Robert Frost: Biography and Literary Works
During the late 19th century into the 20th century, the world went through many momentous events, such as two World Wars and the Great Depression. Robert Frost was the one of the most famous poets of the 20th century. He lived during a time when America and the world were experiencing events that changed the way people lived; it was also a period when writers were moving into new forms of experience; one of these was the movement toward Modernist writing. Frost was born in the late 19th century and spent 40 years of his life as a “normal” person, working in a variety of jobs, everything from being a chicken farmer to a school teacher at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire. In 1912, he moved his family to England in the hopes of advancing his career as a poet. While there, he was actually able to publish two volumes of verse, but returned to the United States in 1915 and to being a poet-teacher and summer farmer.
Frost became well known and popular because of his poems. And, even though his stories contain sadness, many readers love his writing style, “Robert Frost favored traditional devices- blank verse, rhyme, narrative, the sonnet form, and his pitiless depiction of a cruel natural universe marks him as a peculiarly modern figure who is sometimes misread as a genial Yankee sage” (Barbour 94). Barbour explains that Frost’s writing style was related to the Modernist time period. “If the reader takes a brief but incisive look into the actual life of Frost, viewing the hardships, disappointments, fears, and failings of the man Frost, then the poet Frost will better be understood as a person capable of versifying about darker elements of the human condition” (Tom 12). Because of Frost’s use of dark elements, his description of people without God, and his unique and interesting style, he establish himself as a Modernist writer.
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Modernist literature contains many dark elements. Frost was a poet that wrote about the unhappinesses and barriers of human life. “Several psychological theoreticians were to also fundamentally alter the way that modern man viewed his own internal reality, an unexplored heart of darkness” (Wolfson 15). Frost’s poems contain aspects of darkness which look like types of depression of the human spirit. Firstly in Frost’s “God’s Garden,” the poem mainly compares good and evil. Starting with “God made a beatous garden” which same the bible story of the Garden of Eden, where the humanity are following God at that time, “Then came another master/ Who did not love mankind/ And planted on the pathway/ Gold flowers for them to find” (Frost) which is pointing out the evil in the world when Adam and Eve takes the fruit, and it also points out the falls of mankind. It caused the pain and suffering while God removed them out of the Garden, In this poem is contained a dark element such as “Lost, helpless and alone.” By the quote of Robert Frost in God’s Garden, “Quite hit the thorns of avarice/That poison blood and bone” which also has dark elements in it. Frost emphasizes that the world is cold and makes a person feel alone, “Frost views man as being all alone in a seemingly unfeeling and unresponsive universe” (Tom 16). Secondly in “the birds do thus” Frost also uses dark elements. “To have you soon; I gave away” (Frost) and this mainly talks about his lost of love, but he is not giving up on his life, “the unhappy days; I choose to sleep.” Through the verse the reader could discover that Frost found his way to walk out of the shadow. “The bird do thus” Frost used dark element and briefly describes the dark “Life’s not so short/ I care to keep/The unhappy days;I choose to sleep.” He cherish his life, when it is a unhappy day he choose to sleep. Thirdly in “my butterfly” Frost used a very gothic way which will use dark element to write the poem. “Thine emulous fond flowers are dead/And the daft sun-assaulter, he” this verse is a parallel between the mourning of death and the speaker himself, In this verse the flower are meaning to his child, and saying that the lost of his child. “withered leaves” and “broken wings” are also the dark element in the poem by using the leaves and the wings draw out the sadness atmosphere.
The second element that Frost employs in modernist literature is telling how dark the world is without God. “. . . modernist literature is characterized by certain themes, the genre looks at the idea of meaning in modern times and of a world without God”(Lauren 34). Frost’s link between his religious views and his poem is disconnected. Nealon said “Scholars say the materials – officially called the Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection — could provide an important, missing link between Frost’s poetry and his view of religion, which has been the subject of debate for decades.”(Nealon 15). Furthermore, all the information about religion in Frost’s poems is unclear. For example, in “God’s Garden”, the poem that is mentioned above, there is a comparison of good and evil. Frost talks about God guiding people to the heaven and not getting lost in the dark, but he does not mention that he has a Christian faith in God. “Frost’s writing is often critical of religion. He is skeptical about God, frequently presenting agnostic views because he is uncertain and untrusting, and is slightly more apt to embrace scientific approaches to existence”(Fagan 369). He is telling the reader that he is not showing himself as a believer. Otherwise, from the verse that is from Frost’s poem, “”I didn’t go to church, but I like to look in the window””, the speaker can be telling the reader that he doesn’t go to church or praise God at all.
In “Ghost House,” written by Frost; in the poem he wrote “I dwell in a lonely house I know; That vanished many a summer ago” In this case the speaker used “dwell” in the “lonely house” is meaning a house is no more a house/ Upon a farm that is no more a farm, he uses a metaphor to show the reader that the house is empty and makes speaker feel lonely. From that, the reader also can draw from the information in it that the speaker is not a believer, because he has no God in his heart and that is why he feels lonely; the character in Frost’s poem is not with God. In “The Road Not Taken” starting with “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/And sorry I could not travel both” speaks out that everyone has to face to pick a road to keep going on, where the religion view could be found in the poem that the speaker has to pick a road that either following God or not. “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” it points out that the speaker took the path that is unusually taken, meanwhile it points out that the speaker is not with God because the speaker picks the road that is unusually taken which is the road that God did not guide people to. The speaker tries to be unique and not follow crowd.
Frost’s unique and interesting writing skill establishes him as a modernist writer;.“The speaker of modernist poems characteristically wrestles with the fundamental question of “self,” often feeling fragmented and alienated from the world around him.”(EDSITEment) In the “The Road Not Taken,” the speaker says: “ two roads diverged in a yellow wood/ And sorry I could not travel both/ And be one traveler, long I stood” the experience that the speaker shows is that everyone has to make a choice for the future. “The most salient features of American modernism are a direct presentation of experience, economical use of language, symbolism and an informal, colloquial style”(Bloom 13). Meanwhile the verse in Frost’s poem shows the basic style of the Modernism and the relationship with Robert Frost. “the poet Daniel Hoffman says Frost’s early work enabled him to say out loud the sources of its own delight in the world” (Fagan 83) which is meaning that the author was trying to spread out his own idea of the world by using the influence of the poem. Furthermore, also challenges the reader’s analysis ability, based on the concept of “The Road Not Taken.” Frost is challenging the reader in how they will think about “making choices” in their life. “Birches” is one of the most famous blank verse poem that created by Frost, the theme of the poem is desire to dream and contrast of dreams and reality, and the main idea of the poem is that Frost is taking some sad thing to making it positive, where the poem shows lots of love, “Birches explores the idea of human existence and the limits we can go to as creative, loving beings.”(Spacey)
Furthermore, the starting verse “when I see birches bend left and right”, it shows two direction that the poem, which reflect to the theme of the poem where it shows the contract of dream and reality, then following the verse in the poem, “I like to think some boy’s been swinging them./But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay/As ice-storms do.” By using the ice-storm as an example, the ice-storm always stands for dangerous, deadly, etc. By going through the timeline of the world, the poem is created during the post WWI, and the storm is reflecting to the war, which is also deadly and dangerous. And pointing out the reality is that the lost of many love in the war. “Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells/ Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—/ Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away/ You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen” where it shows the image of the war on the battlefield. “I’d like to get away from earth awhile/ And then come back to it and begin over./ May no fate willfully misunderstand me/ And half grant what I wish and snatch me away/ Not to return.” the verse shows Frost is trying to escape the world for a while and then come back to begin over, it shows the difference between adulthood and childhood, the boy in the poem is enjoying his life, but in adulthood, it shows he wanna escape the world and begin the life again, which reflect to the reality where he could go somewhere and forget about the war.
In conclusion, Robert Frost use of dark elements, description of people without God, and unique and interesting style established himself as a Modernist writer, in the dark element he shows the darkness in the world, Frost also use his life experience to describe the world without God, and use interesting writing skill that compare his poem to the real world, which also could challenge the reader’s thinking aspet, Frost is a interesting Modernist writer that we shall all enjoy his poem and remember him.
Bloom, Harold. “American modernist poets” Ed. Harold Bloom, Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2011.
Barbour, Scott. “American Modernism” Ed. Scott Barbour, Greenhaven Press, 1999, c2000.
Bloom, Harold. “Robert Frost” Ed. Harold, Bloom’s modern critical views, Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2011
EDSITEment, “Introduction to Modernist poetry” https://edsitement.neh.gov/curriculum-unit/introduction-modernist-poetry
Frost, Robert. “Selected Poems of Robert Frost.” Ed. Harold Bloom, Gramercy Books, 1992
Fagan, Deirdre. “Critical companion to Robert Frost.” Facts on File, .
Hire ,C. Lauren, “Modernism in Literature as a Game”, Oxford, England, United Kingdom, 2010
Koontz, Tom, “Aspects of darkness in the poetry of Robert Frost” Ball State University, 1939
Nealon, Cory, “Rare Collection of Robert Frost Materials Emerges, Could Shed Light on
Poet’s Religious Views” ,BUFFALO, N.Y, January 18, 2013 http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2013/01/015.html
Spacey, Andrew, “Analysis of Poem Birches by Robert Frost”, Norton Anthology, Norton, 2005