I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pianissimo confessions of an egghead

Delores E. Topliff
           During my more egghead days, I loved teaching John Ciardi’s critical essay, “Robert Frost: The Way to the Poem.” Through many pages Ciardi discusses the complicated composition steps and patterns Frost followed through an entire night in his New Hampshire farm house kitchen to write what became his beloved sixteen-line poem, Stopping by woods on a snowy evening. Here are its opening four lines:
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow . . .

Frost sat up all night considering the problem of repeating a word rhyme eleven lines after its first use—To rhyme, or not to rhyme, that was his question. Scholars have wished for wastebasket drafts of his early attempts, but none exist. Frost said he sat down after supper to work on a long piece of blank verse that never worked out. Totally absorbed, he finally looked up to find it was dawn. He rose, walked to his kitchen window, and stood looking. After a few minutes, everything he had tried and practiced for hours distilled into the sixteen lines of “Stopping by woods. He then simply returned to his same kitchen table, and wrote them down.

Committed writing is like piano practice, especially the daily discipline of scales. Wrists held correctly, and fingers in place, we move up and down the keyboard using correct posture and rhythm. Similarly in writing, after much consistent practice, perhaps even when our efforts seem wooden and labored, there comes a dawning moment when we see through a creative window and all comes into place. What had been labored practice becomes lyrical music—not repetitive discipline, but inexpressibly lovely music bearing little resemblance to the long practiced labors coming before.

Keep practicing, knowing that at surprising moments, with God’s help, all previous efforts invested in our craft move beyond our learning to become perfect expressions of the incomplete imperfect pieces that came before it— inspirational miracles.

What about you? Which writing or craft practice have you followed that suddenly became amazing breakthrough? Keep it up—poetry and music is ahead.


  1. Love, love this post! I just realized that the days I sit at the computer, agonizing over each word, line, and scene is like a pianist practicing their scales. And to be good, it has to be done regularly. Thanks for a timely reminder!

  2. Great advice, Dee! It makes all the conference, retreats, and shelf full of how-to books worthwhile!