Regionalism Translated into Universality : in Robert Frost Poetry

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      What is Regionalism ? Regional art is an art that plays on, or gives prominence to, the peculiarities of a particular region - an art that inhabits a particular locale and seldom reaches the heights of universality. An artist of this genre illustrates and uses the physical features, peoples, life, customs, habits, manners, traditions, dialect, etc. of a particular region. In a lesser artist, regionalism dwindles into mere factual or cinematographic reproduction. But as in all art, in regional art too, a real artist constantly combs and orders his material.

An artist does not claim to represent life in all its vividness and subtle shades and hues. Art is at the most a slice of life. In art there is the essence of life. The regional artist, too, emphasizes only the unique, interesting and significant features of a particular region. But paradoxically enough, this point of divergence links it up with the rest of the world. In the light of differences, similarities also come into prominence. The particular region becomes a microcosm of the world, it is the particular that leads one to the universal. Frost is a regionalism not in a narrow, derogatory sense, but in a creative sense.
Robert Frost

      An artist does not claim to represent life in all its vividness and subtle shades and hues. Art is at the most a slice of life. In art there is the essence of life. The regional artist, too, emphasizes only the unique, interesting and significant features of a particular region. But paradoxically enough, this point of divergence links it up with the rest of the world. In the light of differences, similarities also come into prominence. The particular region becomes a microcosm of the world, it is the particular that leads one to the universal. Frost is a regionalism not in a narrow, derogatory sense, but in a creative sense.

      Robert Frost's Regionalism is Creative, Imparting Finesse to His Work: The particular region that Frost has chosen to describe, represent and interpret is New England and he does this accurately and precisely in poem after poem. But he does not interpret the whole of New England. He deals only with mat part of Boston with which he is particularly familiar.

      Frost does not take up fishing villages and there is almost no mention of increasing ind ustrialization, mechanization, factories, railway, smoke and gas. ranville Hicks rightly points out that Frost is not a poet of skyscrapers, factories, machines, mechanics and truck drivers.

      He is the poet of fields and brooks. His subject is the region lying to the north of Boston, and from that too, he chooses rural areas of farms and villages. Focussing our attention of this aspect of Frost's poetry. Lynen says: "He chooses, not simply what is real in the region, what is there, but what is to his mind the most essential, what is representative. The delimiting of rural New England is only the first step. Even within the areas we still find the great mass of detail suppressed in favour of a few significant local traits... this process of representing the locality as a whole through a limited set of visual images and of the region through a particular kind of character is really a mode of symbolism". What emerges from Frost's scrupulous selection is not reality itself, but a symbolic picture expressing the essence of that reality. Frost's regionalism is both symbolic and creative.

      The Landscape in Frost's Poetry: The region laying to the north of Boston forms the backdrop to Frost's poetry. It is not only a backdrop but a living presence in his poetry. It is a lonely landscape only to those who are alien to its inviting friendliness. Malcolm Cowley feels that Frost is 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. Likewise, he is not the sympathetic representative of New England in its great days, or in its late nineteenth century decline. He celebrates the diminished, though prosperous and self-respecting, New England.

      Everything that Frost describes rings with truth. Nowhere else in America are people likely to have for a saying Good fences make good neighbours. The woodpile, the broken walls and many other details can be cited as evidence of exactitude and precision ot description. Frost has immortalised some common sights in New England in his poems; The Birches, Blueberries, After Apple Picking and many others. Similarly, Frost gives expression to certain traits that belong peculiarly to the New England yankee. The qualities of thrift, hard work, attachment to land, adjustment, resourcefulness and ingenuity are brought out in poems like Blueberries, Mending Wall, Mowing, Two Tramps in Mud Time and many others. Frost has captured the very tone, accent, rhythm, phraseology and idiom of the conversation of New Englanders. In fact, in his pages is enshrined the very spirit of New England.

      Not a Confining Regionalism but Suggestive of Rounded Whole ness: Frost's reticence makes a major contribution in making him a subtle artist. He does not state everything obtrusively. He artistically suggests much more than what he states. Despite the selection of material, he manages to create an overall impression of roundedness. Commenting on this aspect of Frost's poetry, Lynen says: "The region, as he depicts it, is not just a place; it is a world, coherent and complete within itself."

      The New England and scape is the Landscape of the Human Heart: Psychological truth lends universality to Frost's regionalism. Frost does not depict the landscape merely as the background for his poetry or as the native soil of those who inhabit it. The environment, the physical features, and the climate have a direct bearing on the psychological make-up of these individuals. Their natures, their attitudes, their actions always have the force of psychological logic behind them, no matter how odd or incoherent they might appear to us. Frost's regionalism is thoroughly social. One can only agree with Lynen that the clear, frank gaze of the Yankee persona is related to the chill air of New England and his strength of mind to its rugged terrain, in the same subtle way that Michaell's courage and dignity are related to the grandeur of the Lake Country mountains. Since the Yankee mind reflects the landscape, the whole sense of values which forms the centre of this mentality seems to have an organic relation to the land. The greatness of Frost's regionalism lies in the fact that he crosses the frontiers of regionalism and makes it universal in its appeal.

      Isolated Man in Isolated Setting: The men and women of Frost's poems are isolated like their farms and woodlots. The farmhouses are separated by distance, walls and fences, as are the men alienated among themselves, with Nature and the universe. The bleak atmosphere of November in New England is an analogy for the speaker's state of mind in My November Guest. In The Tree at My Window, the poet watches trees tossed about by the winds and compares its state to his own. The landscape, with its brooks, snow, woods and trees, becomes a metaphor for the human mind in Frost's poems. The woods in their darkness represent the pull of mystery and escapism on the human heart. The farmhouse represents the man made institutions, and in combination with the countryside suggests society as a whole, and even an entire culture.

      Conclusion: Frost's Regionalism has Universal Significance: His scrupulous selection gives rise not to reality itself, but to a 'symbolic picture expressing the essence of that reality', as J.F. Lynen observes. Frost invests his New England landscape with a suggestiveness which gives it universal significance, as in Birches and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, As Willard Thorpe points out, 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 as a clear view above his hills to the further range beyond.

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