“A poem is the act of having an idea and how it feels to have an idea.” Robert Frost scrawled those words in one of the more than forty notebooks he filled with thoughts, complaints, teaching ideas, and poem drafts over the course of his writing life. The sentence was his own private remark, meant for no one but himself; yet when I, nearly a half-century after his death, stumbled across the line, I immediately, with a swift conviction of wonder and completion, recognized the shape of what he, too, had so swiftly recognized. Yes, I thought. You have said exactly what I have never said myself. You have said it, and I now I have heard it.
In a later notebook entry, Frost commented, “‘There there you are—you’ve said it’ is the most influencing thing you can say to a person. Or I know exactly—you get it just as I have felt it.” By means of this simple interchange, the speakers share, in Frost’s words, “fellow feeling and common experience.” At this instant, they are no longer engaged in instruction or chat, in argument or even discussion. They are participating as equals in a conversation that has crystallized around a suddenly shared perception. And that is exactly how I felt when I read his definition of a poem.
I’m sure that you, too, have been transported by a rare conversational moment when intellect and emotion and attentiveness synthesize into a “fellow feeling” of not only exquisite understanding but also exponential possibility. The conversers may be parent and child or student and teacher; they may be colleagues or lovers or accidental travel companions; they may be reader and poet, painter and viewer. They may be any two human beings in any time or place. What is necessary is the sense, whether actual or inferred, that one converser has articulated some vital working of mind or heart and that the other converser has heard and acknowledged a shared, intense comprehension.