(Poem #917) A Considerable Speck
(Microscopic) A speck that would have been beneath my sight On any but a paper sheet so white Set off across what I had written there. And I had idly poised my pen in air To stop it with a period of ink When something strange about it made me think, This was no dust speck by my breathing blown, But unmistakably a living mite With inclinations it could call its own. It paused as with suspicion of my pen, And then came racing wildly on again To where my manuscript was not yet dry; Then paused again and either drank or smelt-- With loathing, for again it turned to fly. Plainly with an intelligence I dealt. It seemed too tiny to have room for feet, Yet must have had a set of them complete To express how much it didn't want to die. It ran with terror and with cunning crept. It faltered: I could see it hesitate; Then in the middle of the open sheet Cower down in desperation to accept Whatever I accorded it of fate. I have none of the tenderer-than-thou Collectivistic regimenting love With which the modern world is being swept. But this poor microscopic item now! Since it was nothing I knew evil of I let it lie there till I hope it slept. I have a mind myself and recognize Mind when I meet with it in any guise No one can know how glad I am to find On any sheet the least display of mind.
Today's poem works wonderfully on several levels. It is amusing, true, and not least for the unexpected and keenly trenchant ending. But it is also a gently moving poem, catching the reader up in the plight of the mite, as it frantically endeavours "To express how much it didn't want to die." And furthermore, if we can indeed identify the narrator with the poet, it gives us a glimpse into that part of Frost's mind that, while he claims to ... have none of the tenderer-than-thou Collectivistic regimenting love With which the modern world is being swept can nevertheless sympathise with a creature so patently aware, and terrified, of its upcoming fate. This is doubtless the point at which people of a certain cast of mind will be muttering words like 'anthropomorphic' and perhaps even 'pathetic fallacy', but I was reminded more of the popular science fictional problem of recognising and responding to nonhuman intelligences (and the symmetric problem of how they will react to us). Frost summed it up admirably in the penultimate couplet: I have a mind myself and recognize Mind when I meet with it in any guise and I can't help but think that he takes an altogether more attractive approach to the situation than Lear's "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport."  sorry!  at least plausible, if, as the essay in the links claims, it was indeed inspired by a real episode  yes, i know that doesn't strictly apply Links: There's a biography of Frost at [broken link] http://www.robertfrost.org/bio.html http://members.tripod.co.uk/macher/frost/audio.html has an audio file of Frost reading several poems, "Considerable Speck" among them http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/arts/ar-mclk5.htm is an interesting essay on the poem, suggesting that it was based on an actual incident. Frost poems on Minstrels: Poem #51, "The Road Not Taken" Poem #155, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" Poem #170, "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things" Poem #336, "A Patch of Old Snow" Poem #681, "The Secret Sits" Poem #730, "Mending Wall" Poem #779, "Fire and Ice" -martin