Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Square Sound of Sense

My daughter and I went to the Border Café in Harvard Square last night. The blackened chicken was deliciously piquant as usual and the company of course was most agreeable. Various topics were discussed, but the most fascinating of all was just the sound of her voice. You learn through the years, when it comes to your child especially, to understand more by sound then mere words. Robert Frost called this “the sound of sense.”

I’ve decided to read his prose this autumn, and tonight I read his letter to John T. Bartlett written on July 4, 1913, in which he explains this principle. His faith in his direction cannot be overstated: “To be perfectly frank with you I am one of the most notable craftsman of my time… I alone of English writers have consciously set myself to make music out of what I may call the sound of sense.” He believed the “best place to get the abstract sound of sense is from voices behind a door that cuts off the words.”

I know that telephones never work though. Something always seems missing in the translation. I can talk to my daughter for fifteen minutes (an eternity for a man) and not really catch the inflections correctly. Maybe it’s the mechanical or electrical element that confuses things. But over dinner I can heed it. Facial expressions may help of course, but hearing is believing, especially when working on that blackened chicken and Jose’s rice.

“An ear and an appetite for these sounds of sense is the first qualification of a writer, be it prose or verse. But if one is to be a poet he must learn to get cadences by skillfully breaking the sounds of sense with all their irregularity of accent across the regular beat of the metre. Verse in which there is nothing but the beat of the metre furnished by the accents of the polysyllabic words we call doggerel. Verse is not that. Neither is it the sound of sense alone. It is a resultant from those two.”

We two, after our journey to the Harvard Coop where the books are both mindful and mindless (she needed something senseless to break up the graduate work and internship this semester), ended the evening at Herrell’s for ice cream. My server was so fascinated with a friend who had spilled water on herself, he chuckled while I made my order. I didn’t get his sense though, and wondered why he was laughing at my simple request for a regular hot fudge sundae. I guess I have some listening up too to do this fall.

2 comments:

Pragmatik said...

The Border Cafe' is wondeful. I miss their veggie fajitas a lot from my Boston days:(

Greg said...

and their grand golds aren't half bad either!