Nature and Man: in Robert Frost Poetry

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      Robert Frost is first and foremost a nature poet, but the center of his concern is always Man. Frost has written many poems depicting natural scenery but never has he isolated the nature scene from a human content. His earlier poems, contained in the 1913 collection A Boy's Will, manifest his lively interest in the contemplation of nature by means of careful observation. But it is interesting to note that the human element is never found absent from the scene depicted.

Frost began as a Nature poet and his interest in nature persisted throughout his career. Marion Montgomery says: "Frost is a great Nature poet but he is not a nature poet in the tradition of Wordsworth. He is a nature poet of a different kind and hence the failure to appreciate his nature poetry correctly".
Robert Frost

      Strong Human Emotion is Invariably Introduced into all Nature poems. The poems, My November Guest and Reluctance do portray the pleasure the poet experiences in communion with Nature. But it is in accordance with his conviction that man should never make the mistake of crossing the "wall" and trespassing into the domain of Nature. Hence critics like Alvarez and others do not regard him as a Nature poet. They are willing to concede to him only the position of a poet of country life in fact, Frost himself has admitted this. In a television interview, he is reported to have said: "I guess I am not a Nature poet. I have written only two poems without a human being in them". As against this opinion, John E Lynen says: "Prost's nature poetry is so excellent and so characteristic that it must be given a prominent place in any account of his art". After asserting that Frost has so many and such excellent poems about natural scenery and wildlife, he says further: "One can hardly avoid thinking of him as a Nature poet.

      Frost began as a Nature poet and his interest in nature persisted throughout his career. Marion Montgomery says: "Frost is a great Nature poet but he is not a nature poet in the tradition of Wordsworth. He is a nature poet of a different kind and hence the failure to appreciate his nature poetry correctly".

      Frost is a Nature Poet: Robert Frost is first and foremost a nature poet. But some critics, in their over-worked zeal for saying something original and subtle, argue in vain to deny Frost this stature. Alvarez says about Frost that "he (Frost) is not a nature poet; his work has none of that personal interpretative weight. He is a country poet whose business is to live with nature rather than through it", Another critic, takes up Frostts case says "If the latter part of this passage is slightly obscure, the former bear's witness to a common misunderstanding of Frost's work. For an unprejudiced reading of his poems will reveal just that personal interpretative weight which Alvarez denies to it". Robert Langbaum admires Frost's power to render the objects of nature in poetry in a vivid manner. He points out that this treatment of nature is a sort of escapism taking the reader away from the center of preoccupations of our time. Placing Frost in a perspective Langbaum says: "In the sheer power to render nature, Frost may well be our best nature poet since Wordsworth. Yet it is because Frost's sense of nature is so unlike Wordsworth's that he does not play in our time the role Wordsworth played in his, that he leads us away from rather than to the center of the preoccupations of the time. For Frost cannot embrace the transcendentalism that his sense of nature suggests; but neither does he have the so much wilder sense of nature that our latest nature philosophy requires. Our nature philosophy has been made not only by Darwin but by Freud and Frazer. It connects not only man's body but his mind and culture to the primeval ooze: and you cannot convey that sense of nature in poems about the cultivated countryside of England or New England".

      Frost's Natural Scenes-Vivid and Accurate: The importance and the use of the Frostian treatment of nature may be debatable but it has to be acknowledged that Frost's poetry is a living tribute to his capacity for minute observation and accurate description. Isidor Schneider, Frost's vehement critic on many other grounds, acknowledges his descriptive powers: "The descriptive power of Mr. Frost is to be the most wonderful thing in his poetry. A snowfall, a spring thaw, a bending tree, a valley mist, a brook these are brought not to, but into the experience of the reader. The method is simple and can be analyzed. What he describes is never a spectacle only, but an entire adventure... With the sight and the act the emotional response comes naturally. The three fuse together and the experience comes as a whole to us. It is an effect rare even in the best poetry. The simultaneous description gives the reader almost a sensory instrument with which to share the perception; and since it is natural, anyway, for the reader to identify himself with the author, the result is to bring the reader into closer touch with this aloof poet than with many poets who directly seek such a companionship". Any attempt to systematics what one wants to say about Frost's nature poetry would remain a futile effort without any illustration of Frost's rare descriptive powers. In Birches as in many other poems, we find Frost constantly chasing and tracing the flickering nuances of nature. In the following lines, he gives almost a picturesque, vivid description, of Birches and the changes that wind, ice and storms bring upon them:

Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turned many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.

Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells

Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.

      Frost's Nature Poetry: Of Common Things and Human Folk: There is a plain fact about Frost's treatment of nature - he does not idealize or glorify nature or its manifestations. His attitude towards nature is not that of exalted glorification as of romanticists but that of realists who do not attribute to nature anything beyond the barest facts. W. H. Auden feels that "his poems on natural objects are always concerned with them not as foci for mystical meditation or starting points for fantasy, but as things with which and on which man acts in the course of his daily work of gaining a livelihood. Nor is he, like Wordsworth, a poet who has had vision in youth which he can spend the rest of his life interpreting". These poems tell us, not so much of rare, exalted chosen moments, of fleeting inexplicable intuitions, but of his daily, and one might say, common experience. "There is very little poetry about the country which one can feel confident would be immediately understood and appreciated by countrymen, but of these poems, one is certain, that they are not written for townees".

      Frost is Philosophic but not Didactic: From his works one can be sure that a philosophy of life can be extracted. Many of Frost's poems contain a moral. But the moral is generally not very obviously tagged on the poem. It either runs as an argument in descriptive, sensuous lyrics or is envisaged in dramatic action of the poem. "He is a serious moralist as well as a serious artist. But his peculiar intimacy with nature prevents him from being openly didactic. He teaches, like nature, in parables...leaving you to draw your own conclusions, never permitting himself more than the tender humorous sort of comment."

      Frost's Nature not Benevolent: "...For Frost, the attempt to see clearly and from all sides, requires a willingness to confront the frightening and the appalling in even its darkest forms...many of the later poems even more 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".

      Directed to Regional Plane: As in the case of Wordsworth, Frost's love of Nature is mainly directed to the local or regional plane. The hills and valleys, the streams and the sylvan regions, the plants and flowers, the birds and the animals, even the insects and hornets of New England find a place in Frost's poems. Accuracy of Even The Minutest Details distinguishes Frost's power of description. The critic Isidor Schneider says: "The descriptive power of Mr. Frost is to be the most wonderful thing in his poetry. A snowfall, a spring thaw, a bending tree, a valey mist, a brook, these are brought not to, but into the experience of the reader".

What our poet describes is not restricted to the spectacle alone but it is remarkably extended to an ardent adventure.

      The poem A Hillside Thaw paints the graphic picture of the poet on his knees trying to feel with his hands the process of snow turning into water. The fidelity of description is only excelled by the minuteness of observation. How the birches react to a storm is described very picturesquely in the poem Birches, the most popular of all Frost's poems.

      As mentioned earlier Robert Frost does not stop after painting pleasant landscapes. His excessive pleasure in the observation of the sensuous charms of nature is no bar to his keen scrutiny of the sinister and ugly lying hidden beneath the surface.

      A Bitter-sweet Quality: John E. Lynen says: "Even in Frost's most cheerful nature sketches there is always a bitter-sweet quality. Admittedly he can and does enjoy nature: yet none of the nature poems is free from hints of possible danger, under the placid surface there is always the unseen presence of something hostile".

      In the poem Spring Pools, the opening lines give an innocent description of the pools and flowers in the woodlands early in the spring season. But the second and closing stanza has something sinister in it.

"The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday"

      There is something sinister about the way the poem turns out spring traditionally the season of mirth, innocence and joy, ushers in darkness an the optimistic ending of Shelley's Ode to the West Wind is grimly inverted.

      Horror Everywhere: The atmosphere during a temporary cessation of hostility between two warring nations is charged with horror everywhere. The person wandering near the battle line feels himself insecure because dangers are lurking behind. Suddenly a trigger-happy gunman may start a skirmish. Even during his nature rambles Frost behaves like that man. Despite the bracing weather and the consequent high spirits, he treads cautiously, always afraid of hidden dangers and scenes of horror. As one critic has put it, "the charm of many of the nature lyrics results from the vividness with which sweet delicate things stand out against somber background. You cannot have the one without the other: love of natural beauty and horror at the remoteness and indifference of the physical world not opposite but different aspects of the same view".

      Love of Birds and Animals: Frost had abundant love for birds and animals and even for insects and other low creatures. His interest in the habits of birds is evident from many of his poems. The eight-lined short poem A Minor Bird speaks a lot and the two lines at the end will ring and reverberate in the brains of the readers for a long time:

The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song

      The interpretation of creature's behavior in human terms in Departmental is extremely humorous and delightful. The detailed analysis of the behavior of a society of ants is an implied comment on departmentalism in human life. Lynen says: "The whimsical effects of the comparison are of the very essence for the poem is funny just because it explores the resemblance between ants and men.... so thoroughly. And such thoroughness is only possible for a poet who sees man and nature separated by a boundary which is both definite and inalterable".

      Philosophy of Man in Nature: Has Robert Frost any philosophy of Nature? As an established poet he cannot but have one. Nature was glorified like a benign mother by Wordsworth and other Romantic poets. To them Nature appears to have a holy plan of her own for the good of mankind and she keeps a benevolent watch over man. But Robert Frost views nature as hostile to man and other living beings. The external calm and beauty of nature is highly deceptive because sinister and terrifying potentialities reign Supreme. The poet continuously warns the readers that man must constantly struggle against nature for his own survival. The bleakness and harshness of nature is responsible for man's woes.

      Man not Harmonious with Nature: Critics have often repeated that Wordsworth stressed the harmony that exists between the soul of man and the soul of nature but Frost stresses on the difference or separateness of Man and Nature. Of course, now and then, nature shows some leniency to man but the barrier between Man and Nature is so formidable that it is utterly impossible for Nature to return man's love reciprocally.

      Looking askance at Man and Nature: The critics say very often that whenever Frost talks directly of natural objects or creatures we feel that he is really looking as man out of the corner of his eye and speaking to him out of the corner of his mouth. In all these poems Frost is describing the animal and vegetable natures in man, not reading man's nature into the animal and vegetable worlds as Wordsworth was inclined to do. The tendency of Frost to speak frequently of the objects and creatures of nature in human terms is not to show the harmony between Man and Nature but to clarify that man has much in him that is anima-like and vegetable-like.

      Betrayal of Nature: Wordsworth used to assert that Nature never did betray the heart that loved her. But Frost does not agree with it. To him Nature is an ever-hostile menace and not a comfort at all. Nature is ever indifferent to man. Frost's later poems have much to say about the helplessness of man in the face of natural calamities in some of his earlier poems he had proudly recorded man's control of Nature and subduing it.

      Woods, hills and pastures are described by Frost with certain symbolic significance. The woods are symbolic of the unexplored regions within ourselves, full of possible beauty with horror lurking behind. "Frost is a poet neither of the mountains nor of the woods, although he lives among both, but rather of the hill, pastures, the intervals, the dooryard in autumn with the leaves swirling the closed house shaking in the winter storms and no one has described such scenes more accurately and in more lasting colors". By insisting on the gulf separating Man and Nature Frost directly opposes the Romantic attempt to bring the two together.

      Nature, A Means for the Poet: Frost always saw reality in terms of contrasting planes. With this obsession he cannot but feel that Nature is far removed from the mortal domain. Frost's concerns are intrinsically human. Nature therefore gives him some facts on which his imagination could work. The poems The Most of It, To a Moth Seen in Winter are poems wherein Nature either offers momentary revelations of truth on the positive side or merely a travesty of human expectations on the negative side. Only mans imagination makes these facts humanly relevant.

      Frost and Wordsworth: Frost's capacity for nature descriptions easily invites comparison with Wordsworth. There are many points of similarity despite certain very prominent differences. One can find no better substitute to bring out their comparison than the following comments by C. Day Lewis: "Detachment, for Frost, is a necessary condition of the creative power. It is worth noticing that his most consistently successful work, North of Bosto, which is concerned throughout with the New England landscape and character, was written while he was living in Gloucestershire. This is as clear an example of emotion recollected in tranquility as the lines of Tintern Abbey.

      Frost's most remarkable affinity with Wordsworth, however, lies in the temper (or tempo, or temperature) of his verse. Most poets, when the poetic impulse flags, attempt to conceal and compensate for this by a display of virtuosity, by passages of verbal decoration, by complicating the verse-texture. Wordsworth never does this. His idiom is always so level that it can carry off even the 'flat' passages. The same, on a smaller scale, is true of Frost. By consciously and consistently maintaining a conversational tone, he keeps the texture of his verse remarkably even. His poems are dull. They are never false, pretentious, artificially stimulated. Frost and Wordsworth walk arm-in-arm until this point - this far and no further. The points of divergence between the two are very important ones and should not escape the wary reader's mind that is alert and receptive to subtleties. Montgomery points out their basic difference - the difference in their attitude towards nature. It is no spirit of nature which sends Frost rain or wind. Frost makes his attitude toward nature clear when he says: "I wouldn't be a prude afraid of nature" and very emphatic "Nothing not built with hands of course is sacred".

      Robert Frost Deliberately Disassociated Himself From the Pantheistic Tradition of Wordsworth: He expresses nature in terms of mountains and hills, birches and wild flowers, woods and stone walls, pasture springs and precarious farms, brooks and woods-lots, seeds and buds. Such phenomena do not require detailed philosophical speculation. He was fully aware that nature cannot provide 'transcendental truths' to any poor, bare, forked creature who straggles near a brook or tuft of flowers. For nature is hard as she is soft. She can destroy and thwart, disappoint, frustrate and batter. She may prove as flinty as the rocky soil of New England, and as difficult to till profitably. This is why Frost never describes nature as having the virtues to "become a panacea to soothe the ills of society as the 19th-century worshippers of nature had thought of it. Frost's Nature is not even possessed of unmitigable violence. Again, neither a radical nor a conservative, he steers a middle path. Nature is at once harsh and mild. Man's relation to nature, as to his fellows, is both together and apart".

      Frost is, as Lionel Trilling thinks of him, a terrifying poet who presents the horrors and the terrors of the modern world in a simple fashion and prepares us to face them more ably than any of the contemporary poets. Frost receives the teaching of nature out of contradiction, mental conflicts mystery and uncertainty.

      His Themes in the Nature Poems are the Usual Themes of the 20th Century Poets-fear, grimness, terror, horror, loneliness, isolation, paradoxes. inconsistency causing duality etc. His attitude to nature is Modern because it is neither Epicurean, nor Renaissance. His attitude to nature is scientific in so far as he thinks that nature is indifferent to man and does not take notice of him. On the whole, he suggests, it should be taken as a little more in favor of man. His is assuredly a modern attitude towards Nature and he should be given his place as the twentieth-century exemplar of the American tradition of interpreting Nature. John E Lynen appreciates the freshness of Frost's thought and suggests that he should be rightly admired for it. He says: "It is possible to write in the modern idiom and yet to show little newness or originality in one's response to the contemporary world".

      Conclusion: Frost's view of nature possesses ethical or metaphysical dimensions but he does not make a philosophy out of it. A mask of whimsical ambiguity is offered by him but to do him justice we can assert that he seems to think that Man will be making a serious mistake if he goes again to Nature or natural processes. But unfortunately, Frost does not realize the consequences of this belief in as much as that if interference with Nature wrong then for success in life harmonizing with Nature becomes a must. To put everything briefly Frost is a poet for whom Nature is something of philosophical import. He is not one who makes portraits of natural objects for the mere delectation of the reader.

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