Vital Signs

The Ax, the Scythe, and the Pen

As we speed along the information highway at the close of one millennium and the beginning of another, it might be wise to stop for a moment, if not by woods on a snowy evening, at least at the next rest area. When Robert Frost slowed his mare to a halt that December night a hundred years ago, he knew he had all those famous promises to keep, but he also knew he needed a moment to reflect on his life, as maybe we do on our own—and our nation's—at this historic time. Like Frost, we need to listen.

Imagine him listening now. Instead of the rhythm of "easy wind and downy flake," what might he hear in how we speak today? As a poet, he would wonder about our language and the way we use this distinctly human tool. He would be sure to ask about our "gathering metaphor," Frost's term for how our words suggest who we are and what we value. We might have to explain to him how busy everything is these days, so much so that we speak in acronyms, hurriedly recited on a car phone as we access our PCs through AT&T—or, miles to go before we sleep, stop first at an ATM. Like his "little horse" that snowy night, hurry has become our habit, but we do more than shake our harness bells when there is some mistake. Rage is the rule of our roads, and speed the way we communicate, as each new corporate merger or government agency creates yet another set of initials that will vanish like footprints in...

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