1 Robert Frost The Early Years Robert Frost

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1. Robert Frost

1. Robert Frost

The Early Years • • Robert Frost was born in San Francisco on March

The Early Years • • Robert Frost was born in San Francisco on March 26, 1874. He moved to New England at the age of eleven and became interested in reading and writing poetry during his high school years in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was enrolled at Dartmouth College in 1892, and later at Harvard, though he never earned a formal degree. Frost drifted through a string of occupations after leaving school, working as a teacher, cobbler, and editor of the Lawrence Sentinel. His first professional poem, "My Butterfly, " was published on November 8, 1894, in the New York newspaper The Independent. By the nineteen-twenties, he was the most celebrated poet in America, and with each new book—including New Hampshire (1923), A Further Range (1936), Steeple Bush (1947), and In the Clearing (1962)—his fame and honors (including four Pulitzer Prizes) increased. Robert Frost lived and taught for many years in Massachusetts and Vermont, and died in Boston on January 29, 1963.

 • Though his work is principally associated with the life and landscape of

• Though his work is principally associated with the life and landscape of New England, and though he was a poet of traditional verse forms and metrics who remained steadfastly aloof from the poetic movements and fashions of his time, Frost is anything but a merely regional or minor poet. The author of searching and often dark meditations on universal themes, he is a quintessentially modern poet in his adherence to language as it is actually spoken, in the psychological complexity of his portraits, and in the degree to which his work is infused with layers of ambiguity and irony.

His Reviews • In a 1970 review of The Poetry of Robert Frost, the

His Reviews • In a 1970 review of The Poetry of Robert Frost, the poet Daniel Hoffman describes Frost's early work as "the Puritan ethic turned astonishingly lyrical and enabled to say out loud the sources of its own delight in the world, " and comments on Frost's career as The American Bard: "He became a national celebrity, our nearly official Poet Laureate, and a great performer in the tradition of that earlier master of the literary vernacular, Mark Twain. “

The Realist • The poet/critic Randall Jarrell often praised Frost's poetry and wrote the

The Realist • The poet/critic Randall Jarrell often praised Frost's poetry and wrote the following appraisal of Frost's career: Robert Frost, along with Stevens and Eliot, seems to me the greatest of the American poets of this century. Frost's virtues are extraordinary. No other living poet has written so well about the actions of ordinary men; his wonderful dramatic monologues or dramatic scenes come out of a knowledge of people that few poets have had, and they are written in a verse that uses, sometimes with absolute mastery, the rhythms of actual speech. It is hard to overestimate the effect of this exact, spaced-out, prosaic (dull, common) movement, whose objects have the tremendous strength. . . of things merely put down and left to speak for themselves. . . Frost's seriousness and honesty; the bare sorrow with which, sometimes, things are accepted as they are, neither exaggerated nor explained away; the many, many poems in which there are real people with their real speech and real thought and real emotion—all this, in conjunction with so much subtlety and exactness. . . makes the reader feel that he is not in a book but a world. . . When you know Frost's poems, you know surprisingly well what the world seemed to one man. The grimness and awfulness, and untouchable sadness of things, both in the world and in the self, have justice done to them in the poems. . . but no more justice than is done to the tenderness and love and delight; and everything in between is represented somewhere too.

Style • • • The first thing we can see from Frost’s works is

Style • • • The first thing we can see from Frost’s works is that he uses traditional meters like iambic pentameter or other easy-to-read forms. He avoids free verse and his poems are heavily metaphoric. He was once quoted saying "Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down”, which separated him from many of his modernist contemporaries that sought to break traditional forms and use historical allusions and intellectual jargon. Most of his poems roll off of the tongue with the ease of regular conversation and that is because of the careful placement of the words in each line (syntax). The ease of reading is also aided by Frost’s use of the common language. In John F. Lynen’s book, The Pastoral Art of Robert Frost, it states that Frost utilized “the traits and…habits of common speech, the minds and hearts of common folk” (8). But one question that is still being debated is was this preplanned or natural? Is Frost’s style “a matter of pure technique” (81), or did he use it because it was what he knew? Whether studied or not, the words of his poems are simple enough to make the reader feel that he is just talking with an old friend, not reading famous works of art.

Form • • • His poems are most often lyrical in nature although he

Form • • • His poems are most often lyrical in nature although he did craft some narratives. Lyrical poetry is usually a short poem expressing personal thoughts and feelings in a melodic way. It is meditative and spoken by a single speaker about his/her feelings for a person, object event of idea. Its name is derived from the lyre which accompanied the early poet. Frost writes in both stanzaic form and continuous structure (no stanzas and no breaks). His rhyme schemes are sporadic and he often writes in blank verse. Pentameter (the sound of footsteps or the heartbeat – Frost often walked in silence as he composed his poems) or tetrameter seem to be his meters of choice. Frost believed that common verse forms are themselves metaphoric. A blank verse line lays down a direct line of image, thought or sentiment. The couplet contrasts, compares or makes parallel figures, ideas and feelings. The quatrain combines two couplets alternatively. The sonnet (fixed form – although Frost liked to play with the form somewhat) gives a little drama in several scenes to a lyric sentiment.

Style • • Another aspect of Frost’s writing that fits in with his use

Style • • Another aspect of Frost’s writing that fits in with his use of the vernacular is his point of view. Frost lived in the countryside of the northeastern United States for most of his life and he draws his poetry from the world he lived in. Most of his poems are set in the country, and many of the characters he portrays are farmers or farmers’ wives. Nature and the farmer are used metaphorically to illustrate the human condition as he saw it. This pastoral style is evident in poems such as After Apple Picking, Gathering Leaves, and The Need of Being Versed in Country Things. Although Frost is known for his simple expression, he was also a “trickster” and enjoyed writing poetry with ambiguity – allowing the reader to guess or interpret from a personal viewpoint

Style • • • According to the Poetry Foundation, Robert Frost was a cross

Style • • • According to the Poetry Foundation, Robert Frost was a cross between the modernity of the 20 th century and the reserve of the 19 th century. While poets of his time were busy trying to be innovative, Frost made the restrictions of conventional meter work to his advantage. He believed that "the freshness of a poem belongs absolutely to its not having been thought out and then set to verse as the verse in turn might be set to music"(Poetry Foundation). He does not deliberately rhyme for the effect of it, but rather allows his poetry to turn into music. Poetry was to Robert Frost essentially dramatic whatever his theme may be, he dramatizes it for the readers, establishing full scenes of a situation and atmosphere realistically, whether it be the tragedy of the hired man or the relation of a boy to heaven-flung birches which he subdues one by one. The most dramatic moment in a poem by Robert Frost is the kind of denouement when the worldly fact achieves its full metaphysical significance. Robert Frost is a metaphysical poet in the tradition of Emerson and Emily Dickenson. This means that he tries to go beyond the seen to unseen. As in all great metaphysical poetry, the tension increases between the simple feet and the mystery which surrounds it, until the total meaning flashes in the final morals.

Poetry and Philosophy • • There is no doubt that Robert Frost has written

Poetry and Philosophy • • There is no doubt that Robert Frost has written a large number of poems which are essentially philosophical. By philosophical poetry, of course, we mean the poetry that raises the fundamental questions about life and death and man’s destiny in this universe. Whether philosophical poetry also gives answers to such questions, and whether the answers are given are satisfactory, is a different consideration altogether. Robert Frost does certainly raise philosophical questions, though his answers are vague and ambiguous. In other words, it is impossible to solve the mystery of the universe in which we live. Nevertheless, an effort can be made to construct some kind of system out of the cosmological implications of Robert Frost’s work. Robert Frost seems to believe that the universe includes three orders of being —Man, Nature and God. These three orders are almost but not quite discontinuous, and their common element is a tendency to express themselves in orderly configurations. Man builds walls, Nature establishes zones and seasons. God constructs a cosmos. Thus in the broadest sense, man has both divine and natural reasons for his effort to find or invest patterns and meanings; but only in the broadest sense. It is not only clear that either Nature or God is concerned with man’s designs, and that there is any moral expressiveness other than those men makes for himself.

Themes • • Man’s isolation in the universe or alienation from his environment –

Themes • • Man’s isolation in the universe or alienation from his environment – existence, nature, and each other The beauty and harshness of nature – nature as indifferent to man Humanity and the construction and deconstruction of barriers – how they hinder and aide us Human limitation – how humanity cannot come to terms with the universe and nature as part of it but that we should not necessarily be disillusioned by this Extinction and death - often illustrated through sleep in the human world Satisfaction – self approval/acceptance through the New England work ethic – often shown through the harvest or other responsibilities in the face of an uncertain universe Self discovery – whether metaphysically or the mundane Love – human, nature – without it, life is bleak – to console and provide hope

The Road Not Taken Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I

The Road Not Taken Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way I doubted if I should ever come back. Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim Because it was grassy and wanted wear, Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.