Robert Frost and Modernity in Poetry

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Poetry of Robert Frost is the Epitome of Modernity

By – Mohini Kaushik, Vol.II, Issue.XXII, November 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Mohini Kaushik is an assistant professor (guest faculty) and NET qualified. She has written research papers for different journals and magazines.

            Robert Frost is a great modern poet. He is the contemporary of T.S. Eliot, WB Yeats, W.H. Auden, Ezra pound, etc. There is a Controversy among a series of critics who interpret or misinterpret Frost. Some critics like Granville Hicks, William van O cannon think that Frost is not a modern day poet but a traditional poet because his poetry manifests his traditional inheritance of American Civilization. Granville Hicks while discussing the modern elements of Frost Poetry Says:

“Frost has bound himself to a literary tradition that is out of fashion and has lost its meaning in modern context.”

There is an another observation of a critic about the traditional attitude towards poetry. Yvor Winters Says:

“Frost insists that man is a creature of impulse not of reason and that attitude is aliens to modern thought”.

                     He proves his point by taking the example of Frost’s Poem “The Bear”, in which Frost ridicules the idea of man as a reasoning creature and this is in marked opposition to modern thought. There is another group of critics which is willing to accept the views. They advance and advocate vigorously, the view that frost’s poetry essentially modern critics like Cleanth Brooks, Lional trilling and John Lynen are most eager and ready to put frost in the fore most position of modern poetry.

                    Frost alike T.S. Eliot is a great advocate of modernity. He portrays the disintegration of values, disillusionment of modern man. His poem deal with characters who suffer from frustration, loneliness, helplessness, homesickness, etc. which are knows as modern evils and ills. Moreover, his poetry is modern in the accepted sense of the term both at the level. Though his depiction of literary conventions and traditions of the past proves that his poetry is the epitome of modernity.

                      Frost’s poems are liked for their modernity which implies a broad outlook, a fusion of the metaphysical and the symbolic. His portrayal of the Disillusionment of modern man is a clean cut indication of his modernity. Diseases of modern life are portrayed in his poem in the poem “The Hill wife”, Frost has portrayed the cumulative sense of fear, loneliness and marital estrangement of an isolated women who is also misunderstood by her husband. In his poem “The Road Not Taken”, he depicts the confusion prevailing in modern life and it is difficult for the man to make a choice among two:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less

travelled by and that has made all the difference”.

                     The tragic view of life that emerges in so many of frost’s poems is modulated by his metaphysical use of detail. As frost portrays him, man might be alone in an ultimately indifferent universe, but he may never the less look to the natural world for metaphors his w=own condition. Thus, in search for meaning in the modern world, frost focuses on those moments when the sees and the spiritual intersect John T. Napien calls this frost’s ability “to find the ordinance a matrix for the extraordinary.” The poem “Birches” is an example it contains the image of slender it contains the image of slender trees bent to the ground temporarily by a boy’s swinging on them or permanently by an ice-storm. But as the poem unfolds, it become clear that the speaker is concerned not only with child’s play and natural phenomena, but also with the point at which physical and spiritual reality merge. He says:

“When I see brightness bend to light and right. Across the lines of straighter darker trees. I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.”

                            However, “Birches” shows his realistic attitude to life and it also tells us that man constantly aspires for things beyond the world. Frost suggests that one should not do it rather one should know and love the things of the world and let the afterlife take case of its self, So the Speaker says that:

“Earth’s the right plans for love. I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”

                      Thus we can say that he is undoubtedly presents a vivid picture of what modernism is doing to mankind.

                   Frost uses the Method of indirection as used by many modern poets like T.S. Eliot and others. In his poetry he juxtaposes rural and urban. In mending wall Ancient world is juxtaposed with modern one. The necessity of fences is emphasized, implicitly criticizing the craze for pulling down fences and imposing brotherhood.

“And some are loaves and some of nearly balls, we have to use spell to make them balance.”

                   Frost thought the depiction of modernity in nature depiction his interest on nature. According to frost the world of nature is not world of dreams but is much harsher and demanding than the urban world. His poetry emphasizes the otherness of nature. His approach towards nature is scientific, rational and objective. He presents both bright and bleak aspects of nature. He proves his point by giving the example of his poem stopping woods in a snowy evening:

“Woods are lovely dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

A mile to go before I sleep:”

                      He puts another example of his poem ‘After Apple Picking’ where he gets bored with his routine and mundane job. There is no more interest in apple picking. The poet seems to be feeling tired with his busy life and feed up with the task of apple picking; he says:

 “But I am done with apple picking now.”

In his poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time”, beneath the apparently beautiful calm there is lurking turmoil and storms.

“Be glad of water but don’t forget. The lurking frost in the earth beneath.”

                     Hence his comment on the human issue of modern world his realistic treatment of Nature, his employment of symbolic and metaphysical techniques and the projection of the awareness of human problems of the modern society in his poetry as the epitome of modernity.

                     Frost is depicting modernity by using pastoral technique in his poetry. His Pastoralism:

“an exploration upstream, past the city with its river side factories and shipping or against the current of time a change to the clean waters of the source”.

J.F. Lyman says:

“The use of the pastoral technique by frost in his poem is much more effective. It does not mean that the poet seeks an escape from the harsh unpleasant realities of life, rather is provides him with a point of view, a frame of reference, for studying and commenting on the facts of modern life”.

                     This technique takes him from modernity to universality. Another aspect which makes his poetry modern is his use of symbols throughout his poetry. His simplicity is deceptive. His poetry has layers within layers of meaning. He also employs a metaphysical symbolistic technique of expression. He juxtaposes such apposite as man and nature, the rural and the urban, and the regional and the universal. His method is indirect. In the poem ‘mending wall’, the poet symbolizes the conflict between the new trend of bringing down barriers between man and nations and old view that for good neighborly relation fences and boundaries are essential. He says:

“Good fences make good neighbors”.

 Something there is that does not like a wall.”

                      In this way, the poem becomes a symbol of the modern conflict in the minds of the people.

                     There is another aspect of modernity of Frost poetry is that there are traditional and romantic elements are found in his poetry.

W.B. Yeats says:

“In Frost’s poetry, we find evidence of what the modern mind in search of its own meanings”.

                        We can say that it is difficult to put his poetry in the main definition of modernity- infect his poetry stands at the crossroads of 19th Century American poetry and modernism.

                    Another Point which proves his poetry an epitome of modernity is that he makes use of imagery in his poem. In his poem, Design he draws a fine picture of a spider which caught a moth on a flower called Heal-All:

“I found a dimpled spider, fat and white on a white heal-all holding up a moth hike a white piece of rigid satin cloth.”

                        One thing which also prove modernity of his poetry is his psycho- analytical approach towards the depiction of characters in his poetry psycho – Analysis is one of the feature of modernity. His poem ‘His Burial’, the over wrought mother who is cracking up under a burden of grief over her child’s death. In this way his poetry is the true depiction of modernity.

                        Therefore, his poetry reveals the aspect of modernity to a great extent. The terrifying nature of some of his poem is one of the aspects of modernity. Lionel Trilling calls him ‘A terrifying Poet’ and says that “The Universe that Frost conceives is a terrifying universe”.

Work Cited

           Field, Evgene, Poem of childhood. New York!

           Charles Scribner’s sons Inc.1925

          North of Boston, D. Nudd, 1914, Holt, 1915, reprinted, Dodd, 1977.

          Lethem, Edward Connery, ed. The Poetry of Robert Frost. New York: NA,1969.

          Mountain Interval, Holt, 1916.

         Stopping by Wood’s On a Snowy Evening, Dutton, 1978.

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