Style and Language of Robert Frost Poetry

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      Introduction: Robert Frost considered the purpose of art was to 'strip life to form'. He believed that Style and Language should be integrated. The style of a poem should enable the meaning to unfold itself slowly but inevitably to the moment of complete disclosure. Two Tramps in Mud Time, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Design, and many other poems show this development. Frost's diction is apparently simple but behind the simple is great art.

Levels of Meaning or Ambiguity in a Frost Poem: A poem by Frost is deceptively simple. A majority of his poems offer more than one interpretation. The rich texture gives the poems an inexhaustible quality. The best examples are perhaps Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Birches, At the end of Mending Wall, we do not quite know which side Frost is on, for there are different meanings to be understood from the poem.
Robert Frost

      Levels of Meaning or Ambiguity in a Frost Poem: A poem by Frost is deceptively simple. A majority of his poems offer more than one interpretation. The rich texture gives the poems an inexhaustible quality. The best examples are perhaps Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Birches, At the end of Mending Wall, we do not quite know which side Frost is on, for there are different meanings to be understood from the poem.

      Structure of a Frost Poem Growth from Particular to General or from sight to Insight: In The Need of Being Versed in Country Things, for instance, the sight of the deserted barn and burnt house gives rise to the Vision and insight embodied in the conclusion that:

One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe that phoebes wept....

      Nature is not affected by such calamities, and this can be realized only by a person well versed in country things. In this poem, as in Birches, Design, Hyla Brook, West-Running Brook, and many others, observation has deepened into vision and the sight of the natural scene or objects has developed into insight. The same is true of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

      Sound and Sense Coalesce in a Frost Poem: The tone of the speaker in Two Tramps in Mud Time changes from sharpness to self-justification and euphoria and then to a mature tone of self-discovery and conscientious individualism. In Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, the speaker's tone changes from the calm appreciation of the beautiful snow filled woods to a tone of determination of taking up his earthly work. Epigrammatic and Aphoristic Element in Frost's Style: Most of his poems, leading from sight to insight, end on an epigrammatic or aphoristic note for example-

The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows. (Mowing)
Earth's the right place for love. (Birches)
We love the things we love for what they are (Hyla Brook)
For to be social is to be forgiving. (The Star-splitter)

      These aphoristic summings-up have led to Frost's popular appeal.

      Conversational Style: It has been remarked that Frost's poems are people talking, whether they are lyrics or dialogues. There is a 'careful rendering into the metre of customary speech'. Frost, says W.W. Gibson, has turned the living speech of men and women into poetry. He uses functional speech rhythms, for example in the very first lines of The Road Not Taken. The Mountain, The Code and Home Burial show the skill with which Frost has handled conversation in verse forms. Even where rhyme is used, as in Blueberries, there is no awkwardness or artificiality. Fire and lce is, perhaps, a masterly achievement of verse in colloquial English. The speaking words heighten the theme's significance. Frost always deals with a serious subject in the language of familiar speech but the effect is not weakened thereby.

      Poetic Devices in Frost's Hands: Frost's poetry demonstrates ample use of poetic devices such as epigram, analogy, simile, metaphor, symbols, irony, wit, personification and indirection. Through such poetic devices he endows his poetry with a consistent pattern and an organic vision. Repetition is an important and forceful device used by the poet. Some words such as 'frost, 'woods', 'Man on the walk', 'water' occur and recur in his poetry. He repeats both words and complete sentences as in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. His earlier poetry has been written under the Georgian influence. It is predominantly lyrical. His later poetry forms the period of dramatic poems. His poetry in toto contains and shows the poet's endless struggle for accuracy and perfection of rhyme, repetition, metre and stanza structure.

      Symbols and Images - the Oblique Method: Though Frost is not considered a great symbolist in the manner of T.S. Eliot, we cannot be blind to the significant symbolic strain in such poems as Fire and Ice, Mending Wall, or Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

      His mark as a great poet rests upon his skill and inventiveness in creating metaphors. His metaphorical talent developed early and remained strong throughout his life. Usually his metaphors spring from some sign of resemblance or likelihood in the natural world with the human world. He is once reported to have said that poetry, above everything else, should be regarded as a metaphor.

      He uses decorative imagery. Into My Own shows the poet in his efforts for the combination of a highly personal theme and a decorative imagery.

      His poetry achieves unity and coherence through its use of a number of controlling images which are not simply occasional metaphors but which frequently reappear intensifying and shaping the body of his whole work. Established in A Boy's Will, his first volume, these images are subsequently arranged into new combinations, but undergo little basic change. Frost's themes become more understandable as one discovers and traces his pattern of imagery. These images need to be studied in relation to other images. A fundamental antithesis is revealed through a contrasting pair of images. The images express in various ways the conflict between imagination and reality. Some images reveal the poet's attraction to detached thought, e,g. Cold, Poverty, Eire, Ice. In contrast there are other images which include a vast body of sensual images epitomized by the female archetype. His theme goes on changing from the personal to the social and the imagery from illuminative to symbolic. His voyage as a poet is the development of his imagery from the Simple to the significant and suggestive.

      State, statesmen, nature, lovers, and religion are the constant sources of his imagery. Nature most abundantly provides the images to the poet. The poet draws most of his vivid and original imagery from nature. He prefers to make use of subjects and images drawn from the countryside. He draws his poetic images from his personal experience and observations.

      Throughout his development, the poet draws his images constantly from the same sources; flowers, fire, darkness, birds, the human body and the sea. His early images are transformed into the later images of intensity and concentration and tend to possess more meaning and effectiveness than the earlier ones. One can emphatically point out that there is not only consistency but also improvement in his handling of imagery. To understand his characteristic imagery, the reader has to distinguish his use of various types of image.

      Key Words in the Right Places: Frost disapproved of the modern tendency towards eccentricity and formlessness in poetry. He insisted on flawless technique and appropriate verbal form and shape. Design, for instance, shows the exactness, accuracy and appropriateness of the use of words and their combinations to produce the desired effect. Frost can speak in the tone of voice that he wants - that is the proof of consummate art.

      An enquiry into his craftsmanship tells us that the poet commands a perfectly balanced poetic structure and effective positioning of key words. By an investigation into the poet's use of sound, imagery, way of description and other poetic tools, it is found that he appears as a poet of high artistic calibre. Like his favourite ancient poet, Virgil, he is refined in style. His best poems are composed within the framework of sound and meaning and contain alliteration and auditive images. His poems represent sound suggestion and indicate at the poet's shrewd aesthetic instinct and foresight. Frost's poetic art is unique in so far as it is a treasure of metrical perfection, enormous range and ability. As a conscious craftsman, he handled whatever point of view he chose with a characteristic precision and appropriateness. There is an adequate relationship of the imagery and the thought in Frost's poetry.

      Frost's Use of Metre and Stanzaic Form: Robert Frost's views on metre are similar to those of Emerson who once said that 'it is not metres, but a metre-making argument that makes a poem'. Quartrain is a favourite stanza form adopted by Frost. Poems like Pea Brush are written in ab ab pattern of rhyme. He shifts his pattern to the ab ba quartrain as in Desert Places. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening a favourite poem of readers, contains ab ba form that interlaces. The poet sometimes devises pseudo-quartrain form in some of his poems. Sometimes he enlarges his quartrains into five and six-line stanzas as in Ghost House. My November Guest, Pan with Us, The Road not Taken, Bond and Free, After Flakes are written in five-line stanzas. The six-line stanzas are either combinations of quartrain and couplet or extensions of the quartrain. The Demiurge's Laugh is an example of such type. It has rhyming pattern of abab ce. The Freedom of the Moon, Reluctance, Innate, Helium, Spring Pools and Acceptance are all in six-line stanza form written with significant alteration in rhyme scheme.

      The majority of Frost's poems need simple and short metrical forms for their subjects and themes. The poet was competent enough in handing the intricate forms. His successful attempt to write in terza-rima form n Acquainted with the Night is a testimony of this fact. He employs interlocking rhyme in conventional terza-rima. In such pieces he concludes the final stanza with uniform rhymes.

      Experimentation in Various Poetic Forms: Frost may not have been a great innovator, but he certainly experimented with traditional forms to extend them in subject matter and added greater sophistication and originality to them, as in the case of the lyric and the sonnet. He has employed a variety of poetic forms - odes, eclogues, satires, dramatic monologues, dialogues and masques. In Departmental he uses the fable to pour irony on red-tapism; the episode in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening becomes a parable of life. Dramatic intensity marks the beginning or the ending of most of Frost's poems, Frost, as Mark Van Doren says, makes verse sing. He makes use of the lyric in a sensitive but restrained manner.

      Frost's Communicative Style: While speaking on his own theory of poetry, Frost again and again lays stress on the importance of conversational tones in poetry. He himself avoids poetic diction' and uses frank, direct, straightforward and simple words and detests every sort of artificiality, unnaturalness or dishonesty. He does not hold any pretence in the use of language. He commands classical restraint, simplicity and straightforwardness. His language bears the creative power of the voice.

      Frost's Controlled Art points towards the poet's adherence to emotional control. Conversational tones of his poems convey meaning, sense, emotional and interpretative quality. His poetry is intense because it is dramatic and dramatic because it is conversational. It is a storehouse of various voices that led the poet to conversation at the time of writing. The poet does not write unless he listens to voices. Frost's poems are the record of conversational tones of the New England province that the poet imitates in his mind. He avoids the use of conventional words like creative imagination and inspiration. He selects ordinary words and makes them poetic. He calls poetic inspiration unnecessary and needless. According to him, words already used by poets lose their strength simply because they have been once used and exhausted in a poet's imagination. Swinburne's poetry, for example, contains good visual epithets but it lacks conversational tones and fails to appeal to the ear. Conversational tones carry messages from the poet's heart and imagination to the reader's ear. Furthermore, the use of conversational language in his poetry gives it an inevitable quality.

      Frost's Poetry is People Talking: We see in Frost's poems conversation in verse forms - a difficult art to handle, but Frost does it well. The Code will illustrate the point. The language is colloquial, homely and apparently un-poetic, and yet a sensitive literary idiom emerges. Thus we see in Frost's poems the 'selection' of the language really used by men. Fire and Ice is a masterly achievement in colloquial English. The poem ranges from the casual 'Some say', to the politely reticent. From what I have tasted of desire' to the homespun 'I hold with those who favour fire', and even the jocular 'But if I had to perish twice'. The speaking voice is prominent but colloquial terms are pruned to suit the theme and situation.

      Functional Speech Rhythms: Frost "has turned the living speech of men and women into poetry". The process inevitably involves selection. Words are placed in the right places to achieve dramatic effect, change in mood, thought, emotion or situation. Thus the speaker of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening speaks in a different tone from that of the speaker of Mending Wall or After Apple-Picking. Parentheses, pauses, breaks and unfinished sentences and other broken speech syntax give an air of spontaneity to the poems, but a closer examination shows how artistically it has been achieved. The words of the speaker in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening are certainly not grandiloquent or extraordinary, but they do show a careful selection, ordering and placement.

      Conclusion: Frost aimed at a natural communication in his poetry. He achieves it with such consummate art that his poems have a deceptive surface simplicity. As C. Day Lewis puts it, the basic design of a Frost poem is 'a kind of argument or dialectic not imposed upon the subject but worked out in consultation with it.' Frost, like Wordsworth before him, uses language actually used by the common present man, catches within the lines of his poems the rhythms and cadences and tones of human speech. He uses a simple, colloquial diction, which is, however, purified, in the manner of Wordsworth, of all that is slangy, coarse and vulgar. 

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