Critics Remark on Robert Frost Poetry

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Development of Frost's Poetic Genius

      Willard Thrope: Though Robert Frost seldom strayed to alien country beyond the sight of his New England upland pasture and back meadow, his poetry widened in content and technique from book to book. Each volume disclosed a particular face of his genius, some new attitude of tone or approach. Few modern poets have shown such a capacity for growth, on into old age.

Louis Untermeyer: The idiom is clearer, the convictions have deepened - the essential things, the points of view, the tone of voice, remain the same. Frost found his style, his personal idiom, quite early in his career, and he did not change or modify it to any considerable extent.
Robert Frost Cartoon

      Louis Untermeyer: The idiom is clearer, the convictions have deepened - the essential things, the points of view, the tone of voice, remain the same. Frost found his style, his personal idiom, quite early in his career, and he did not change or modify it to any considerable extent.

      W.G. O'Donnell: A Boy's Will tends to place a special value on the native detail as an end in itself, for Frost had not yet developed his later ability to make the local truth in Nature an integral part of the overall purpose of a poem...Not untilsubsequent volumes did Frost's genius for portraying the landscape become a functional part of his writing. North of Boston, the second volume is by all odds the major achievement of Frost's career. It was here that he cast aside the adopted talents of A Boy's Will, oriented himself to his chosen background, and came into his own.

Frost's Concept and Practice of Poetry

      Frost: My definition of poetry (if I were forced to give one) would be this: words that have become deeds.

      A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness. It is a reaching out towards expression; an effort to find fulfilment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words.

      Lawrance Thompson: Robert Frost has never chosen to summarise more than fragments of his poetic theory, and yet certain essentials of it can be deduced from his poetic practice. If we remember that his wide acclaim has been earned during an era of artistic innovation and experiment, we may marvel at his having achieved such distinction merely by letting his idiom discover old ways to be new, within the traditional conventions of lyric and dramatic and thematic modes. While Yeats, Eliot, Pound, and others invoked or invented elaborate mythic frames of reference, which have enriched and complicated artistic strategies, Frost would seem to have risked successfully the purification of poetic utterance, in complicating simple forms. Perhaps without realizing it, Frost's own Puritan heritage had made him find congenial the related theories of Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Emerson, particularly in matters related to the organic growth of a poem and the organic relationship between imagery and symbol...It would seem to be an essential part of both his theory and practice to start with a single image, or to start with an image of an action, and then to endow either or both with a figurativeness of meaning, which is not fully understood by the reader until the extensions of meaning are found to transcend the physical.

Regionalism Transmuted Into Universality

      John E. Lynen: Frost's regionalism is both symbolic and creative...The region as he depicts it is not just a place; it is a world, coherent and complete in itself. We sense the presence of an entire locality inhabited by a particular breed of men who live in a certain way by certain lights.

      W.G. O'Donnell: In his ability to portray the local truth in nature he has no peer...In as far as Frost is a voice of New England he is a minor figure in contemporary literature; to the extent that he makes his New England universal in meaning and implication, he is a significant writer.

      John F. Lynen: Frost is best known to the public as the poet of New England. Like Faulkner, he stands forth as both the interpreter and the representative of his regional culture. But if he (the reader) is interested in Frost's poetry rather than the region he will...be interested to see how he uses New England as a means of revealing what is universal rather than merely local. In the end, Frost's rural world is interesting because it symbolises the world we ourselves know. Our main concern must be to discover how he has shaped his world as an image of every man's experience.

      Willard Thrope: It (Frost's regionalism) gave him a place to stand where he could see what was close by in field or cellar hole, and, as well, a clear view above his hills to the 'further range' beyond.

Modernity, Conservatism, Traditionalism, Experimentalism

      Rosenthal: The kind of mind at work in his poetry is neither that of a New England farmer nor that of a romantic rediscoverer of land. It is what Yeats called the modern mind in search of its own meanings.

      Schneider: Mr. Frost does not understand our time and will make no effort to understand it.

      Lionel Trilling: The universe that he conceives is a terrifying universe...Read Neither Out Far nor In Deep, which often seems to me the most perfect poem of our time, and see if you are warmed by anything in it except the energy with which emptiness is perceived.

      John F Lynen: Trilling shows us that the terror Frost expresses is the terror which comes and must come with the birth of something new. It is the mark of a genuinely modern poetry.

      Bernard De Voto: It is quite true that Frost does not write like Eliot, Pound, Auden, or Spender. Fools may conclude that he is therefore a bad or unimportant poet, but intelligent people look at the poetry he has written. When you do that, unless your nerves are sealed with wax, you immediately and overwhelmingly perceive that it is the work of an individual and integrated poet - a poet, who is like no one else, a major poet, not only in regard to this age but in regard to our whole literature, a great American poet.

      Malcolm Cowley: In spite of his achievements as a narrative and lyric poet, there is a case against Robert Frost as a social philosopher in verse and as a representative of the New England tradition. He is too much walled in by the past. Unlike the great Yankees of an earlier age, he is opposed to innovations in art, ethics, science, industry or politics.

      John E. Lynen: He (Frost) neither describes the conditions of life in the industrialized urban world, nor has he written much about the specimen political and economical problems which are the subject matter of the daily papers. But one may question whether any other major twentieth-century poets, in their best poetry, have done these things either...Detachment from controversy and a lack of reforming zeal seem to be common characteristics of modern poets, and they result, not from an inability to deal with moder problems or an indifference to them, but from the feeling that overt argumentation is not the proper function of poetry. It would be hard to demonstrate that Frost is more aloof from contemporary life than the other major poets.

Philosophy, Views on God and Religion

      Malcolm Cowley: The poet is more conventional than convinced, more concerned with prudence than with virtue, and very little concerned with sin or suffering; you might say that he is more Puritan, even prudish, than Christian... there is little in his work to suggest Christian charity or universal brotherhood under God.

      Louis Untermeyer: The truth has been Frost's central passion. He has never been tooled by easy solutions or tricked by slogans; he has never given in to the fashion of the moment in poetry or politics. But a persistent search for truth does not mean that Frost is a grim philosopher. On the contrary, his touch is as light as it is certain.

      Howard Mumford Jones: "...it appears that in Frost, God is either a human construct or a being so remote from man as to be meaningless.

      Yvor Winters: Frost, as far as we have examined him, then, is a poet who holds the following views: he believes that impulse is trustworthy and reason contemptible, that formative decision should be made casually and passively, that the individual should retreat not to engage in intellectual activity but in order to protect himself from the contamination of outside influence, that affairs manage themselves for the best, if left alone, that ideas of good and evil need not be taken very seriously. These views are sure to be a hindrance to self-development and they effectually cut rost off from any really profound understanding of human experience, whether poitical, moral, metaphysical, or religious.

      George Nitchie: And yet Frost is a moralist, and not necessarily in the cant sense of the word; his analogies are regularly pointed ones, arnd it would be silly to deny that the point is frequently relevant...In spite of himself, as it were, Frost finds the world meaningful.

      Lawrance Thompson: It would seem that, for Frost, the ultimate truth does indeed lie at the bottom of a very deep well; that he refuses to find that kind of truth subsumed within the dogma of Christian belief. Nevertheless, Frost was well aware that orthodox Christian teaching has always agreed with Job that the truth is mysterious, concerning the ways of God, and past finding out.

Major Themes

      James M. Cox: Whichever alternative he chooses, the human situation, as Frost presents it, remains relatively solitary, simple and antisocial; its morality involves mere acts of choice made by a lonely self; its politics relies on a negative concept of freedom - freedom from restraint instead of freedom to achieve - and is thus essentially conservative; its myth is essentially regressive and Edenic;..

      Lawrance Thompson: Any careful reader of Frost's poems notices how frequently "fear" provides different kinds of premises for him. If nature and human nature have the power to reduce man to a fearful sense of his own smallness, his own lostness, in a seemingly, indifferent or even malicious universe, then one suggested way to confront such fear is to imagine life stripped down to its most naked forms in order to decide what is left to go on with, and to weigh the question as to whether the possible gains are worth the necessary cost...But many of his poems closely represent the confrontations of fear, lostness, alienation, not so much for purposes of shuddering as for purposes of overcoming fright, first through individual and then through social ingenuity, courage, daring, and action.

      W.G. O'Donnell: He dislikes isolation as much as any man of wisdom does, but he sees it as a fact that everyone must face in one form or another.

      Reuben A. Brower: Frost's speaker, by being so surely fixed in the physical world, the neutralised nature of the late ninetieth and twentieth century, is more surely alone.

      Marion Montgomery: Always, to Frost, man differs essentially from other features and objects.

      Willard Thorpe: Frost always knew where to find the line which separates nature from man... Though nature watches man, she takes no account of him.

      W.G. O'Donnell: Through each poem in North of Boston Frost insistently projects the theme of alienation, of man's isolation from his fellow man.

Poet of Nature and Man

      Reuben A. Brower: For a young American poet of the 1890's the noble Wordsworthian voice and the vision it asserted were almost inescapable: one sign of Frost's strength is that though he understood this voice so well he did not succumb to it.

      Marion Montgomery: ...at times he writes of the natural world in a cavalier fashion which Wordsworth would consider heretical, he pokes fun at the seasons in Two Tramps in Mud Time.

      Willard Thorpe: Man is most himself when he measures himself against nature's pace and the barriers she places before him.

      Marion Montgomery: His best poetry is concerned with the drama of man in nature...

      John F Lynen: For Frost, nature is really an image of the whole world of circumstances within which man finds himself. It represents what one might call "the human situation".

      Gorham B. Munson: He is a poet of the customary in man and nature, not the exploiter of the remarkably arresting and wonderful.

Humanism

      Louis Untermeyer: His poetry lives with a particular aliverness because it expresses living people. They are drawn with affection but not with a blurring sentimentality.

      Ezra Pound: Frost's people are distinctly real...I know that they exist, and what is more, that they exist as he portrayed them.

      Marion Montgomery: Frost's view of man's nature, then, is consistent throughout his poetry. Each man is, in a sense, a stranger in this world, and so he remains...As he grows he understands more, and as he also understands himself he also understands more of the world and his fellows. With understanding, comes love which makes him respect the chaos of the world with which he is in conflict, the material with which he works. The same love makes him respect and accept differences between men also. He respects others' individual differences and expects that others will respect him.

General Estimate

      Louis Untermeyer: Frost's work, like his life, is built on paradox. Perhaps it would be more exact to say that it is a combination and resolution of contradictions. The poetry is both sunny and sombre, teasing and tragic. It is most forceful when it is least spectacular - Frost actually luxuriates in understatement - and its profundity is curiously accentuated by its playfulness... Constant in its appeal, Frost's poetry entices the reader with its amiable but deceptive surface of fact and rewards him with unsuspected depth of feeling. It is not only an act of creation but an act of sharing, a poetry which finds a response on every level, which (as Frost wrote of all true poetry) "begins in delight and ends in wisdom"

      Randall Jarrell: Frost's virtues are extraordinary. No other...poet has written so well about the actions of ordinary men; his wonderful dramatic monologues come out of a knowledge of people that few poets have had...Frost's seriousness, and honesty, the bare sorrow with which, sometimes, things are accepted as they are, neither exaggerated nor explained away...all this, in conjunction with so much subtlety and exactness, such classical understatement and restraint, makes the reader feel that he is not in a book but in a work, and a world that has in common with his own some of the things that are most important in both.

      W. J. Long: Robert Frost...finds his poetry out of doors, either in the face of the fields or the faces of men who are in daily contact with the elemental realities of earth and sky. There are no joyous lyrics in his work, but only narrative, meditative and descriptive verse. Of him more than any other poet the word 'realistic' may be used in its best sense. He describes a scene or an incident in a way that makes you see what he sees - a thing that few descriptive writers ever accomplish. Read Birches, for example, and see the graceful trees bending under the weight of a winter storm. So in all his work, he invents nothing; he is rather sternly accurate in picturing things as they are any book of his gives the total impression of a winter landscape, gaunt, bare, cheerless, with sharp outlines and chilly blue shadows. His style is casual, often conversational or dramatic, and always terse the repressed style of arn outdoor man, accustomed to silence, who wastes never a word. With all this matter-of-factness our poet is still a poet, one who sees beauty where others sees only wood or stubble.

      Louise Bogan: Frost's career has another importance to the Americans of his time. He restored to a large audience, the concept of the Bard. His insistence on uniting his vocation with his avocation, on living according to his beliefs and within his means - as teacher, farmer, and poet reconstituted a simple and self-controlled poetic character which had been attractive to the middle class since the Victorian era. He advocated none but the simplest virtues and expressed the most graspable ideas. Frost's final role - that of the inspired purveyor of timeless and granitic wisdom has proved acceptable to all.

      Louis Untermeyer: The tone in his poetry continually shifts from gravity to light mockery, from confidence in an all-compelling spirit to a bantering scepticism. More than a realist, Frost is a dogged examiner. He appraises the world without being deceived by its cherished illusions; he doubts both its pretenses and its desperatiorns... Writing on practically every subject, Frost illuminates things as common as a woodpile and as uncommon as a prehistoric pebble, as traditionally 'poetic' as a twilight thrush singing in dark woods and as grimly 'mechanistic as the revolt of a factory worker. Chiefly, his subject is humanity, and his verse lives with a particular aliveness because it speaks not only about people, but for them. In his lines they walk about, and converse, and tell their stories, and pronounce ther differences with the freedom of common speech.

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