Robert Frost : As a Typical American Poet

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Frost - Representative Poet of the Americans:

      Robert Frost reached the zenith of his popularity during his life time and the representative of most awarded American poet. He has been hailed as "the one great American poet of our time", a New Englander in the 'great tradition', fit to be placed beside Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau. All these praises are drowned by that glorious remark equating Frost with America - he has been called "The Voice of America". In fact, the solid base beneath the artifact of his towering popularity is the fact that no other poet was so thoroughly and typically American as Frost was. There are critics like Yvor Winters and Malcolm Cowley who cannot account for Frost's popularity but the fact remains that though Frost chooses a small fraction, or an aspect of American life, he presents it with all sincerity.

Frost - Representative Poet of the Americans: Robert Frost reached the zenith of his popularity during his life time and the representative of most awarded American poet. He has been hailed as "the one great American poet of our time", a New Englander in the 'great tradition', fit to be placed beside Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau. All these praises are drowned by that glorious remark equating Frost with America - he has been called "The Voice of America".
Robert Frost & American President

Frost's Poetry contains typically American Scenes of Nature:

      No other American poet can claim to have described the scenes of nature with such intense, engrossing vividness of detail as Frost has been able to do. Frost's first volume of poems A Boy's Will took the literary world by storm. In it we find an astonishingly typical American portrayal of the scenes of nature that were the poet's favourite haunts and the inspiration behind the poems contained in this volume. The scenes of nature form a vast, endearing playground for the poet's fancy and imagination. A Boy's Will is not only a collection of a poems, but it is also a blueprint of certain characteristics of Frost's poetry. W.G. O'Donnell brings out this point very well: One distinctive quality of the volume is the scene it reveals, for Frost had already decided to give his writing a local habitation and a New England name, to root his art in the soil he had worked with his own hands for a decade before his sojourn in England. No one since Thoreau had responded so sensitively to the particularities of a rural landscape. Aspects of the New England countryside flash through A Boy's Will, through the good poems and the trivialities. The reader finds himself in the midst of the wooded valleys and the wooded hills, hears the blue jay's screech and the whimper of the hawks beside the sun; he comes upon the purple-stemmed wild raspberry, the sodden pasture lanes of late fall, and the abandoned cellar holes gradually being reclaimed by nature.

Frost Limits Himself to New England:

      Frost has remained within his New England world. He has used its climate and topography, its locally-agreed-upon virtues and attitudes; he has remained as close to New Hampshire as New Hampshire has remained to the nineteenth century. Except for the adoption for a prose idiom which was an early manifestation of the modern movement and occasional force against the modernists he has stayed close to his New England locale. In Two Tramps in Mud Time, there is the situation likely to be found in much of Frost's work. The subject matter is concerned with a man, the poet, chopping blocks of beech on a warm day in April, which can turn into 'the Middle of March', if a wind comes frozen off a peak. The man chops the blocks very skillfully - he is proud of his being engaged in manual labour, no matter how 'unimportant tasks, they are. He lives with restraint, a life of self-control but his is not the uncaring, unconcerned individualism of a misanthrope or a fanatic. "His individualism is always coloured by a tinge of the common good". He takes interest in every thing that belongs to that region-his curious interest in the naughty nuances of the weather is just one of those. He is as proud of his region as of his workmanship. The poet sizes up the two make a sudden appearance on the scene - he is sure that they do not belong to the respectable citizenry:-

.....two hulking tramps
(Prom shaping God knows where last night
But not long since in the lumber camps).

      Without much exchange of words there is exchange of understanding - both the narrator and the tramps grasp the situation very well. They (the tramps) are lumberjacks by profession and it is they who should have been doing this job, because it is a necessity for them. They need it to earn their livelihood. However the narrator does it for his pleasure. But pleasure cannot and should not always be sacrificed to grosser needs: for it is these pleasures that act as a dose to resuscitate one's vivacity and the sparkle of life. The narrator wants to continue chopping wood because of an inner urge that provokes him to try and achieve perfection in whatever he loves to do. But the narrator is not an eccentric individualist; he proves to be a good, considerate, conscientious citizen when he recognizes that 'Theirs was the better right'. The New England tradition has made the poem easy to write, has furnished the subject matter, the point of view, and the tone. It has even furnished the theme. It may be unnecessary to point out that the strictly modernist traditionless poet faces a much more difficult task.

The America of Frost's Poetry is Rural:

      Some people have a grudge against Frost, and they have reason to nurse this grudge. They feel that in his poetry Frost does not represent the essential America. While the real America is urban, these critics feel that Frost has deliberately chosen to give a description of a very limited part of America - the rural aspect. Lionel Trilling is one of those critics who take Frost to task on this point. Trilling says: "The manifest America of Mr. Frost's poems is rural and if I may say so, it is rural in a highly moralised way, in an aggressively moralised way. It thus represents an ideal that is common to many Americans perhaps, especially to Americans of the literary kind who thus express their distaste for the life of the city and for all that the city implies, of excessive complexity, of uncertainty, of anxiety, and of the demand that is made upon the intellect to deal with whatever are the causes of complexity, uncertainty, anxiety. I do not share this ideal. It is true that the image of the old America has great power over me; that old America with which the America of Mr. Frost's poems seems to be continuous. And I think I know from experience, there are few Americans who do not know how intense can be the pleasure in the hills and the snow, in the meadows and woods and swamps that make the landscape of Mr. Frost's manifest America: and know too, how great a part this pleasure can play in a man's moral being. But these natural things that give me pleasure constitute my notion of the earthly paradise, they are not the ruling elements of my imagination of actual life." Thus, Frost leaves out urban America which to many people constitutes the real America.

Does Frost's Americanism make him a Minor Poet?

      Some critics are of the opinion that Frost is a minor poet precisely because he is a typically American poet. Frost decided to give expression to whatever is typically American in his poetry. Though extremely popular, he could not rise hig in poetic stature. Frost is akin to Tennyson in this respect-both achieved new heights of popularity during their life time but after a real estimate both fall short of standards of excellence: popularity is not the barometer of excellence. W.G. O'Donnell has succeeded in enumerating and establishing Frost's position in the history of American literature to a large extent. As he says, "In so far as Frost is a voice of New England, he is a minor figure in contemporary literature; to the extent that he makes his New England universal in meaning and implication, he is a significant writer". In this ability to portray the local truth in nature he has no peer, but that power, remarkable though it undoubtedly is, has value only when it is allied with an ability to speak in terms of experiences that are valid for those who know New England only as a small territorial division on the map of the United States. Apart from North of Boston, Frost seldom reaches the plane of universal meaning not more than a score of times in his whole career. But because he has given the language some poems and some fifteen hundred lines that convey significant human experience, he cannot easily be consigned to the company of minor poets. Regionalists are invariably minor writers because they tend to adopt elegiac moods not in accord with the facts of the life around them. Frost himself has often lapsed into this fault. In A Brook in the City, A Roadside Stand, and Build Soil, for example, he set up an unpleasant antagonism between the country with its virtues and its manly independence, and the teeming megapolis, with its chaos and ugliness, and such poems speak for a non-existent America. But Frost reaches the plane of universal experience in his book of people, North of Boston, and in The Hill Wife, An Old Man's Winter Night, October, Now Close the Windows, The Oven Bird, Birches, Stopping by Woods, To Earthward, Spring Pools, Acquainted with the Night, Happiness Makes up in Height and Directive.

Frost's Poetry Born Out of the American Tradition:

      American Literature had its roots in the Western Civilization which goes back to the Greek times. Robert Frost inherited the tradition which grew from the legends of the lost Atlantis and the Norse sagas. In Gift Outright, Frost consciously or unconsciously gives voice to this cultural tradition of America. The poem epitomises America, its land, its history, achievements, promise, dreams and national inheritance. American tradition is part of Robert Frost. He is typically American in the choice of words and selection of idioms, too.

Conclusion:

      Robert Frost absorbed the spirit of the country, America. It does rot matter if he depicts rural America or urban America - what matters is that his poetry is imbued with the American tradition. He mirrors New England more freshly than any other writer. But he gives in many of poems a universal significance to the New England landscape and the Yankee peasant-character.

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