Robert Frost is a great artist and essentially a poet but not a philosopher – he is a philosopher poet. The writings of a poet are largely dictated by the rhythms of his moods. Expecting any systematic exposition of philosophy from a poet is undesirable and totally unwarranted. However, from repeated expression of certain views in poem after poem, one can extract certain basic concepts and thoughts of the poet.
Frost’s views about God, Nature and Man can be deduced from his poetry which reveal a large quantum of sanity and profundity. As Gibson puts that in Frost’s poetry, there is an undercurrent of ‘the clear stream of rich and ripe philosophy’.
Frost showed a philosophical bent of mind from the very beginning. But a philosophical anxiety, a social sadness becomes more obvious in his later poems. He does not have any philosophical system or set of beliefs. It is impossible to reduce Frost’s thinking to a diagrammatic accuracy. In this connection, Frost says:
We dance round in a ring and suppose
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
Frost does not manage to squeeze in among the ranks of great philosopher poets. Yet, the philosophy within his poetry calls our attention and cannot be dismissed as negligible or insignificant. He has clothed his philosophical thought in a naturally conventional style.
Frost’s ‘rich and ripe philosophy’ is obvious in everything he writes. The truths he seeks are innate in the heart of man and in common objects. But people forget and poetry, according to Frost, “makes you remember what you didn’t know you knew”. A poem provides an immediate experience which “begins in delight and ends in wisdom”. However, his persistent search for truths does not mean that Frost is a grim philosopher. His touch is always light.
With reference to any philosophical absolutes, Frost is a skeptic. He prefers the wisdom that is nourished by understanding, tolerance and observation. His value as a philosopher lies in the home-spun intelligence. There can be no better proof of Frost’s home-spun philosophy than the following lines:
Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in,
(The Death of the Hired Man)
Earth’s the right place for love
I do not know where it’s likely to go better.
We love the things we love for what they are.
His poems provide ample wisdom of a prudential kind which should serve as effective guidelines to our everyday conduct. He is a classicist in his belief. He advocates self-reliance and integrity. He looks upon integrity as operating through a variety of choice rather than between evil and good.
Though there is no fixed line between wrong and right,
There are roughly zones whose laws must be obeyed.
Frost is basically a philosophic poet who often uses the pastoral mode as a vehicle for his inquiries into the nature and meaning of life. His irony, didacticism and lyricism, all serve this end. Yet, so completely are form and content united in his work that it is scarcely possible to remove the philosophical element in any poem without completely dislocating it.
Frost’s poetry incorporates his philosophy. Frost’s poetry is full of thoughts, ideas and vision of life. But he is not to be considered a philosopher. His philosophy is an integral part of his poetry. But one must also keep at the back of one’s mind that his philosophy is not essential for the appreciation of his poetry. Like Wordsworth and Yeats, Frost’s ideas have grown along with his verse.
To conclude, it is best to quote Lawrence Thompson: ‘this primary artistic achievement, which is an enviable one, in spite of shortcomings, rests on his blending of though and emotion and symbolic imagery within the confines of the lyric’.