Theme of Isolation in Robert Frost Poetry

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      Man is Solitary: Robert Frost has scaled the realms of psychology, sociology, economics, ornithology and many other disciplines of science and art. His poetry is a panorama of varied emotions, feelings, ideas and thoughts; yet as in any other writer's work, in Frost's poetry, too, there are recurrent motifs and themes - the themes of alienation and isolation. He seems to be constantly dinning this fact into his reader's mind that man is always solitary and lonely. This isolation, he feels, is both emotional and physical. Frost has tried to analyse this problem with a rare keenness and he feels that there are different kinds of barriers which are responsible for dividing men. These barriers are responsible for inadequate communication lack of understanding and friction. To add to these man-made barriers, Man has to live in an insensate environment and amidst nature that is not necessarily benevolent, in fact, hostile to some extent. Frost's sense of man's isolation seems to have been the outcome of his experience with his sister, who was mentally unbalanced. It may be assumed that the woman's reactions in Home Burial are closely modelled on Frost's sister's reaction to life.

Man is Isolated in Space from the Stars and the Sky: Frost's concern with barriers finds its manifestation in his poetry specially in the volume North of Boston.
Robert Frost

      Man is Isolated in Space from the Stars and the Sky: Frost's concern with barriers finds its manifestation in his poetry specially in the volume North of Boston. The types of barriers that Frost deals with can easily be divided into five. First and foremost, there is the great natural barrier - the void, the space - separating man from the stars. Man tries to bridge this gap - but it proves to be a vain, futile attempt. Such efforts serve only to prove the littleness of man in a vast universe. I Will Sing You One-O shows the immensity of the universe and its permanence in contrast to man's stature. In The Lesson for Today, Frost illustrates this point: he tells us that contemplation of the great heights of the sky cowers man into realising his nonentity and he is overcome by a terrifying sense or soltariness. In Stars the poet tells us that man gets attracted towards nature only to be disillusioned by it. Here, the stars do not have their general charm. The stars shining at midnight in the dark sky do not lend any glory to the gazer Instead, they serve to imbue a feeling of disenchantment

And yet neither love nor hate,
Those the stars like some snow-white
Minerva's snow-white marble eyes
Without the gift of sight.

      In Astro Metaphysical, looking at the hanging skies becomes dull, tiring and monotonous. In The Star-Splitter, the protagonist seems to stand up for the entire mankind and say:

"We've looked and looked..
But after all where are we?"

      Isolation from the Immediate Nature: Secondly, there are barriers between man and the immediate world of nature. Man's spirit sags at the desolate sights of vast deserts and barren places. Man must try to conquer and reclaim and cultivate these desert places. Man has to wage a perpetual war against such wilderness, if he wants to survive in this hostile environment. These open spaces and deserts do not seem to be meant for him therefore, man feels lost and as an alien in such surroundings. In his struggle he may or may not succeed. It depends upon the nature and extent of hostility in the environment. Marion Montgomery points out: "There are those souls, of course, who are content to have a barrier stand as a continual challenge which they never accept, such as the old teamster (cart driver) of The Mountain who lives and works in the shade of the mountain he always intends to climb but never does. And there are those who accept the challenge and go down in defeat: the deserted village of the Census Tuker with its gaunt and empty buildings is evidence of such a failure". Other poems also reveal the plea of the poet that despite being alone and helpless must wage a continuous war against his physical environment inimical to human existence.

      Wherever there is failure, wherever the natural world has worn out there are always the young who follow to restore where their fathers failed. In Generations of Men the boy and girl meet for the first time at the ruins of an old homeplace, sit on the edge of the cellar, and talk about families and the decayed places. In the end, they are in love, or about to fall in love, and have made a pact to return and rebuild the old homeplace.

      Nature is Extraneous to Man's Physical Existence: Man's physical existence itself is a barrier that divides man from the soul or spirit of nature. For Wordsworth there are no barriers between Man and Nature. Frost not only takes cognizance of barriers separating man and nature but is constantly aware of the vast gulf that separates man from nature, or spirit from matter. This is the third barrier. In many poems, Frost brings out the insensate indifference of nature. He seems to have no faith in the spirit or soul of nature - he does not expect any sympathy from it. Man is a complete, independent entity in himself and has no affiliation with the forces of nature working on him - at the most there can be a negative affiliation. The individuality of man and the forces of nature work on two completely different principles - this difference, this distance must be maintained. In The Most of It, man is shown in all his terrifying loneliness. This is brought out by the behaviour of the buck:

Instead of proving human when it neared
And some one else additional to him.
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread, And forced the underbush-and that was all.

      Barriers, insensate and dull, is all that nature can give to man. Even in Two Look at Two where there is a sort of affinity between "human nature from deer nature", the man-made fence of barbed wire clearly demarcates the two.

      The Root of Emotional Isolation from Other Men is Fear: The fourth is a barrier that separates man from man. Such barriers are most easily avoidable, the most undesirable, yet to be lamented because of their universal presence. Such barriers hamper social communication and constantly lead towards social alienation, emotional insecurity and loneliness. Mending Wall has been repeatedly interpreted as an ironic comment on those who raise walls between man and man, blindly believing that good fences make good neighbours. Such barriers are detrimental to human relationships, generate tensions resulting in neurosis and emotional imbalance verging on the brink of insanity.

      North of Boston is full of emotionally isolated and lost people. The poem Mending Wall projects the viewpoint of a conservative farmer who believes in watertight compartments between houses. He is dead against pulling down the barriers created artificially by man. He justifies them by asserting 'good fences' make good neighbours. The poem The Generations of Men portrays the Yankees in their true colour - their peculiarities such as prying into the past of suspicious looking people, mistrusting the incoming newer races and coming to the conclusion that old ones are golden ones. The Black Cottage reveals how the world is indifferent to people who struggle for the betterment of the society.

      Home Burial reveals the mutual estrangement and annoyance of a couple over the death of their child.

      The Wastelands Within: The poem Acquainted with the Night clarifies the isolation of man from other men and from nature which is callous to what happens to him. The lines

One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right
I have been one acquainted with the night.

      Clearly bring out how man can be lonely in a strange and obscure world. In this poem, we see how man becomes insensitive to what goes on around him. Bereft is another poem which portrays a bleak realization of absolute loneliness, a sudden despairing sense of loss. The dreadful isolation of old age is captured in An Old Man's Winter Night. Desert Places is a poignant poem that points to the fact that every heart contains a wasteland - a more piteous and terrible situation than any real, geographic waste land. "It is a poem that overwhelms us with a sense of frightening foresakenness". Provide, Provide evokes an agonising emotion of alienation which no amount of bantering can attenuate or overcome. Nothing can make one miss or dilute the pronounced tragic tone of this ironic poem. A poem such as Acquainted with the Night presents the basic loneliness of man's spirit. The Death of the Hired Man presents a horrifying picture of the loneliness of a socially alienated old servant.

      Man is Isolated From God: Fifthly and finally man feels himself isolated from God. His rationale prevents him from establishing rapport with God. His reason and intellect stand as a barrier between Man and a blissful communion with God. It is only faith that can help man out and hope to make him achieve salvation - and faith is almost impossible in a rational world.

      Isolation Disastrous for Women in Frost's Poems: Women take loneliness harder than men. A woman may bear isolation for the sake of love but if that love fails or falters, she may get lost in the woods or go mad or die. Instances are Home Burial, The Fear, A Servant to Servants and The Hill Wife.

      Conclusion: The Themes of Isolation Representative of The Human Lot: In Frost's universe man is solitary. He is born alone, lives in a lonely manner and dies a lonesome death. Things worsen if he expects a lot from others. The only way to improve his lot is to realise the otherness of others. If he understands his nature, his environment and the nature of others, there are possibilities of lesser frustration and better living. Frost's concern with loneliness and alienation is an expression of his intensely felt need for love, sympathy and fellowship. W.G. O'Donnel rightly says: "Democracy and America find representative voices in both Frost and Whitman - both writers are concerned with brotherhood and fellowship, although each approaches problems in an individual fashion...Others may be divisive, selective, or exclusive, but Walt Whitman accepts everyone and with romantic gusto loudly affirms all aspects of life in America. Robert Frost believes no less strongly in the value of affirmation, but looking at the world more realistically than Whitman does, he knows that if alienation could be overcome by the repeated affirmation of fellowship, it would have disappeared a long time ago".

      To Frost Man's isolation is not a peculiarly American dilemma, but a universal situation. Man must try to face his lot with faith, courage and fortitude and do as much as possible to improve it. It is true that, with all his poetry of isolation, Frost cannot be called a pessimist.

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