I give Frost credit. Tying shirts together between two trees is certainly not good for the clothes. But what that image has to do with the way syntax is necessary to a line in verse is not necessarily as he puts it in his new definition for the sentence.
To make myself clear:
First, there is a sense to nonsense that doesn't rely on the sound in itself from which we derive sentences; Or, from which we rely on sentences to be derived. We're talking syntax here and prosody--in other words FORM and the History of Form. Frost, as I will repeat below, privileges form. That is an implicit objective for his new definition. And in the implication is the sense of a man re-acting to the move away from formal conventions for the play content-ion allows in objectivist and projective writing.
Second, if a sentence is "a sound in itself", then the sentence apparently has its own sound as a singular object: there is THE sentence (sing) and THE words (pl). Words (pl) "may" be strung on it (sing). Frost doesn't address what happens when words are not strung on the sentence properly other than to say such a move is "bad for the clothes." This is why I make the comment that he is more interested in style than in the clothes themselves. He privileges the line from which they hang and claims that line is primary.
Third, the "sound itself" for any given sentence must exist a priori to the appearance of that sentence. Does he write this explicitly? NO. Yet, it has to be so. Otherwise, the sentence could not have a sound in itself; possibly after itself, or with, or alongside itself, but not in itself. This is not to say that trochaic verse, for example, doesn't have a sound. But we hear it and then categorize it and then seek it out to use it. This isn't precisely an in itself. Unless, we authorize it as the verse form to be used at such-and-such a time in order to perform such-and-such an act. Then, it is a sound distinct from others with an appropriate use as defined by convention, through a consistent use. Trochaic verse dances along stressed to unstressed in steps we call feet. But Frost privileges the line (tying clothes together from tree to tree to form a clothes-line [BAD] or using a clothes-line from which to hang words [GOOD]) over the word or Form over Content.
And Frost may be digging out that we don't present the sound in itself; he may be insisting that we never forget that our work is to represent that sound. Fine. Still, I have a problem with his definition. Lines are infinitely revisable, though finitely populated. In other words, I cannot fathom an end to the ways I represent thoughts, though I am limited to the number of words I can use to construct my thoughts in sentences. [pardon this transition here because this is a complex topic; this is where we need to dig in; this is the crux; and this is what Frost ignores] The sound is fine-tuned not by the sound in itself but by poets for themselves.
I am thinking of Susan Howe at the moment. I don't think she would agree completely with Frost's new definition. Who knows? Let's ask. She might have something useful to add to this discussion. Nevertheless, in much of her work the sound in itself is an imposition to be overcome. The way we form Dickinson, the way we conform women. The way we deform language. Huston Baker, Jr., his famous Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance is useful, too, in which he defines what he calls the "mastery of form" and the "deformation of mastery." That black artists--Sterling Brown, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, for example--all had to master a white form and then deform its mastery in order to cultivate or produce a space from which to be writers. Fred. Jameson argues that modernity is marked by the breaks and periods in which the innovations of modern artists produce or clear a space for them to work in society, a space that didn't exist before they made their break. But a process such as Baker defines removes certain artists further from the modern period, further from breaking into culture, simply based on their bodily construction in social space, nevermind what they do with the clothes that hang from sentences.
Frost's definition insists on the prohibition of a deformation of mastery and limits the good use of the clothing of language and thought to sentences that have masered a form. They are, in fact, pre-formed. This is imposed culture to some--the aesthetic component of Empire that colonizes verse not through interpretation but through inscription and patronage.
Again, I "inferred": Frost argues words strung along a sentence must be strung according to a rule of syntax that is a priori. This is not an inferrence nor a straw man. As I offered in response to Greg within a comment to my last post, I believe that this is implied in Frost's definition. I know I may not be RIGHT, but correctness isn't the point. If we take a step back from the claim and attenuate sound, we hear: A sentence is a line that clothes are hung from. Frost has found a way to build into the evaluation of a line, the critique of the use of words based on how words sound on that line. If that line doesn't have an a priori syntax that Frost wishes for us to agree upon come hell or highwater, then how can he possibly position himself to determine which representations or constructions are "bad for the clothes"? --Then how can he be sure that tying the clothes together isn't useful in the case of language representing thought? Certainly he didn't simply take his shirts, tie them between two trees after washing them, left them to dry, and recognized how wrinkled and worn they were after a day in the New England sun, and then proclaimed, "And so it is with the sentence." Damn if all his shirts didn't get ruined, and he was forever remebered for he twisted and wrinkled cuffs and sleeves.
No. A Frostian sentence appears to exist as itself and with its own sound before being uttered no matter what a poet wishes to say. In this manner and this manner only, a sentence has a sound in itself upon which other sounds are hung (words.)
I know the sentence or line is the poet's tool, so to speak. But that is not the FULL sense of Frost's definition. His definition sounds like an attempt at recovery. And I ask myself, what did Frost believe we had lost or were quickly losing so that he needed to create a new definition FOR the sentence. As ambassador of the sentence, what gift does he bear? I suggest: Recovery of form from the background; Decomposing the allure of content, the play of words, and the revision of history through experimental verse; reassessing the free-play of tastes in cacaphonous celebration; and retreating from rising glossolalia--like a burp that brings forth bile. All sympathetic retreats and an understandable source of angst--the desire for recovery of form and the achievement of something solid in language. We see these things when we step outside of a form and examine many similar and different forms in combination and then re-enter the moment to examine the artist's labor with a better idea about how the culture functions through each of us. My examination of Frost's line may be similar to what has been called sociological microscopy. But I am not simply inferring and penning insulting treatises.
Again, from out of Frost's definition we find that either meaning is secondary to sound OR meaning is partially determined by sound. (I like the implications of the latter more than the former.) In this way, Frost can criticize what is good or bad for the clothes.
Well, I think it is safe to say two things about Frost: 1) He's dead; 2) He's more than concretely and justifiably encased. Therefore, his position as an important man of letters is not stained much by my disagreement with his arguments about the sound of sense. But if one feels the need to defend the man, so be it. Nor am I going to do much through my post to tear down that wall of white privilege that exists and supports much of the mainstays of modernist discourse. And if one is not willing to accept that such is in fact the way of cultural discourse, well maybe on another day. But I won't apologize for bringing it up. Such matters are vital.