in poetry: poetry can move us to tears though it breaks every poetic convention; it may rhyme, it may not, it may be formed of disciplined stanzas, it may not – and so on.  Yet this definition is unhelpful because it will never really enable you to recognise poetry when you see it.

Frost’s blank verse poems are often sensational (‘Out, Out -’), and sometimes merely very, very good (‘Mending Wall’).  He could write poetry, there’s no doubt about that: and he had an insight into the nature of poetry.

So how comes it that he wrote a suppurating piece of tripe like ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’? Continue reading