Robert Frost's Considerable Speck

Madeline Clark

T he poet had sat down, pen in hand, with his blank sheet before him and had even written a few lines, when he noticed — black against the white page — a minute speck about the size of a period. . . . It moved! At first he thought his own downbreath had moved a speck of fluff. But no, it now started across the vast empty expanse of the paper of its own volition, proving that it was indeed a Considerable Speck, worthy of attention.

Idly, Frost says, he poised his pen "To stop it with a period of ink." But on the pen's mere approach the speck stopped short, then fled across the page, only to be checked again when it came upon the still wet ink of the last written line. Here it paused, sensing something possibly threatening in that lake of wetness, and turned and fled as if in terror. But the smooth unbroken stretch of desert in which it found itself proved in the end too much for it; and after creeping, faltering, going on, and hesitating, it cowered motionless in the middle of the page, as if resigning itself to its fate. There, meanwhile, sat the human god, with power to annihilate that struggling entity with the touch of a finger. But Frost forebore, hoping the poor thing would sleep. . . . It was a study in consciousness, for the microscopic creature had shown, in reactions incredibly minute, suspicion, dread, bafflement, terror, and the overpowering desire to preserve its life.

Little did the poet think, I am sure, as he sat down to write, that he was shortly to have a glimpse, through this tiny knothole, into the awesome dimensions of the atomic small. It was like looking at the universe through telescope and microscope, and discovering the same perfection and completeness, if not degree of consciousness, as in the more familiar creation — firsthand proof that nothing is great, nothing is small, in the divine economy. Emerson, who had studied widely, sensed this truth when he said that the world "globes itself in a drop of dew," that the microscope "cannot find the animalcule which is less perfect for being little"; and that "God reappears with all his parts in every moss and cobweb."

Here we have a glimpse into the world of consciousness, of motivation, and in a being so infinitesimal that we hover on the brink of incredulity. Could a being so lowly be open to such an interpretation of its actions? Perhaps it is too much to believe that motivations could arise within an entity as yet devoid of mind or will. But we ourselves with all our parts and organs so delicately balanced and coordinated — and with higher attributes constantly unfolding — must seem almost beneath notice to the august gigantic beings of the outer universe. On the other hand, it has been suggested that even on the electrons of an atom, considered as planets circling their central nucleus, there might be beings more highly evolved than our familiar mankind. So we are, in one sense, a microcosm; in another, a macrocosm, at least in respect to the atomic lives which make up our own constitution, and by their activities in the cells and molecules perform the groundwork that enables us to function in our particular sphere.

Perhaps we had better stop at this point in our conjectures. Frost himself winds up his poem with the humorous remark that having a mind himself, he recognizes mind on meeting it "in any guise":

No one can know how glad I am to find
On any sheet the least display of mind.

The poet transmits, through these moments of insight, a new concept of the immense scale of universal life. And we of the human race, who habitually had thought of ourselves as the one and only point and acme of all creation, simply fall into our natural place in this immense concourse of evolving beings.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2004; copyright © 2004 Theosophical University Press)

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