Salient Features of Robert Frost Poetry

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Introduction:

      Robert Frost is an American poet who is enjoyable for a lay reader; he also has sufficient depth and complexity to interest a scholar. He steers clear of the two extremes of art for art's sake and art for propaganda in his poetic theory and practice.

Frost cannot be called a philosophic poet just because many of his poems "end in wisdom", as he said a poem should. The 'wisdom' of Frost's poems is often of the familiar parable kind.
Robert Frost

A Frost Poem Involves Discovery:

      In a poem by Frost, the present moment is illuminated, and its significance revealed. Frost observed: "For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I did not know I knew." Frost often begins with the present moment, which is then used as an agent to project the past into the future; for example in Birches:

So was I once myself a swinger of bitches
And so I dream of going back to be.

      The new awareness in a Frost poem brings emotional crisis, and the poem is completed when the crisis is resolved, as in Two Tramps in Mud Time:

Only when love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the Future's sakes.

Philosophic Element in Frost's Poetry:

      Frost cannot be called a philosophic poet just because many of his poems "end in wisdom", as he said a poem should. The 'wisdom' of Frost's poems is often of the familiar parable kind. His philosophy is of the homespun variety. He offers philosophical system or set of beliefs. He is tentative, enquiring, or speculative. In Birches, the poet ends with his belief that full experience is achieved by balancing opposed forces - the ideal and the real, the imaginative escape and the return to earth. In Mending Wall, there is the juxtaposition of the liberal inquiring mind and the stagnant, inert mentality. In A Masque of Reason and A Masque of Mercy, Frost speculates on God's ways to Man.

      A Frost Poem "A Momentary Stay Against Confusion", A Crystal lization of Experience, "A Clarification of Life": Frost's poems are not deeply philosophical; they do not offer "a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on". What they provide is "a momentary stay against confusion". Such a crystallization of a moment from the chaos of experience constitutes a sense of stability in a world of flux.

      Frost has said that a certain place or situation gave him a sense of "glad recognition of the long lost and the rest follows". The personae in his various poems have a similar experience. From the 'seen' they move through a mysterious process to a meaningful conclusion which involves the unseen and the perennial. As Willard Thrope points out: "As in all great metaphysical poetry, the tension increases between the simple fact and the mystery which surrounds it until the total meaning flashes in the final words." The mysterious point occurs when the 'seen' and the 'unseen' cross. In Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, the simple 'seen' fact is the wayfarer stopping by the woods, and the mystery which surrounds the woods is the unseen factor. By the end of the poem one realizes that the poem crystallises for us man's bafflement in the face of the profundity of the universe and his moral determination to carry on his simple duties.

Frost's Aesthetics is Never Separated From His Ethics:

      Frost does not merely concern himself with the form of a poem; he makes the poem an affirmation of human spirituality. Generally the poem is an implicit statement of spiritual values, as in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening where the present moment of the traveller's survey of the woods fuses into the perennial issue of man's bafflement in the face of an inscrutable universe. In other poems, the spiritual or moral values are more explicitly stated, as in Birches or Two Tramps in Mud Time. Seldom is amoral deliberately imposed on a poem, but it grows out of the very first line.

Frost is a Realistic Poet of Rural New England:

      The "wisdom" at the end of his poems is developed from the observation of a field, a farmhouse, hills and brooks and the country folk of a particular region of New England, namely, New Hampshire. The setting is a natural dramatic medium for him. It gave him all the stories, attitudes and characters that he needed for his poetic purpose. To this extent he may be called a regional poet. Furthermore, using as he does material of rural New England, he may also be said to follow the pastoral tradition. His poems seem to capture the vanished joys of agrarian New Enintegrity, gland-those commonplaces of country life such as hay-making, cleaning of a pasture spring, apple-picking. In the depiction of these scenes and people Frost is undoubtedly a realist, for he knows what he is talking about. Moreover, his realism does consist of giving a minutely detailed, full picture; he often suggests the whole through presenting a part. His poems are pieces of life - offering various facets of the whole. He is most of the time using restraint and understatement, but contrives to suggest more than he says, for instance in The Witch of Coos.

      Frost as a Poet of Nature comes through in practically all his poems. As we have already said, he depicts the rural New England scene well enough. But he is different from Wordsworth in that he does not see any common superna spirit pervading Nature and Man. To Frost, a realist, Nature and Man are separate and in many of his poems he emphasises on the invisible barrier (sometimes even hostility) between Nature and Man. Man may seek comfort in Nature, but that is not because of any benevolent unifying spirit. Nature is used by Frost as a simile, metaphor, symbol or analogy for man and his life. Frost's Nature can become an analogy of life and the world as in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. His descriptive power is noteworthy, as exemplified by Design, Departmental, Birches, and many other poems. But this description is just the starting point for reflection on a much deeper and universal level.

      The Theme of Loneliness and Barriers runs through Frost's poetry. The barrier between Nature and Man is only one such barrier. Man is not idealistically integrated with Nature, he stands alone amidst Nature. But man is alone in other ways, too. There are man-built barriers-the isolation of man from his fellow men as indicated in Mending Wall. There is the deeper loneliness within oneself as expressed in Acquainted with the Night and Desert Places. Many of his poems are about lonely men and women in isolated farmhouses dotting the vast, formidable New England landscape.

Frost's Poems are Complex and Often Symbolic:

      The fact that Frost is a realist does not preclude his being a complex and symbolic poet. Many of his poems reveal layers of meaning not easily discernible on the surface. The boundary theme is on the surface mentioned in Mending Wall as "Good fences make good neighbours". However, the poem on a symbolic level represents a serious problem of our times - the boundaries one creates between man and man, nation and nation and whether they are realy needed or not. The symbolism of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening s complex and profound, as also of Design.

Frost's Modes of Expression:

      Lyrical or Narrative: Frost was capable of writing both in the lyrical and in the narrative styles. Frost's lyrical quality is best expressed in his first volume of poems A Boy's Will. The poems of this volume are often the spontaneous expressions of a youthful heart. He we find emotion, imagery and song all lyrical gifts. Even later, Frost could capture the lyrical magic compounded of joy and melancholy, imageries of beauties of the dark autumn, the stillness of winter and the intensity of ummer im Such poems as Nothing Gold Can Stay, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, or Happiness Makes up in Height What It Lacks in Length, Neither Out Far nor In Deep. There are some delightful love lyrics, too, such as The Telephone or To Earthward. Frost mingles philosophy with humour in some of his lyrics. His later poems show the lyrical element, though they are not pure lyrics.

      Frost's Narrative Style is first evident in the poems of North of Boston. It is his principal "book of people". But interesting depiction of the human beings is continued in the Mountain Interval and New Hampshire volumes. The characters are rural New England folk, ordinary but with shrewd common sense. Frost captures them vividly, sharply individualizing them as well as universalizing them. The tough, wry, shrewd Yankee attitudes and perceptions and speech are universalized into the eternal human qualities of stubborn determination, pride, humour, integrity, and fear of the unknown. Frost uses the form of the dramatically imagined tale or sketch, but often goes in for the straightforward poetic narrative. The Code, The Witch of Coos, The Death of a Hired Man, Home Burial, Departmental - all these and many more speak of Frost's narrative (and dramatic) skill.

Frost's Style, Technique and Craftsmanship:

      Frost's poems, whether lyrical or narrative show great organization. He paid equal attention to content and form or shape of a poem. Indeed, he felt them to be inseparable. Frost's poems are pieces of classical concentration-witness, Fire and Ice. He is a conscious artist and his apparent simplicity and casual tone is deceptive. His complexity is shown by a poem such as Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening which can be interpreted at various levels of meaning. Frost is capable of using ordinary language to express what he wants to say in the most appropriate manner. Rhythms of actual speech, simple or colloquial diction, epigrammatic flashes, are all used by Frost to convey the scene, character, or thought. The different speakers in his poems are made distinct through modulation of tone, but they remain vivid whether it is the farmer who sees no reason for mending a wall or the man and wite to whose kitchen the old and incompetent farm hand has come "home" to die. Frost gives a fresh aspect to simple homespun truths.

Conclusion:

      To sum up, we may say that Frost's poems show the qualities of tenderness and sadness as well as humour, seriousness and as well as an acceptance of things as they are without explaining them away. His poems are realistic in the depiction of nature and man with his emotions and thoughts, expressed in realistic speech. Beyond all that is the classical restraint controlling and expressing the modern traits of subtlety and complexity. The content of a Frost poem is limited by the reader's experience and perceptively. For the willing and discerning reader, the poem offers much more than the surface meaning.

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