One of Guetti’s strokes of genius was to link this aspect of Wittgenstein’s thought to the poetics of a writer who could be no more out of fashion in contemporary considerations of poetry: Robert Frost. In a letter to his friend John T. Bartlett, Frost writes:
A sentence is a sound in itself on which other sounds called words may be strung.
You may string words together without a sentence-sound to string them on just as you may tie clothes together by the sleeves and stretch them without a clothesline between two trees, but—it is bad for the clothes.
. . . .
The sentence-sounds are very definite entities. . .They are as definite as words. . .
They are apprehended by the ear. . . . The most original writer only catches them fresh from talk, where they grow spontaneously. (675)
It seems to me, as it did to Jim, who quotes this passage at even greater length in his book, that Frost is speaking of the very thing Wittgenstein grapples with in his remarks on understanding sentences. When I consider now that Frost wrote this in 1914, as Wittgenstein was just beginning his pre-Tractatus MS Notes on Logic, it kinda blows my mind. As it was, Jim’s juxtaposition of Frost’s “sentence-sounds” with Wittgenstein turned my head around, not simply about poetry but about writing period. When I began to write “compositions,” as they were characterized in third grade, I’d learned you didn’t write the way you spoke, and this is both true—think of how “non-written” a transcript of conversation reads—and suitable advice for an eight-year-old writer. At a certain point, however, it is false, and bad advice. Writing is not speech, but both use sentences, and thus sentence-sounds—which is to say that written sentences need to be sayable, not merely to be elegant or effective, but simply to be understood. Sentence-sounds, in other words, aren’t meaning but are intimately bound up with our understanding of sentences.