illustrated portrait of American poet Robert Frost

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The role of nature in Robert Frost's poetry and why he is considered a nature poet


Robert Frost is considered a nature poet because his work frequently features natural settings and elements to explore complex human emotions and themes. Nature in Frost's poetry often serves as a backdrop for reflection on life, providing a means to understand human experiences and societal issues through the depiction of rural landscapes and natural phenomena.

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What is the role of nature in Robert Frost's poetry?

  • In Frost's poetry there is a strong connection between rural New England landscapes and the rural voices of his personas.
  • To frost, the living part of the poem is the language: an organic arrangement that is not unlike the natural world.
  • Frost uses a realistic technique in his poems: art mirrors reality.  As such, Frost synthesizes the human and the natural through language, imagination, and metaphor.
  • In "On Frost's Realistic Technique," Amy Lowell says that Frost's poetry is photographic, that it captures characters and landscapes, freezes them, burns them into memory--again bound by what he has seen.  Amy Lowell uses natural imagery herself to describe Frost:

[Frost's] imagination is bounded by what he has seens, he is confined within the limits of experience (or at least what might have been his experience) and bent all one way like the windblown trees of New England hillsides.

  • Robert Frost himself says, in "On the Figure a Poem Makes," that there is a wildness in the sound of poetry.

"If it is a wild tune, it is pure; to be wild with nothing to be wild about...Theme alone cannot steady us down.  Just as the first mystery was how a poem could have a tune is such a straightness as meter, so the second mystery is how a poem can have wildness and at the same time a subject that shall be fulfilled."

  • Finally, Enotes has this say (in reference to "Birches"):

...Frost makes it clear that one must remain within the natural world itself and that complete escape into the world of the imagination is impossible and not even desirable. It is this tension within the poem that makes each world both appealing and painful—the real world might be a place of pain, but it is also the place for love; the imaginary world is innocent, but it is also solitary and, by extension, loveless.

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What is the role of nature in Robert Frost's poetry?

Most of Robert Frost's poetry contains images and metaphors from nature, but even Frost once said of himself that he is not a "nature poet."  He says in almost all of his poems there is "a man."

It seems Frost likes to use nature as the avenue to compare human struggles with a force that is constant.  He is not, in fact, from the "romantic" period in American Lit, which explored nature as a avenue to the discovery of beauty.

Instead, Frost wrote in the 20th century - "Modern Lit" - his use of nature is his attempt to take something familiar and traditional, but to use it as a point of comparison for complex human emotions - to show the way man meets with real challenges but can take a baisic and natural approach to choices and answers.

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Why is Robert Frost considered a nature poet?

While some have tried to compare Robert Frost to the Romantics such as William Wordsworth, a major difference between Frost's treatment of nature and that of the Romantics emerges.  Unlike the poems of the Romantics who extolled nature, for Frost the image of the spirit immanent in man and nature does not merge to reveal a truth.  Instead, for Frost, the voice of man always speaks.  Nature, then, for Frost is a metaphor for the speaker, or it is a symbol of the strictly human spirit that rises about physical nature.  For instance, in Frost's poem, "The Woodpile," the woodpile itself is insignificant. Its purpose is to assist in a revelation of human truths.

....I thought that only

Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks

Could so forget his handiwork on which

He spent himself, the labor of his ax,

And leave it there from from a useful fireplace

To warm the frozen swamp as best it could

The man who has cut the firewood can forget its practical use and value because Man is concerned with "fresh tasks" of creativity, acts which go beyond the practical level.  Here the woodpile is a metaphor for the useful as opposed to the acts of creativity that are transcendent.

Amy Lowell, the imagist poet, describes Robert Frost as a poet who captures landscapes and characters.  She states that he uses nature simply because it is what he sees.  Says Lowell,

...He is confined by the limit of experience....and bent all one way like the limbs of windblown trees of New England hillsides.

But, for Frost, always the speaker emerges from this landscape.  In his "Stopping by a Woods on a Snowy Evening," Frost's narrator comes forth to utter the last lines,

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before i sleep

And miles to go before I sleep

Again in the poem, "The Road Not Taken," the speaker comes forth at the end,

I shall be telling this with a sigh

....Two rads diverged in a wood, and I--

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


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