Use of Merits in Robert Frost Poetry

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      Robert Frost was a lifelong student of Greek and Latin. Hence he can be termed a classicist of a very high order with his merits and hence again a traditionalist and a conservative. Critics have called him 'the purest classical poet of America today', 'the one great American poet of our time', 'a New Englander in the great tradition fit to be placed beside Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau'. The honours showered on him surpass all the honours put together on the other American poets of this century. He has won world wide fame and recognition.

Frost was a humanist. He was a well read man of vast learning in literature, science, philosophy and history. Above all he was a vigorous and patriotic individualist. All these personal qualities had a great impact on his poems. Highly endowed with integrity as a man he has succeeded in characterising his poetical work with a simplicity that is deceptive because it has deeper significance latent within.
Robert Frost

      His Poetical Qualities: The critic Randall Jarrell enumerates the following qualities of the poetry of Robert Frost:
1. Frost's tenderness, sadness and humour (which can be found adulterated with vanity and a hard complacency).
2. Frost's seriousness and honesty.
3. Frost's sorrowful acceptance of things as they are without his exaggerating them or explaining them away.
4. many poems abounding with real people with their real speech and real thoughts and real emotions.
5. subtlety and exactness.
6. a classical understatement and restraint.

      The poems included in the collections North of Boston, Mountain Interval and New Hampshire can be called his best poems, profoundly philosophical despite their homely diction.

      His Personal Qualities: Frost was a humanist. He was a well read man of vast learning in literature, science, philosophy and history. Above all he was a vigorous and patriotic individualist. All these personal qualities had a great impact on his poems. Highly endowed with integrity as a man he has succeeded in characterising his poetical work with a simplicity that is deceptive because it has deeper significance latent within.

      Non-political yet Controversial: No special interest in politics or religion has been evinced by Robert Frost in his poems. One or two poems he did compose only to earn the disapprobation of the critic as a 'Political Drifter'. He cannot be called a religious poet because he never entered the domain of religion. Metaphysics appealed to him and influenced him as it influenced Emerson and others. His attempt to perceive the unseen beyond the seen is evident from the phraseology of his poems. A simple fact, event or anecdote is offered by him at the outset and the lines that he composes thereafter upset the reader who thinks that there is nothing more than what can be observed initially. But something tickles the reader suddenly who begins to think deeply. He finds the tension increasing between the simple fact or event and the mystery that surrounds it. The total meaning comes to him in a flash through the closing words. The poet is detached throughout, humorously ironic but ultimately compassionate and merciful.

      Variety of Characters: The poems The Gum-Gatherer, The Investment, The Figure in the Doorway, To a Young Wretch, etc., depict a great variety of characters. The presentation of these characters is extremely appealing. In the words of one critic: "A character in The Gum-Gatherer walks leisurely into our consciousness. The youngster in To a Young Wretch trips lightly into our hearts. The young couple in The Investment enters our minds pathetically. The person in The Figure in the Doorway flashes suddenly into our vision".

      The characters presented by our poet can neither be called sinners or evil people nor saintly or eminently virtuous. His people are attractive and admirable to a certain extent or invariably unpleasant but pitiable. Sometimes they are even contemptible. The poems Self-Seekers, The Lovely shall be Choosers, The Pauper Witch of Grafton, West-Running Brook and Two Look at Two are good examples of poems depicting characters with qualities of dignity, stature and joy.

      Popularity of The Poems: It cannot be denied that Robert Frost's poems have been enjoying great popularity not only in America but also in United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa besides those countries where English is faught in universities. The main reason for the popularity is the simplicity and the matter of-fact person-to-person communication of ideas in a style that is never pedantic. The tone of the poems has a sort of similarity to ordinary conversation; it is easy and off hand and is really full of artistry. The music does not ever intrude while retaining its decisive nature. The rhyming pattern is very pleasing. C.D. Lewis wrote in 1955 about Frost, seven years before his death - "Whether time will show that Frost is a major poet I cannot tell; but of all living poets writing in English he gives me the most satisfaction, the strongest sense of a man committed absolutely to his vocation, at home in his medium and saying things well which are better for hearing". Frost's direct manner, calm tone and the simplicity of his language are great contributing factors in regard to his popularity but his simplicity and directness are deceptive actually. We should not lose sight of the subtlety and the contemplative turn of his mind or of his great capacity for feeling.

      In many poems Frost has directly or indirectly commented upon popular ideas, national affairs as well as the state of the world in gene by. When he comments on the rural atmosphere and familiar things or countryside and begins to brood upon them, he gets a poem in the proper shape and no wonder it is listed among his best poems.

      Clarity of Perception: Frost is highly imaginative and extremely delicate in the use of words. This heightens the clarity of perception without which no poet can couch his ideas effectively. He makes the reader experience the poet's view of the world with adequate force.

      Idiomatic Expression: Of course, like many poetical stalwarts, Frost has also forged his idioms and artifice of poetry. The rustic simplicity is only a thin veil covering remarkable subtleties and extremely disturbing elements.

      Aloofness from Potential Cultism: Frost did not belong to any particular theory of poetry or movement. He did not introduce exotic elements in his poetry. Everyday events, common things, natural objects such as snow, trees, farm implements, stars, spiders, hornets etc. are taken by him for themes of his poems. He gives significance to seemingly insignificant objects. A Patch of Old Snow, A Boundless Moment, Bereft, A Winter Eden and other poems can be cited as examples for this.

      Significance to Places and People: Frost infuses the scenes he describes with vividly and gives significance to places and people he describes. The Census Taker makes an empty placed with the people of the past and gives fresh significance to the business of living. A Brook in the City describes how a stream falls into disuse ultimately becoming no better than a stinking sewer.

      Frost at His Best in Short Lyrics: In his short lyrics we can find Frost excelling many other poets. In these he develops the ideas of "man's limitations" and "the necessity of doing his duty in a spirit, of love". Lawrance Thompson says: "His primary artistic achievement, which is an enviable one, in spite of shortcomings rests on his blending of thought and emotion and symbolic imagery within the confines of the lyric". Frost's lyrics have simplicity, brevity and intensity. In many of the poet's earlier poems the moods get spontaneous expression.

      Same Approach to Life: It is beyond all doubts that in Frost's view man's mundane existence is rather bleak and gloomy. In this attitude we can see how realistic he is and how readily he recognises the evils, sorrow and suffering that beset man's life under the sun. But mere recognition may lead one to cynicism and nihilism. Frost does not stop with that recognition. He is willing to remedy and rectify and work for amelioration of suffering. One must do one's duty sincerely and devotedly retaining the divine mercy. This is a sane approach to life and many of his poems approach this philosophy of ripe wisdom.

      Reverence to Nature as a Means to A Better End: As a Nature poet Frost does excel many other poets. But he does not deify Nature. He does not believe that Nature is all benevolent and benign. Frost was a working farmer. He took to agricultural activities as a vocation. As such he had to contend with various hardships and obstacles. Hence he cannot be expected to be romantic about Nature. W. H. Auden truly points out: "His poems on natural objects are always concerned with them not as foci for mystical meditation or starting points for fantasy, but as things with which and on which man acts in the course of the daily work of gaining a livelihood".

      Frost's Excellence as A Poet of Man: Frost has written on all conceivable objects but his central subject is humanity. He portrays all sort of people with a realistic vividness. Marcus Conliffe says: "His poetry has cropped out of his farmer's world every part of which he knows and knows how to render it in words with a brilliant off-hand ease. His reticent poor, dignified New Englanders are evoked in monologues, a little like those of E.A. Robinson or of Robert Browning, but with a difference. His people speak cautiously amid intervals of silence making each word count. Volubility would be alien to them. They do not go on and on as in Robinson or explode as in Browning. Their lonely farms, the cold winters and all - too brief summers, the imminence of failure, of the wilderness, of death - all give one the sense of people living tensely. The tension comes out in the poetry and the moments of relaxation have by contrast an almost extravagant gaiety. The hardihood is that of life in New Hampshire as such, not that imposed by the poet though of course, Frost describes it with a professional mastery".

      Within his own range Frost works with great artistic self-restraint and achieves great vividness, diversity and subtlety.

      Pastoral Technique: It is in the pastoral tradition that Frost's poems readily find their fitting ground. John E Lynen says "If the pastoral tradition had long since lost its validity how was he (Frost) to write a poetry essentially pastoral? The answer to this question becomes apparent when one recalls the distinction between pastoralism as a kind of poetic structure and pastoralism in the narrower sense of a particular tradition. It was the tradition that had withered; the fundamental form remained as a potential".

      Rural people, their avocations and vocations, the rustic situations etc. form the subject matter of Frost's poems. Apple-picking, gum-gathering, birch-swinging, mowing, collecting haystacks, etc. are vividly portrayed by him in his poems. The language he uses is the simple colloquial language of the country folk. Although Frost has not described in detail the life of the city-dwellers as such, the various emotional disturbances - the bane of every citizen in the modern world - have been described by him. The note of anxiety, the heart-ache, neurotic behaviour, etc. have been described by him and he has succeeded in imparting universal validity and significance to pastoral art.

Some Salient Features of Frost's Poems:
1. There is only surface simplicity in his poems. But the underlying complexity and subtlety can be grasped by re-reading many of his poems.
2. As put by a critic: "Frost's irony is the sharpest of poetic weapons at its best and at its worst, it is the forgivable pun of a wise old duffer.
3. No sentimentality in his poems. "His more personal poems derive much of their power from a sense of passion being held in check, ot deep feeling being carefully, and not always easily, controlled".
4. Sense of isolation, feeling of loneliness, is often treated of in his poems.
5. F.D. Mathiessen says: "Frost is a naturalistic poet but we should not miss the subtlety and sophistication of his best works.
6. Critics are of opinion that the following are his best poems: The Witch of Coos, Neither Out Far nor In Deep, Directive, Design, A Servant to Servants, Provide, Provide, Home-Burial, Acquainted with the Night, The Pauper Witch of Grafton, An OId Man's Winter Night, The Gift Outright, After Apple- Picking, Desert Places, and The Fear.
7. Frost has written most effectively about the actions of ordinary man.
8. There is classical understatement and restraint in his poems.
9.The best poems of Frost show an admirable organisation despite being simple.
10. The word-magic in Frost's poems is of a quiet, sober, bewitching sort although they are not wanting in dazzling passages as well.
11. Frost has truly said of himself, "I never dared be radical when young For fear it would make me conservative when old." Of course this is not the whole truth. He was partly radical and partly conservative throughout.
12. Gedffrey Moore says: "Frost's poetry is deeper and tougher than it seems. The simple language, the conversational manner and the near whimsicality of some of the observations tend to obscure the fact that he was no Pantheistic Romantic. Death and despair loom large in some of his poems.
13. Whatever his theme may be, Frost dramatizes it for the reader.
14. Frost's work widened in content and technique from volume to volume. He has shown great capacity for growth. Each volume discloses a particular facet of his genius, some new attitude or tone or approach. 15. "Frost was not a grim philosopher. His touch is light even when his subject is tragic. When he is most serious, he appears most casual".
16. Frost's fidelity to act is particularly seen in his shorter poems.
17. Throughout Frost's poems there is a search for and a discovery of order though fear of chaos is equally dominant.
18. There is absence of total despair and pessimism in Frost's poems though he is not blind to real dangers. A critic says: "Frost understands that there will be no light without darkness, no eagerness to choose good without evil and no life as we know without death".

      To conclude let us assert that "Frost has shown how much a poet can accomplish by absorption in a locale, by the ability to hear and reconstruct the sound of speech and by fidelity to a limited concept of experience".

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