The Poetry of Frost Critical Essays

Robert Frost

Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

They would not find me changed fromhim they knew—Only more sure of all I thought wastrue.

In a sense this early prediction by Robert Frost is an accurate description of the course of his writing career: Frost’s poetry has not changed; it has simply grown stronger. The dominant characteristics of his work—his impeccable ear for the rhythms of speech; his realistic handling of nature that transcends the ordinary “love” we ascribe to poets of the outdoors; his revelation of human character by means of dramatic events his warm philosophy that combines a whimsical poet with a dirt farmer whose feet are not only planted on the ground but in it—all these qualities were apparent (at least to some readers) early in his career. And they are still there, handled with greater precision, displaying more depth. As an example of this strengthening process, this growth of sapling into tree, look first at the little poem, “The Pasture,” the last stanza of which invites the reader into Frost’s A BOY’S WILL:

I’m going out to fetch the little calfThat’s standing by the mother. It’s soyoung,It totters when she licks it with hertongue.I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

The Frost charm is evident in these lines, but there is also a somewhat juvenile, Rilevesque quality. When one compares “The Pasture” with “Come In,” a much later and firmer treatment of the same general theme, the superior diction is immediately apparent in such magnificent lines as these:

Far in the pillared darkThrush music went—Almost like a call to come inTo the dark and lament.

But equally apparent is a greater depth of psychological complexity, a stronger suggestion of the “death wish” that John Ciardi discusses in his controversial analysis of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the more famous lyric to which “Come In” is certainly a superb companion piece.

Frost has not changed, only grown surer; but there has been an amazing change, down through the years, in the attitude taken toward his poems. First, his fellow Americans could not see this most American of writers as a poet at all; it was necessary for him to go to England to be hailed for his talent. Secondly, when the English had pointed him out to us, we catalogued him as another cold New England poet who saw everything in black and white. This astonishing judgment becomes superegregious when we consider that A BOY’S WILL contains a poem of such warm understanding as “The Tuft of Flowers” and that NORTH OF BOSTON, his second volume, includes “The Death of the Hired Man,” “Home Burial,” and “The Fear,” three dramatic poems that are intensely emotional. After Frost’s reputation finally became established, the critics forced him into a third stage of his career: he was...

(The entire section is 1369 words.)