Inexhaustible Meaning in Frost's Poetry

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      Frost's Simplicity is Deceptive: The simplicity of the poems of Robert Frost has endeared him to many ordinary readers. Ability to understand and appreciate his poems without much trouble makes these readers resort to him again and again. In reality, all his poems as Randall Jarrell has pointed out, reveal that, "he is extraordinarily subtle, complex and intricate". His poems have a rich texture and there are layers within layers of meaning. He makes extensive use of symbols to convey profound truths and in this respect he is one with such modern poets as Eliot, Yeats, Pound and Auden. As he himself tells us he is by intention a symbolist who takes his symbols from the public domain. His complexity is seen in his habit of bringing together the opposites of life in the manner of the Metaphysical Poets. He has a passion for balancing one idea against its opposite in the conflicts between good and evil, reason and instinct, conflicts which Frost is always reluctant to resolve completely. A skilful combination of an outer lightness and an inner gravity is one of his major poetic achievements.

In reality, all his poems as Randall Jarrell has pointed out, reveal that, "he is extraordinarily subtle, complex and intricate". His poems have a rich texture and there are layers within layers of meaning. He makes extensive use of symbols to convey profound truths and in this respect he is one with such modern poets as Eliot, Yeats, Pound and Auden. As he himself tells us he is by intention a symbolist who takes his symbols from the public domain. His complexity is seen in his habit of bringing together the opposites of life in the manner of the Metaphysical Poets. He has a passion for balancing one idea against its opposite in the conflicts between good and evil, reason and instinct, conflicts which Frost is always reluctant to resolve completely. A skilful combination of an outer lightness and an inner gravity is one of his major poetic achievements.
Robert Frost

      Frost's Poems - Different Levels of Meaning Make them Inexhaustible: It is Frost's poetic strategy to proceed smoothly from the simple to the complex and from the familiar to the universal. The classic and older technique of the pastoral tradition is applied by Frost for his own purpose. This cannot be condemned as a weakness. It reveals the intrinsic strength of the poet in as much as readers with different aesthetic attainments and power of comprehension or the perceptive strength of their minds can read different levels of meaning in the same poem. Thus a Frost poem becomes what a critic calls 'inexhaustible'. Its rich texture is fascinating, for even the same person, reading a poem again, may find differences in the implications of the meaning conveyed. It is here that the role of the reader becomes significant as, if not more than, the role of the poet.

      On a superficial level, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening merely deals with a traveller watching the woods fill up with snow. "A realistic and beautiful picture" may be the response of one reader. But is that all to be found in the poem? The discerning reader finds much more - to him the woods may signify the mysterious alleys of life, the situation may imply man's limitedness in this age of mechanical advancement Snow, woods and 'sleep' assume myriad meanings and implications. They may indicate beauty, imperviousness, or inscrutability and a frightening mystery. Sleep is inevitably associated with death. And the images conjured by 'promises to keep and 'miles to go' are numerous.

      After Apple-Picking also shows the multiple levels of meaning invested by Frost in a poem. The simple country task may be a metaphor of life. Winter and 'sleep' and 'night' bring up significant associations of death.

      On the face of it, poems such as Home Burial and For Once, Then, Something deal with ordinary rural happenings - the former deals with the death of a first child, and the latter with the common pastime of looking into wells to seek truth. But both poems transform the simple into the complex. Eternal human problems such as a terrifying alienation and the evasive quality of truth, are implied in the poems.

      Frost's Oblique Method: Far-reaching Implication of His Symbols: The oblique method of Frost - his indirect manner of communication - lends a rich texture to his poems. His casual manner hides serious implications. The apparently simple Birches reveals a depth of meaning most unexpected. The casual manner, which is the result of Frost's careful craftsmanship, does not hide the serious thought behind it. Departmental or A Considerable Speck are on the surface concerned with trivialities, the one with ants and the other with a mite. But the easy style shows a blend of wit and wisdom. Both poems become satirical metaphors for the organizationalism adhered to by man. Woods and darkness are recurring symbols used by Frost and they have deep significance.

      The Impact on the Experience of the Reader: The impact of the content of a Frost poem on all sorts of readers is directly proportional to the range of the experience of the concerned reader. It is well known that Frost held that the meaning in a poem is a discovery both for the poet and the reader.

      Conclusion: Simple themes acquire universal and intricate characteristics in the hands of Robert Frost. The simple watching of the woods by a rural traveller on horseback can expand into implications of the complex predicament of man vis-a-vis life and the world through the poet's power of integration of his theme and his technique. It is in this way that the poetic strategy of Robert Frost of the use of the simple and the familiar is effectively successful.

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