Alden Anderson English 102 Summer ’05 2: 15 Frost’s Sense Robert Frost has a certain theory. That a sentence has an overall sound and that word may be taken out and the sound analyzed. The theory is Frost’s “Sound of Sense.” Or I like to say, that you may sense the sound of a sentence, with a simple little trick. Put your hand over your mouth and speak the sentence, pay attention to the muffled sound instead of the words being spoken. That would be the sound of sense. This paper is an introduction to this theory along with an analysis of a Frost poem I feel articulates this well.
The poem that I have chosen is taken from his later years, after he first came up with this theory. While Frost was up in a mountain interval in ’23, I believe his imagination started to stray. This may be how the poem, “Brown’s Decent” started. It starts, “BROWN lived at such a lofty farm That everyone for miles could see His lantern when he did his chore In winter after half-past three.” Meaning; there was a farmer, in an extremely high vantage, with a farm high in view of a town below.
This is a simple rhyme poem with and a simpler A-B-C-B style. Yet the roll of the words and the fluidity of the story make it a perfect example for the sound of sense. Try using the hand method to get a sense of the sound here. In the second rhyming section we see two great examples as Brown goes about his chores, “And many must have seen him make.” And, “‘Cross lots, ‘cross walls, ‘cross everything,” The second here is an unusual stammering descriptive sentence that we see imitated later in the poem to add consistency and texture. The poem goes on to detail Brown’s accident and fall, and as he is sliding down the mountainside we again get a feeling that he is intentionally using certain words to add a sound to the sentence he wants custom. “Sometimes he came with arms outspread/ Like wings, revolving in the scene.” There is a section of four rhyme sets describing the fall.
These are all blended together to flow better and increase tension and concentration. Sixteen lines in total, I believe this is the most entertaining part of the poem. Towards the end of Brown’s slide is where we get the stammering descriptive rant again, “He reeled, he lurched, he bobbed, he checked.” These are fun ones to sound out as a sentence because of the varying tones of the words. Brown then slides all the way to the bottom and is stopped by a river road, a soft landing. The final area of the poem is a thoughtful interpretation of the scene happening on the mountain. Given from the perspective of the townspeople below.
After reaching the trail, which gave him his stop, he looks up at the length of his fall and sees there is no way to climb back up. This leads to a lovely example in a four-line set.” Or even thought of standing there Until the January thaw Should take the polish off the crust. He bowed with grace to natural law,” Which means the thought of standing there until summer occurred to him, but sense eventually overcame. The poem finishes with an explanation of the motives for no one helping Brown back to his farm. Then tells of Brown’s thought processes for walking the long way back to the farm.” But now he snapped his eyes three times; Then shook his lantern, saying, ‘Ile’s’Bout out!’ and took the long way home By road, a matter of several miles.” Explaining that his lantern is going out so he better walk home. Completely unconcerned with the way it seemed from the outside.
Brown finishes his decent with an accent in the dark, before his lantern dies. Such is the way of the “Sound of Sense.” From the outside we can ignore the words, say in a crowded place, and concentrate on the ocean of noise coming up. It can be melodious, if you find the right wave to listen on. Frost was on to something with this concept. It is a shame he was never able to progress this idea, for this could be more than analysis. This could be the start of a new music, art, and way of listening, or even writing.
This concept is something to always keep in mind. Now prone to sensibly listen to the “Sound of Sense.”.