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The Secret Sits -- Robert Frost

(Poem #681) The Secret Sits
 We dance round in a ring and suppose,
 But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
-- Robert Frost
First published in "A Witness Tree", 1942.

It's tempting to assume that this pithy, aphoristic couplet embodies Frost's
view of poetry and the poetic process (both composition and interpretation).
It's especially tempting when you consider that Frost's own poetry is
celebrated for its "wonderful ability to pack layer after layer of meaning
and imagery into a few words" [1] - and that he was loth to favour any
particular interpretation thereof over any other [2].

Tempting, perhaps, but not necessarily true. Which (in a marvellous twist of
self-reference) makes it equally plausible that what is being referred to is
the poem itself; it's certainly impenetrable enough in its own way... wheels
within wheels within wheels.


[1] See Martin's commentary on Frost's "A Patch of Old Snow", poem #336

[2] See the anecdote accompanying "The Need of Being Versed in Country
Things", poem #170

[Minstrels Links]

Frost has featured on the Minstrels before, but not to the extent that one
might have expected (and not at all in the last year or so).

Poem #155, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", is a classic, and one of
those poems which _everyone_ knows and loves.

Poem #51, "The Road Not Taken", is on one of our favourite themes. The
accompanying commentary has a biography, critical assessment, and two
interesting essays on Frost's use of deceptively simple language to drive
home what are often fairly complex thoughts and emotions.

Both of these, plus the poems mentioned in the footnotes above, plus many
many more, are available on the Minstrels website,
[broken link]


Robert Frost died on the 29th of January, 1963. No, I wasn't aware of the
coincidence when I chose today's poem.

65 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Raphael Revah said...

very strange poem - came across it when looking up a site on the psychology of despair - went into ego-state theory, with the idea that frost is alluding to the hollow empty self-doubt of human insignificance in the face of the unioverse - the secret of the poem - which is ignored by all 'sane' people, but when recognised, leads people to self-destruction (insantiy, self-abuse, addiction etc),. whether it is accurate reflection of frosts intention or not, it is interesting view of this poem

Mark Horstman said...

Maybe it's just me, but so much of Frost is so simple and plain about human
behavior, and his art is to make it beautiful to look at.

I don't think this poem is anything more (and that's why he made it short)
than a commentary on all of our tendencies to talk around an issue, even
though EVERYONE knows what it is no one is willing to talk about. In
business, we call this the 500-lb. elephant sitting on the conference room

Its brevity reminds me of Pascal's comment, "I have made this letter longer
than usual, because I lack the time to make it short." When you've made
your point, shut up.

Mark Horstman
Managing Partner
H o r s t m a n & C o m p a n y
110 W. Live Oak
Fredericksburg, TXEmail FaxOffice Fax

Philippe Paulissen said...

I think this poem is about life.
"We dance round in a ring and suppose": the way we live life, we run thru life without holding on, we run like crazy in this often mad world.
"But the secret sits in the middle and knows": only life knows it's own secret.

Greetz Philippe

Tony Hackett said...

The secret is there, it knows....and it's waiting for you to find a way in.
It isn't hiding, or being deliberately hidden, but it's there for those who
know how to look.
That's an important skill we can learn - you might not know what you're
looking for, but if you learn how to look, you can find the truth,


This poem particularly connected with me the first time that I read it for I
share a similar experience with Robert Frost. If you actually were to research
Robert Frost and his life experience, you would realize that he was a member of
a secretive fraternity (Theta Delta Chi). This poem perfectly displays the
idea of the brotherhood bonds within his fraternity and how brothers are to act
in society; where the brothers know so much more than perceived by anyone not
affiliated with the fraternity. The secret is there for those to discover. It
is not hidden, just protected. Open yourself to it and you will be dancing and
knowing, while those who dance with you suppose.

Brian Bertges
Interfraternity Council
Pennsylvania State University

Steve Kice said...

I have pondered this poem.

I believe that this poem uses the Secret to represent God; that is why it is capitalized. The dancing in symbolizing life. As we 'dance' our way through life (which revolves around God), we must assume that God exists, and assume different things about God. God as the Secret, sits at the center of life, and knows all, knows all about our lives. God is the Secret.


Hi to you,

My name is Iris and I live in Scotland.

Thought it may interest you to know that when my neice published her PhD on
the study of oral cancer, she choose The Secret Sits as the forward to her
Very apt, don't you agree for such a subject?


Morrin Catherine said...

The poem speaks to me about the inner life--that we all know who we are
what to do and be deep within us. But it's often a "secret" to
ourselves unless we stop dancing around the externals of things--the
"ring"--and move within where we will "sit" rather than move. This
suggests inner peace and silence to obtain the true self.

Cathy M.

Gary Cobb said...

Robert Frost plagiarized this poem. This was written in the 13th century by
Jalaluddin Rumi. Don't take my word for it, research Rumi.

cammeron said...

I believe the meaning of the poem is simply as it states nothing more and nothing less. I view it as I'd view a friendship people always assume or suppose someone is talking in one way about them they suppose the secret lies with a certain person or idea but in reality the secret is more clever than they ever can be and it lies in the middle in plain site where they wouldn't ever think or dare to look because it's to obvious. A more clear example would be say you have a boyfriend/girlfriend (or wife or husband) and you suppose they cheat or you suppose they're true but the secret (which is the truth) sits in the middle (meaning out in the open obvious later on) and knows. I honestly don't think he meant for it to be confusing I don't think he wrote it for professors but for the common person as something we can all understand. -Cammeron

Anonymous said...

It's about chaos. How everything falls into place while we are busy dancing about trying to make it happen.

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Anonymous said...

Or it's about the discovery of the nucleus of the atom...

Science Teacher, v68 n6 p58-62 Sep 2001

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