Robert Frost on creative growth

influence + experience = the waterspout
I’ve been flipping through The Collected Prose of Robert Frost and came across this marvelous bit:

No one given to looking under-ground in spring can have failed to notice how a bean starts its growth from the seed. Now the manner of a poet’s germination is less like that of a bean in the ground than of a waterspout at sea. He has to begin as a cloud of all the other poets he ever read. That can’t be helped. And first the cloud reaches down toward the water from above and then the water reaches up toward the cloud from below and finally cloud and water join together to roll as one pillar between heaven and earth. The base of water he picks up from below is of course all the life he ever lived outside of books.

Frost speaks elsewhere of “the person who writes out of the eddy in his mind.” Great images.

As an aside, not only is this a really great metaphor, but it also strikes me as a killer opening paragraph. It starts with a kind of odd idea, but not too uncomfortable (I mean, I know what a bean is, but I haven’t looked at one in the ground in decades). Then the contrast of beans with what he really wants to talk about, poets. And waterspouts. What? Then a couple short prep sentences. Then the rolling polysyndetonic waterspout of a sentence to flesh out the metaphor and to be a sort of pillar in itself connecting the odd ideas at the opening with real-world experience down at the bottom of the paragraph. The language here mirrors the concepts in a very cool way.

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