Frost, Robert 1874–1963
Frost is recognized as one of the foremost American poets of the twentieth century. The setting for his poems is predominantly the rural landscapes of New England, his poetic language is the language of the common man. His work has often been criticized for its uneven quality, as well as its simplistic philosophy and form. However, Frost's best poems explore fundamental questions of existence, depicting with a chilling starkness the loneliness of the individual confronted with an indifferent universe. Frost received the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry four times. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 4, 9, 10, 13.)
[A Boy's Will] is a little raw, and has in it a number of infelicities; underneath them it has the tang of the New Hampshire woods, and it has just this utter sincerity. It is not post-Miltonic or post-Swinburnian or post-Kiplonian. This man has the good sense to speak naturally and to paint the thing, the thing as he sees it. And to do this is a very different matter from gunning about for the circumplectious polysyllable. (p. 1)
He has now and then a beautiful simile, well used, but he is for the most part [simple]…. He is without sham and without affectation. (p. 2)
Ezra Pound, "'A Boy's Will'," in Poetry (© 1913 by The Modern Poetry Association; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry and New Directions, Agents for the Trustees of the Ezra Pound Literary Property Trust), Vol. II, No. 2, May, 1913 (and reprinted in Robert Frost: The Critical Reception, edited by Linda W. Wagner, Burt Franklin & Co., Inc., 1977, pp. 1-2).
[There is] a lack of "poetic" figures and phrases in [North of Boston]: a lack of regard for the outlines and fragility of the medium, a lack of finesse, of nicely rounded rhetoric or raptures. But although these are all the property and perquisites of even the greatest poets, Mr. Frost neglects them—and still writes poetry. I cannot recall a single obviously "poetic" line in "A Hundred Collars" or "The Self-Seeker"—to take two dissimilar poems—and yet the sum total of these two is undeniably poetic. In no particular thing that has been said, but rather in retrospect, the after-glow, is it most apparent. The effect rather than the statement is poetry; the air is almost electric with it.
Not that Mr. Frost cannot write colorful and sharp images. He can and does. But only when the mood rises to demand them: they are not dragged in by the hair or used as a peg to hang a passage on. (p. 25)
There is another thing that poetry can do and that Mr. Frost's work does. And that is to crystallize. Poetry is removed from prose not only because it tells a thing more nobly but more quickly…. And so when Robert Frost tells a story or sketches a character, the use of the poetic line gives it a clarity that is made sharper by its brevity. (pp. 25-6)
[These] poems glow with their honest, first-hand apprehension of life. It is New England life that is here: the atmosphere and idiom of it. The color, and for that matter the absence of color, is as faithfully reproduced as is that of the Arran Islands in the plays of Synge and the racy Paris slang in the ballades of Villon. Behind the persons in these poems one can feel a people. Often this sense of character is keenest when the person is suggested rather than drawn. Now that I think of it, it occurs to me that some of Mr. Frost's finest characterizations do not speak: they do not even appear….
On the other hand, take, as an example of pure delineative power, the first brief poem. In "Mending Wall " you have, in two pages, the gait, the impress, the very souls of two people. The poem is in the first person and in the alternate whimsy and a something like natural anarchy one gets a full-length portrait of one. The other person has just one line—repeated: but the portrait is no less full. He is drawn as completely as though the artist had put in every wrinkle and trouser-crease…. And it is after one has put the volume down that the power...
(The entire section is 13,039 words.)