In “The Figure a Poem Makes,” Robert Frost declares a poem “begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”
For Frost, the “delight” is a response to a particular moment expressed in an image, such as his seeing neighbor’s “woods fill up with snow” in his “Stopping by Woods.” By “wisdom,” he means no more than a “stay against confusion,” an insight that for the moment suggests that things make sense.
Frost’s formulation occurred to me the other day when I looked across my breakfast table toward the corner next to the door leading out to my leaves-covered deck. I saw there the broom I had left to be available to sweep out the leaves that came back into the house whenever I and the dog returned from her necessary trip into the dog yard.
Next to the broom, about 15 inches away, sits the outdoor pot for my mandevilla, brought in for the winter. It is a tropical vine for which I have provided a lattice on the wall next to my deck. I had snipped off its vine to bring it in, leaving just about 15 inches that were entwined in a small wooden lattice in its pot.
What I noticed that morning was that the plant had sent a runner out in search of something to grab onto. Over the next few days, this runner closed the space toward the broom handle.
One morning I saw that the runner had reached the broom. It had wrapped itself around, and had begun to climb up the handle. What it will do when it reaches the top of the handle, I thought, is a question. On my deck, when it has outgrown its wall lattice, it has managed to creep along the cracks between the vinyl siding, but that is not an option in my kitchen.
Observing the vine’s progress and wondering about its conclusion brought Frost to mind. Maybe I could write a delight to wisdom poem. I’ve got the “delight” part down in the image of the vine wrapped around a plastic broom handle. But what “wisdom” is it heading toward? What stays against confusion?
My brain tried to help by recalling the notion of there being a “life force,” described in a poem by Dylan Thomas as “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” But there will be no flower at the end of this thin green runner. My brain said move on.
But it tried again, this time bringing up famous lines from Robert Browning’s “Andrea del Sarto,” in which he writes, “Ah, but aman’s reach should exceed his grasp,/ Or what’s a heaven for?” Applying that aspirational message as a necessary precondition to thoughts of heaven to the thin runner of my vine wrapped around a plastic broom is perhaps worth a smile but cannot be thought of as heading toward wisdom, even in Frost’s modest terms of a stay against confusion.
Frost’s wisdom frequently turns inward, finding some insight into himself, or into his view of the world. So maybe, I thought, I need to seek such an insight from my vine and broom. But prompted by that image, the door to such introspection of myself or a heightened perception of my world remains closed.
As if in confirmation of this conclusion, a day later the vine had reached beyond the top of the broom.
It looked like it was waving good-bye.
And so, I to it. With the leaves now off my deck, my thoughts turn to putting the broom back into the closet.
Where, at least, it belongs.