Characteristics of Robert Frost Poetry

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Poetical Qualities of Robert Frost

      Frost - A Popular Poet: Robert Frost emerged as a poet in the America of transition, when the country was emerging from the old into the new order. He won came in his life time, and was admired by the old as well as the new school. He has been undoubtedly the most distinguished American poet of the twentieth century.

      Essentially An 'Outdoor Poet: Frost found his poetry 'out of doors', either in the face of field or the men who are in daily contact with the elemental realities of earth and sky. He describes a scene or incident in a way that makes you see what he sees. His style, conversational, dramatic, terse, is the repressed style of the outdoor man, accustomed to silence, who never wastes a word. But he is all the same a poet, one who sees something more where an ordinary man would see only wood or stubble.

Essentially An 'Outdoor Poet: Frost found his poetry 'out of doors', either in the face of field or the men who are in daily contact with the elemental realities of earth and sky. He describes a scene or incident in a way that makes you see what he sees. His style, conversational, dramatic, terse, is the repressed style of the outdoor man, accustomed to silence, who never wastes a word. But he is all the same a poet, one who sees something more where an ordinary man would see only wood or stubble.
Robert Frost

      Not Only Conservative, But An Experimentalist Too: Frost is often called a traditionalist and conservative. True, he does not belong to the main current of modern poetry, for he spoke for conservative adherence to tradition at a time when other young poets were breaking off the shackles of conventionalism. Frost was against futile experimentation. But he carried on his own experiments, emphasising speech rhythms and "the sound of sense".

      Deceptive Simplicity of Frost's Poems: Frost's poems on the surface seem simple. He puts on the familiar mask of a shrewd Yankee farmer who speaks of the simple rural folk, and birds and animals, and the cycle of seasons, and whose utterances are full of practical wisdom. But the poems in reality have deep significance, and show Frost's penetrating insight into the primal instincts of man.

      Universality In Regionalism: Beneath the guise of the Yankee farmer looking over the countryside of New England, there is a gentle, soulful, meditative, universal poet who, like the mystic Blake, was able to "see a world in a grain of sand". Frost portrays a variety of New England responses to the human predicament, not for the purpose of recording local colour, but rather to evoke universal extensions of meaning.

      Nature Poet but not Like Wordsworth: Frost has often been called a nature poet. Indeed, he depicts aspects of nature accurately. We often get the actual tone of the country dweller in Frost's poems. However, Frost is not interested in Nature for itself. Unlike Wordsworth, he finds no sustaining power or source of joy and moral health in Nature.

      Frost is Not a Mystic: Frost is no romantic about Nature. Natural objects in his poems are not foci for mystical meditation or starting points for fantasy, but things with which, and on which, man acts in the course of the daily work of gaining a livelihood. He is fully aware of the irrational malice of Nature. Man and Nature in Frost are two distinct entities, and the two may exist together but not fuse into a single being.

      Man is Frost's Major Concern: Frost's humanism comes through most of his poems. His view of man is consistent, throughout his poetry. Each man is, in a sense, a stranger on this earth, and so he remains. It is no use wondering why man is alone or why the universe seems against him. Growing involves a better understanding of the situation of man.

      Frost As A Poet of Love: It is in the context of his view of humanity that Frost's concept of love is to be understood. He was not a love poet in the conventional sense. He does not indulge either in sentimental rhapsodies or in coarse sexuality; his love poems are restrained but at the same time intense. Furthermore, his view of love is on the universal level: for love comes with a better understanding of self and others. It is what makes man respect the chaos of the world with which he is in conflict; it is what makes him respect and accept differences between men.

      Frost's Philosophy - Neither Pessimistic Nor Complacent: Frost's attitude as shown in his poetry is neither one of utter unrelieved gloom and pessimism, nor one of sheer complacency. Frost is often willing to accept contrarieties; he is aware that without darkness there would be no light, and without evil there would be little possibility of freely choosing good. Thus, though he is not complacent about man's situation, lie has achieved a simplicity born of experience and painful self-questioning. He is only a patient and persistent seeker after truth, blind neither to life's grim ironies nor to its more pleasant aspects.

      Frost is a Realist: He is a realist in his accurate descriptions of the New England countryside and its people. If we understand a realist to be one who knows what he is talking about, then Frost is a realist. But his realism does not imply the cataloguing of minute details whether pleasant or bald and brutal. He believes in stripping life to form in his art. Frost's method is to give a part for the whole, to suggest rather than explain all. His poems such as Mending Wall, After Apple-Picking, Putting in the Seed, and The Woodpile are crystallized bits of life.

      Mixture of Fact and Fancy in Frost's Poetry: Fact and fancy constitute two major planks in the world of Frost's poetry. Though he is a realist, in the core of thought, there is a delightful interplay of fact and fancy in his poems, such as After Apple-Picking, Mowing, Birches, To Earthward. The flight towards heaven is a quest for perfection that our human world denies. But a momentary touch with the 'perfect' satisfies Frost, for he is willing to come back with acceptance to earth's reality. The blend of fact and fancy shows Frost's acute awareness of the 'sick hurry' and 'divided aims' of human life. But he also knows the right choice to make.

      A Symbolic Poet: Apparently whimsical, simple and direct, Frost is actually highly symbolical in almost all his poems. There is more in his poems than meets the eye-subterranean, the deep and subtle rhythms and the peculiar Frostian pauses are more eloquent than the clamour of preachers and moralists. Beneath the deceptive simplicity and apparent insignificance, there is deep understanding of the human situation and its great significance.

      Mixture of Delight and Wisdom: Most of Frost's poems vindicate his view of a poem beginning in delight and ending in wisdom. Seldom is Frost deliberately and blatantly moralistic; in his best work there is a balanced fusion of pleasure and wisdom.

      Movement From Actual Detail to General and Profound Idea: A Frost's poem usually opens with the presentation of some actual detail or circumstance. Then with a sustained playfulness of tone, an imaginative whimsicality is mixed with the realistic comment, until the actual material with which the poem began yields a meaningful metaphor. In Two Tramps in Mud Time, a common experience is used to highlight the profound idea of man and his occupation. Birches begins with a simple, concrete description, but soon develops into a parable of human aspirations.

      A Lover's Quarrel with the World: Frost's poems show his spirit of accepting the world's contradictions without being crushed by them. "I had a lover's quarrel with the world", he says in one of his poems, and it aptly sums up his attitude. He may question and criticise the world but he does so with understanding and in a spirit of love.

      Frost's Humour: Frost's touch is light. Even when the subject is serious, as it often is, Frost's treatment is light. Frost is a humorist, though not in the sense of comic-strip writers. In some poems, the laughter bubbles out of drollery such as in Brown's Descent. Quiet witticism and casual wisdom are blended in poems such as Departmental and Two Tramps in Mud Time. The humour of the characters in Frost's poems may be mild or uproarious. Frost often chose the way of comedy.

      Darker Aspect of Frost - Themes of Loneliness and Barriers: The comic touch, of course, does not preclude a serious attitude. Frost is often concerned with the theme of man's isolation and the barriers in this universe North of Boston presents several people who try to prevent nervous breakdown due to their stark isolation by becoming immersed in the daily struggle for existence. There are several unbalanced people in Frost's poems. They serve to project the theme of alienation, man's alienation from fellow men and his alienation from his environment.

      Characters in Frost's Poems: Frost has depicted a variety of characters in his poetry. The presentation of these characters also varies. However, his people are neither saints nor villains; they are ordinary human beings with their share of attractiveness, admirability, pitiable unpleasantness or even contemptibility. But Frost's men and women are capable of dignity and stature and joy - in this is evident the essential humanism of Frost.

      Variety of Subjects, But Nothing Exotic, Only Homely: In range of subjects, Frost shows a great variety. He has written on almost every subject. He has illuminated things as common as the woodpile and as uncommon as a prehistoric pebble. He almost always speaks of some aspect of humanity. But one noticeable factor about these subjects is their homeliness. His subjects are generally the commonplaces of the countryside-apple-picking cleaning the pasture spring, hay making, mowing, and so on.

      Poetry of Conflict: In Frost's poems the rural themes get significance because through them he puts forward the conflict between man's sense of duty and his tendency to desire an escape from the turmoil of life-a conflict of which Frost was keenly aware.

      Sense of Duality: In Frost's poems, contraries are constantly being set side by side - Natural living and insensate, human life and mechanical power, light and darkness, good and evil. This sense of duality, however does not jar the reader as the heterogeneous elements are well balanced and blended into a unity.

      Frost's Technique: Frost has forged his own idiom and versification. He makes good use of arts and artifices of verse. He experimented in his way with stanzaic forms and generally uses a form most appropriate to the content in hand.

      Clear and Simple: Frost's technique was to convey what he wanted to communicate in simple and clear terms. He is lucid enough for a reader, who looks to poetry for mere enjoyment. But below the easily grasped image or meaning-some comment about birches, or deep woods filling up with snow - there is something more.

      Layers of Meaning in Frost's Poem: Frost's craftsmanship ensures the multi-faceted significance in his poem. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is a much quoted example for showing the layers of meaning that a Frost poem is capable of yielding. Each reader may find his own interpretation.

      Element of Lyricism: Most of Frost's poems show the lyric poet's gifts of emotion, imagery, and song. Emotionally, the poems vaguely remind one of the joy and melancholy of Shelley and Keats. In imagery they are filled with the beauties of the darkness of late autumn, the still depths ot winter, and the intensity of swift summer. Their musical quality is that of the conventional verse and stanza form of English poetry. But the purely lyrical vein declined in Frost's poetry with the passing of time, but the lyrical music never quite left him.

      Dramatic Quality: From the very beginning, dramatic suggestions were present in Frost's poetry, even in his lyrics. His maturer expression in poetry is, indeed, dramatic in nature. Poems such as Home Burial and The Death of the Hired Man afford the best examples of Frost's genius in writing dramatic poems.

      Language and Diction: Frost uses simple words, though he seldom resorts to dialects. His language is plain, but his words are chosen carefully to suit their situation. The words are made to contribute to the very mood of the poem. He has refined the vernacular without robbing it of its savour. In this he achieved what Wordsworth aimed to achieve.

      Assumming up of Frost's Salient Poetical Characteristics: It would be apt to quote Jarrell in summing up the main features of Frost's poetry:
(i) Frost's tenderness, sadness and humour, which are (sometimes) adulterated with vanity;
(ii) Frost's sorrowful acceptance of things as they are without exaggerating them or explaining them away;
(iii) his seriousness and honesty;
(iv) his many poems in which there are real people with their real speech and real thought and real emotions;
(v) his subtlety and exactness
(vi) a classical understatement and restraint.

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