Poet of Man and Humanity : Robert Frost

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      Robert Frost's poetry can definitely be called the poetry of Man and Humanity. He defends and asserts the worth of an individual. Further, he related his humanism to the natural order of the world. Robert Frost reveals himself as a student of human nature and interests. Frost's poetry is inseparable from his humanism. His view of man and society have two aspects - loneliness and communion. On the one hand, man feels himself a part of society, with responsibilities toward fellow human beings; on the other hand. there are moments when he feels at a distance from his fellow beings, senses walls and barriers and alienation.

Robert Frost reveals himself as a student of human nature and interests. Frost's poetry is inseparable from his humanism.
Robert Frost

      Frost's Concept of Modern Man is that he is in the grip of alienation, despair, and disillusionment. But Frost does not despair of man's essential potential for nobility. As an observer of human life, Frost is knowledgeable and wise. Interpreting man's position in the universe, he creates his own myth about human existence. The crux of Frost's humanism is that man must exist in the world, fight for his survival and attainment of moral perfectibility. Man must maintain his humility, for earth is the best place for love, and he has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps.

      In poems such as Two Tramps in Mud Time, Desert Places, An Old Man's Winter Night, Tree at My Window, Home Burial, A Servant to Servants and others, Frost can readily be accepted as a poet of modern humanity. In these poems, Frost demonstrates his capacity to portray the human inwardness in moods appropriate to each situation.

      As a Biographer of the Human Soul, Frost may be called unique. He brings to his portrayal humour, wit and sympathy even while he is ironic. He delves into the feeling, fear, loneliness and passion of a soul and records the experience most dramatically. His humanitarianism involves love that encompasses all earthly things.

      Skilful Portrayal of Character is seen in several of Frost's poems. The speaker in Mending Wall, the man of The Road Not Taken, the young couple of West-Running Brook who realize a fresh significance of love in spite of contrarieties, are all interesting personages.

      Robert Frost Speaks of Universal Humanity in spite of being a regional poet also. He looks beyond the local to the universal. The local traveller's experience in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening has universal dimensions, as does the training of the "swinger of Birches". Hyla Brook which tells us that we love things for what they are, the kindness of Mary in The Death of the Hired Man, the message of the scythe in Mowing, all these and many more instances speak of Frost's wide human outlook. Frost's sense of brotherhood has nothing of compulsion about it. That is why he does not make it clear as to whose side he is on in Mending Wall. Spontaneity in understanding and relationships between man and man is underscored by Frost.

      Obligations to Mankind are always expressed by a typical Frost character. The tendency to escape is there, for the lovely, dark and deep woods beckon man to ensnare him; but the individual realises his humanistic impulse and comes back to keep his promises and traverse the 'miles' required before he sleeps. The swinger of birches comes back to earth, for it is the right place for love. The speaker of 'Come In' also realises his humanist position.

      Withdrawal into rural world by Frostian man is not an escape from reality of suffering and pain. The countryside of Frost is not some bucolic retreat of idyllic nature. When he retreats from urban setting, he can judge and evaluate his life all the better. Man comes to understand his isolation - from Nature, Man and God. And he also comes to realize that differences can be overcome only through love.

      The Centre of Frost's Universe-Man: Robert Frost has established himself as a poet of Nature. But the originality of Frost's nature poems is that somewhere in the landscape there is always a human figure. Even in his early poems, when Frost derives sensuous pleasure from Nature, human figure is hardly ever absent from the scene. Frost himself said once that he had hardly written two poems without a human figure in them. Recognising and acknowledging this fact Untermeyer says: Robert Frost has written on almost every subject. He has illuminated things as common as a woodpile and as uncommon as a prehistoric pebble, as natural as a bird singing in its sleep, and as mechanistic' as the revolt of a factory worker. But his central subject is humanity. His poetry lives twith a particular aliveness because it expresses living people. Other poets have written about people. But Robert Frost's poems are the people; they work and walk about, and converse and tell their tales with the freedom of common speech.

      Narrow Canvas and Range: Frost's sphere of action is New England and its inhabitants. The Poles and French Canadians who form a sizeable Section of the total population of this region are quietly excluded. Frost decides to present and explore only what he is familiar with. Frost also deliberately omits sales-girls, truck-drivers, mechanics and people of many other professions that increase in numbers with industrialisation. The range and habitat of the characters of Frost's poetry is limited to the rural Yankees who have humble rural occupation. Sophisticated and intellectually complex characters are outside his purview.

      Characters: Finesse and Variety: Frost is never clumsy. Despite his narrow range Frost moves about artistically and displays a vivid diversity of characters. Making this point, Untermeyer says: "Characters as diverse as can be imagined are portrayed in The Gum-Gatherer, The Investment, The Figure in the Doorway and To a Young Wretch. The method of presenting them is as various as the characters themselves. Sometimes they walk leisurely into our consciousness like The Gum-Gatherer, "or trip lightly into our hearts like the youngster in To a Young Wretch or enter pathetically like the young couple in The Investment or flash suddenly into our vision like The Figure in the Doortvay glimpsed by the poet from the window of the dining car, while the train sped through. These people live with increasing vividness in the poet's lines and in the reader's memory. They are drawn with affection but not with blurring sentimentality. They lose neither their sweetness not their vigour, for they are portrayed with pitying sympathy, tender exactitude.

      Realism in Characterisation: The people that inhabit Frost's poetry are rural New Englanders and he describes every aspect of their life and doings. His poems bring out the simplicity of these rural folk their humble joys, and sorrows of their lives. Babette Deutsch makes a very illuminating comment regarding this quality of Frost's poetry: 'Frost has as much to say of happy wooings and matings, of friendly encounters and generous neighbourliness, as of the bleaker aspects of farm life. The grimmer views that his verse presents are relieved by glimpses of such features of the farmer's day as vivify, if he has the poet's temper. His limited and burdensome routine - the reward of watching the seedling shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs, the madness of the cow in apple time, the noise of trees'.

      Frost has accuracy of description and psychological insight into these characters because he lived with them and had sympathy with them. He identified himself with these simple New Englanders. He is so well-versed in their traditions and manners that he is able to present in his poems the peculiarities of the Yamkee speech sans its vulgarity and coarseness. But as a contrast to the English Romantics, he does not glorify or idealise them. He presents them in all their matter-of-fact reality.

      Frost's depiction of humanity is stripped of all exaggeration yet it is not a dull, prosaic presentation. He endows his human figures with lyrical reality. Commenting on the elegant realism of Frost's characters, Untermeyer says: Many attempts have been made to define realism and no two definitions have agreed with each other. It seems safe to say that a realist is one who really knows what he is talking about. If this is true, Frost is realist, for no American writer knows his subjects, people and places, so thoroughly. But his is a peculiar kind of realism. It does not insist on a catalogue of mean trifles, or a piling up of bald or brutal details." Once Frost said: "There are two types of realists. There is the one who offers a good deal of dirt with his potato to show that it is a real potato. And there is the one who is satisfied with the potato brushed clean. I am inclined to be the second kind. To me, the thing that art does for life is clean it, to strip it to form.

      Two Types of People: The people in Frost's poems fall into two easily recognisable categories - the abnormal and neurotic, and the normal and well-adjusted. Frost was particularly interested in abnormal psychology and North of Boston is full of abnormal people who are in a psychologically disheveled state, the lady of Home Burial, for instance. But this is only half the picture. The picture is completed with the inclusion of perfectly healthy, normal, well adjusted people, such as the traveller in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Despite his good points, when compared to Wordsworth, Frost falls short of certain standards of excellence. Wordsworth's pictures of rural folk are much more emphatic, clear and vivid than those of Frost's. Frost's characters fit in very well with the situation but they are not very outstanding individuals.

      Universality in Portrayal: Though Frost chooses to describe people of a particular place (New England) he is able to move towards universality. With their peculiar regional characteristics he also brings out their basic humanity. His rural New Englanders are a study in miniature of the fundamental traits of human nature, which is basically the same everywhere. Herein lies the greatness of Frost as a poet of man.

      Conclusion: Frost's concept of Man is not coherent. Man should be factual and act according to the needs of human life, but he should also be filled with unselfish love. He is faced with limitations but he can save himself from these limitations through the redeeming principles of love and need, faith and courage. However, in Frost's poetry we find a strong and unshakeable humanitarian note. He sings of man's strength and weakness with equal fervour. In this broad humanity, the nature keenly and in its entirety.

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