English Literature » Notes » Robert Frost: Poetic Qualities

Robert Frost: Poetic Qualities

Frost has been regarded as a “regional poet”. His region was New England of two best states in U.S.A. He never felt the slightest desire to include all America within the scope of his poetry. His regionalism resembles from Emily Dickinson’s. The New England provides him with the stories, attitudes, characters, which are appropriate to his needs. He falls in love with the New England tradition and it gives him strength. His work seems to capture the vanished joys of apple picking, hay-making, the sleep of an old man alone in an old farmhouse, the cleaning of the pasture spring. No American writer knows the subjects, people and places as thoroughly as Frost does. Frost is certainly a realist. He never says too much. In stories, he uses suggestion and understatement.

Frost is chiefly lyrical. The poems are a spontaneous expression of the youthful heart. Frost shows emotion, imagery and song. As regards imagery, they are full of beauties of the darkness of late autumn, still depths of winter, and intensity of the swift summer. He has written lyrics light-hearted and humorous and philosophical. Often the two extremes are combines. He has written a few love lyrics too.

The form employed by Frost is dramatic. But in some of his most successful pieces he has subordinated both drama and character to straightforward poetic narrative. In “The Code” a farm hand tells how he killed the employer by burying him under a load of hay violating an unwritten law of the fields because of made some trivial sign on his work. Here Frost has sketched out, half-humorously a story showing peculiar local customs, the odd expressions of personal pride which develop in a remote rural community. In the “Witch of Coos” a humorously gruesome story of violence, brooding and hallucination appears what is probably the most unusual ghost in American literature. At once realistic and fantastic, cynically coarse and delicately beautiful, “Paul’s Wife” is an amazingly successful fusion of the most disparate qualities.

Frost showed a philosophical bent of mind from the very beginning. He does not have any philosophical system or set of beliefs. He inclines to the inquiring manner. Often he expresses himself in a humorous or satirical vein and shows an epigrammatic gift.

Sometimes we have a blend of the familiar essays and the parable in Frost’s philosophical poems with illustrative anecdotes. “Mending Walls” is a humorous portrayal through rural anecdote of the liberal, inquiring man confronted with the man of inertia. Then there are two poems of a different kind. “A Masque of Reason” and “A Masque of Mercy”, in which the poet undertakes, if not Milton’s task of justifying God’s ways to men at least the more modest task of speculating about them.

Many of Frost’s poems are capable of a symbolic interpretation. The surface meaning of “Mending Wall” is ‘Good fences make good neighbours’ but symbolically the poem states the serious problem of our times. Should national boundaries be made stronger for our protection or should they be removed since they restrict our progress towards international brotherhood? “The Mountain” symbolizes the un-inquisitive, the unadventurous and the un-ambitious spirit. “The Road Not Taken” symbolically deals with the choice problem.

Frost is not a Nature poet in the tradition of Wordsworth. He insists upon the boundaries between man and the forces of Nature. He sees no pervading spirit in the natural world and regards it as impersonal and unfeeling. He treats nature both as comfort and menace.

Frost shows a strong disinclination towards city life. He has written no poems on friendship. He has written love poems, but misunderstanding is a constant theme in them. His poetry has curious anti-social quality. Almost every poem in “North of Boston” deals with the theme of alienation. “Desert Places” describes a similar mood and situation. Many of his poems are about the sense and the feeling of loneliness not a peculiarly American dilemma but as a universal situation. Sometimes he approaches this problem in an optimistic manner as in “Our Hold on the Planet”.

A critic has listed the typical qualities of Frost’s poetry like Frost’s tenderness, sadness and humour; his seriousness and honesty; his sorrowful acceptance of things as they are without exaggeration or explanation; his many poems with real people, real speech, real thoughts and real emotions; subtlety and exactness and a classical under-statement and restraint.

In conclusion it may be pointed out that Frost has been described as a symbolist, a spiritual drifter, a home-spun philosopher, a lyricist, a moralist, a preacher and a farmer who writes verse.