Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of Robert Frost

 By: Philip Yaffe Platinum Expert Author
Part 12 of an occasional series

I am a collector of quotations. I have been ever since I learned how to write, I mean professionally, not in primary school.

I am particularly fond of what I like to call "pithy prose". These short quotations can cover an unlimited variety of subjects: love, religion, politics, human nature, etc. What unites them is their ability to say more in one or two sentences than could be expressed in a thousand-word treatise. It's like being able to pour a liter of liquid into a half-liter bottle.

They are superb examples of Mark Twain's famous dictum, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

In principle, all writers and public speakers are capable of producing pithy prose, but clearly some are better at it than others.

Any collection of pithy prose must necessarily be biased in terms of what it includes and excludes. I make no apologies for my selections, only for the hundreds of other meritorious quotations I had to leave out.

No one will agree with all these quotations; this was not their intention. You may even find some of them repugnant or outrageous. This was their intention.

We seldom learn anything of value from what we already agree with. Only those ideas that grate on our nerves can open our minds. As with oysters, irritation can produce pearls. So if anything you are about to read annoys or shocks you, try to think clearly and dispassionately about what it is saying. You will either be confirmed in your current belief or shaken into re-examining it.

Either way, you win!

This article is part of an occasional series. In each article, I will be offering more amusing, educating, and exasperating quotations to your judgment. But just to be certain that we agree on what we are talking about, here it is in a nutshell.

Pithy Prose: A quotation where at first you may not be quite certain what it means. But when you become certain, you become equally certain that it couldn't have been said better any other way. In short, big ideas in small packages.

If you have a better definition of pithy prose, please contact me. I would love to hear it.

Who Is Robert Frost?

Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963) was a teacher, lecturer, and poet (four-time Pulitzer Prize winner). He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural American life and his deft use of colloquial American speech. His many popular and oft-quoted poems include “After Apple-Picking”, “The Road Not Taken”, “Home Burial”, and “Mending Wall”.

1. A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.

2. A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.

3. A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age.

4. A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.

5. A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.

6. A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a home-sickness, a love-sickness.

7. A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.

8. A poet never takes notes. You never take notes in a love affair.

9. By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss -- and work twelve hours a day.

10. College is a refuge from hasty judgment.

11. Don't ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.

12. Education doesn't change life much. It just lifts trouble to a higher plane of regard.

13. Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.

14. Forgive me my nonsense, as I also forgive the nonsense of those that think they talk sense.

15. Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.

16. Happiness makes up in height what it lacks in length.

17. Humor is the most engaging cowardice.

18. I am a writer of books in retrospect. I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn.

19. I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover's quarrel with the world.

20. I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.

21. I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way.

22. I never dared to be radical when young for fear it would make me conservative when old.

23. I'm not confused. I'm just well mixed.

24. If one by one we counted people out for the least sin, it wouldn't take us long to get so we had no one left to live with. For to be social is to be forgiving.

25. If society fits you comfortably enough, you call it freedom.

26. In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.

27. It's a funny thing that when a man hasn't anything on earth to worry about, he goes off and gets married.

28. Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.

29. Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor.

30. No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

31. Nothing can make injustice just but mercy.

32. Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.

33. Poetry is what gets lost in translation.

34. Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.

35. Style is that which indicates how the writer takes himself and what he is saying. It is the mind skating circles around itself as it moves forward.

36. The best things and best people rise out of their separateness; I'm against a homogenized society because I want the cream to rise.

37. The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.

38. The middle of the road is where the white line is - and that's the worst place to drive.

39. The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.

40. There never was any heart truly great and generous that was not also tender and compassionate.

41. Thinking isn't agreeing or disagreeing. That's voting.

42. Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

43. We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows.

44. You have freedom when you're easy in your harness.

Previously in this series

Part 1 Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain
Part 2: Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of Oscar Wilde
Part 3: Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of People Named "W"
Part 4: Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of Anatole France
Part 5: Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of Ambrose Bierce
Part 6: Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of Friedrich Nietzsche
Part 7: Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of Anon
Part 8: Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of People Named "H"
Part 9: Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of Johann Goethe
Part 10: Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of Eric Hoffer
Part 11: Pithy Prose: The Wit and Wisdom of Blaise Pascal
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