Pastoralism in Robert Frost's Poetry

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      No Traditional Pastoralism in Frost's Poetry; There is an apparent paradox in Frost's poetry: Robert Frost is a pastoral poet but the conventions and traditions of pastoral elements are not found in his poetry. Frost is a pastoral poet with a difference. A poet can invent his own method and his own myth of writing pastoral poetry and this is precisely what Frost has done. The pastoral conventions are so prominent that one may suppose they are an essential element of the pastoral form. Part of the pleasure derived from traditional pastorals derives from recognizing the familiar images as they appear, and a part consists in analysing the poet's skillful handling of the traditional devices of dialogue, singing contest and lament. The conventions are not the true basis of the pastoral, but an outgrowth of something deeper and fundamental. They are formalised symbols and serve to evoke an imaginative vision of this world. Thus it is possible fora poet to write true pastorals within the context of some other mythic world.

A poet can invent his own method and his own myth of writing pastoral poetry and this is precisely what Frost has done. The pastoral conventions are so prominent that one may suppose they are an essential element of the pastoral form.
Robert Frost

      Frost's Pastoralism - Not An Escape from Everyday World: An unwary reader might easily regard Frost's pastoralism as the outcome of his desire to seek escape from the harsh realities into another world. Frost does withdraw from modern urban life to an agrarian world of the past. But Frost does not turn his back upon city life nor does he advocate "a return to the soil". With his withdrawal from city life, Frost achieves an artistic perspective whence he can stand and examine the complex urban world. For him his refuge in his 'pastoral' is a standard with which to evaluate the urban world, a context within which to discover the order that lies beneath the confused, chaotic obscurity of modern life. To appreciate Frost's modernity one must have a knowledge of the special advantage which the pastoral vision offers. We must have the knowledge and be ready to acknowledge that a retreat to the rural world can provide the most trenchant analysis and the subtle evaluation and criticism of the world the poet seems to be escaping from.

      The Pastoral Form is very Aptly Suited to the Quality of Frost's Vision: "The pastoral form with its stress on two utterly contrasted ways of life, was peculiarly amenable to the sense of duality which is an essential, perhaps, the central part of Frost's poetic vision. In his poems, contraries are constantly being set side by side - human life and mechanical power, living nature and the insensate toil, light and darkness, good and evil, and so on. The pastoral mode is a form which adapts itself easily to analogy.. At its best - as in, for example Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - Frost has created a new kind of symbolism out of the outmoded, conventional pastoralism.... He does not interpret the scene; he uses it as the medium through which to view reality". The pastoral scene in Birches is, in fact,an analogy for the human situation.

      Realistic Pastoralism in Frost's Poetry: A reader of Frost's poetry must not be swayed away by the pastoralism of the world created by him in his poems. The predominance of pastoral elements may easily make the reader ignore the realistic aspect of his poetic vision and sensibility. Pastoralism usually endorses a romantic vision - everything is idealized and glorified and even the most commonplace scenes and aspects are tainted by imagination. Despite a strong magnetic liking for pastoralism, the basis of Frost's vision and art is realism. Reginald L. Cook feels that the pastoral element of Frost's poetry is loaded with suggestively. Frost believes that art cleans life and strips it to form. Frost possessed a classicist's devotion for form and a realist's interest in the quality of life inheriting in concrete experience. He makes the facts yield their essence thus eluding their domination. For him, the fact is not the most important, but "the sweetest dream that labor knows".

      The Connotation of Pastoralism: Lynen feels that pastoralism is a sort of soul's effort to rise upward. Pastoralism in Frost or in any other poet apparently involves first of all, an escape from the humbug of daily life. But actually it is an upward movement, against the current of time to the clear waters of the source.

      Frost is Modern, Despite his Pastoralism: The element of pastoralism in Frost's poetry does not make him outdated. Frost's love for the rural and his keen interest irn tracing the roots of origin easily remind us of Eliot and his Four Quartets. The spirit of Frost's works is comparable to that of the English Georgians. In fact, the work is richer than theirs - it includes the nostalgic, it proves the pastoral pleasures, it savours the contemplative calm that ancient poets praised. It also seeks to encompass the dreadful and the neurasthenia-breeding aspects of man's existence as the modern consciousness feels them.

      Conclusion: Rosenthal's following words serve as an apt conclusion to this topic: "At his most intense, Frost is as close to the panicky edge of sensibility as Eliot. The kind of mind at work in his poetry is neither that of a plain New England farmer nor that of the romantic rediscoverer of the land. It is what Yeats called 'the modern mind in search of its own meanings'."

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