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A Considerable Speck -- Robert Frost

(Poem #917) A Considerable Speck

 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.
-- Robert Frost
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[1], 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[2], 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'[3], 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."

[1] sorry!
[2] at least plausible, if, as the essay in the links claims, it was indeed
inspired by a real episode
[3] yes, i know that doesn't strictly apply


  There's a biography of Frost at [broken link] has an audio file of
  Frost reading several poems, "Considerable Speck" among them 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"


40 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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hello, I've been writing poems since my childhood, so I hope you like this:

She loves me-loves me not.
My hands I pick
and having broken my fingers
fling away.
So the first daisy-heads
one happens to flick
are plucked,
and guessing,
scattered into May.
Let a cut and shave
reveal my grey hairs.
Let the silver of the years
ring out endlessly !
Shameful common sense -
I hope, I swear -
Will never come
to me.

Anonymous said...

Poetry is a living creator and the poet is its creator. The fate of a poem is in the hands of the poet. The insect symbolizes the soul of the poem. While writing, Frost feels that he poetry is unimportant, a speck. He is symbolizing the mental struggle he experiences during writing. He contemplates killing his poetry. After careful contemplation, he realizes that his poetry may not be important to others, but it is important to him. His poems deserve to live even if only for his own pleasure.

Anonymous said...

Literal Interpretation:

While Frost was writing a poem, he saw a tiny dark speck on the paper he was using. The speck was so small that he did not notice it until it ran across the words on the page. He examined the speck and discovered that it was a small insect. He had two options: kill it or allow it to live. He contemplated killing it because he did not have "tenderer-than-thou collectivistic regimenting love with which the modern world is being swept." After careful consideration, he realized that there was no reason to kill the insect, so he decided to let it live. Robert Frost's attitude changed because of the insect. This was a moment that inspired him to become a loving positive person.

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