Robert Frost Robert Frost American Literature Analysis

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Robert Frost American Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Frost is that rare twentieth century poet who achieved both enormous popularity and critical acclaim. In an introductory essay to his collected poems, Frost insists that a poem “will forever keep its freshness as a metal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went,” an observation that applies to most of his three hundred-odd poems. Once his work came into circulation, its freshness and deceptive simplicity captivated audiences that shied away from more difficult poets such as T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens, while astute critics came to recognize the subtlety of thought and feeling that so often pervade these “simple” poems.

North of Boston ranks among the most original books of American poetry. Its title suggests its locale; one of the titles Frost originally proposed for it, “Farm Servants,” indicates its typical subject matter. Most of its best-known poems—“Mending Wall,” “The Death of the Hired Man,” “Home Burial,” “The Wood-Pile”—are in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter). The language consists of everyday words, Frost having discarded the “poetic” vocabulary that he had occasionally used in A Boy’s Will. None of these features was new in poetry, but in combination they result in strikingly innovative poetry.

The works in this volume represent the conscious application of a theory which Frost set forth most directly in several letters to a friend named John Bartlett. He aimed to accommodate what he called “the sound of sense” to blank verse. He noted that many casual utterances of the people among whom he lived fell into a basically iambic rhythm: “She thinks I have no eye for these,” “My father used to say,” “Never you say a thing like that to a man,” and so on. Writing poetry involved listening for and adapting to meter—what Frost called “sentence sounds.” In this way Frost created poems that did not only talk about rural New Englanders but also enacted them. Ten of the sixteen poems in North of Boston consist almost entirely of dialogue, one is a monologue, and several others incorporate colloquial lines. Many readers do not even notice that the poems all “scan” according to the rules of iambic meter, but it is there, a firm substratum to Frost’s “sound of sense.”

To Frost’s credit, he refused merely to repeat the effects of this book in subsequent work. While he continued from time to time to base poems on dialogue—especially between husband and wife—dialogue does not dominate any of his later books. Mountain Interval (1916), his first book to appear originally in the United States, offers much greater variety in form: sonnets, poems in four-and five-line rhymed stanzas, poems written in short lines, and others in patterns made up of lines of different lengths. Several, including “The Road Not Taken” and “The Sound of Trees,” are reflective poems that raise deep questions and provide teasing or ambiguous answers in a fashion that delighted Frost. They also remind the reader that many of life’s important questions do not have answers both simple and unfailingly satisfying.

A number of Frost’s poems celebrate encounters with nature. The first poem in his first book, “Into My Own,” and the last poem in his final book, an untitled one beginning “In winter in the woods alone,” depict a solitary person entering the woods, while in the long stretch between those poems the one that may be his best known of all, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” portrays the desire to do so. On one level, Frost can be seen as simply continuing the love affair with the wilderness so common in American mythology, whose literary manifestations include such classics as James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales (1823-1841) and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). On another level, the woodsman—independent, defiant of urban artificiality, at one with nature—is one of...

(The entire section is 5,845 words.)