Robert Frost defined a poem as “a momentary stay against confusion.”
I love this definition. My friend Larry Weinstein mentioned it in passing at lunch the other day. It describes so wonderfully why we construct unique patterns.
The rhyme and/or rhythm in a poem helps us to remember it. It provides us with a unique, a special pattern that we associate with the poem, and it enables us to more easily and quickly remember the next words or phrases. This is what I mean by uniqueness. Of all the possible words or sequences we could have used to describe something, the poet has chosen one or at most a very small collection of patterns overlaid on each other to grab us, hold us, and constantly remind us of his story.
For some this may be a visualization, for others a wonderful rhythm, and for still others an association, or perhaps all of those. Mending Wall has that uniqueness to me. It begins with:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
And ends with:
“Good fences make good neighbors.”
It tells the story of two neighboring farmers doing their spring chore, the story of two very different people with outlooks on life we recognize, we already know their pattern. One questions, the other does not. This poem is beautiful to us. It captivates us. It tells a story that could be told in so many different ways, but it is a collection of patterns, laid one on another, special patterns of rhythm and sound,of image and action, of phrase and structure that makes this story simply one of a kind. It is like the wall, with stone carefully balanced on stone, each chosen to fit its place like this collection of words and patterns and like the unique patterns we build and use everyday.