A Poem’s Delight, A Poem’s Wisdom

A Poem’s Delight, A Poem’s Wisdom

Here’s a really short bit of advice about writing poetry . . . that holds a lot inside its tiny sentence.

A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.
– Robert Frost

Robert Frost (1874–1963) was one of our most famous American poets. He lived in New England, and was famous for simple but brilliant poems like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which ends:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The thing about writing a poem (or song lyrics, or anything you write for fun, because you want to) is this. You begin with something interesting. Maybe you see something curious (a butterfly on a cold day, or a crushed tin can in the gutter . . . or . . . ), something sticks in your brain like a burr. Or someone says something that’s kind of cool or surprising. Or some words just combine into an odd phrase that seems like the beginning of something.

That’s the delight. That’s how poems start. Something catches your fancy.

But by the end, your job is to organize the poem so it holds a little bit of meaning. That’s the wisdom.

Okay, maybe not a lot. But a little! By the end of the poem, it holds something that’s worth sharing.

Here’s another Frost poem:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.

Notice how Frost starts with some pretty simple description: two roads split off from one, in a yellow woods . . . nothing special, just surrounded by some trees, undergrowth, grasses, leaves.

But by the end, this poem holds a lot: the idea of choosing one way, and not the other. With that scary thought . . . that we may never get a chance to come back and try the other “path.” Life goes forward. (And the person in this poem took the path “less traveled by.” Would you have done that?)

Okay, your poems may not be as brilliant as those of a master poet like Front. But this is one idea you can use.

A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.

Start with something simple that excites & delights you.

And then . . . stretch your mind . . . look for some little bit of wisdom. A poem might start with nothing more than a couple of grassy, leaf-covered paths (or whatever) . . . but can lead to something we really care about.

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