Robert FrostRobert Frost is one of the few twentieth century poets to receive critical acclaim and popular acceptance (Magill 728). His simplistic style appeals to the novice and expert poetry reader alike. Robert Frost’s understated emotional appeal attracts readers of all literary levels. Frost develops subtly stated emotions and a clever use of imagery in his poetry. Influences on his poetry include his family, work, and other life experiences (Oxford 267). Frost also works to develop iambic pentameter using simple language, in an attempt to effectively portray the New England lifestyle (Magill 723). Frost successfully blends classic poetry and a modern simplicity to create a new generation of poetry lovers.
Frost’s poetry is greatly influenced by his life experiences. To understand his poetry, it seems necessary to understand the man himself. Ironically enough, the famed New England poet is born on the West Coast and named for a Confederate general. Robert Lee Frost is born on March 26, 1874 in San Francisco. He is the first child of Isabelle and William Prescott Frost Jr. (Oxford 267). His father dies when he is eleven, prompting him to move to Lawrence, MA to live with his grandparents. Although he seems bright, young Frost dislikes academics and drops out of school in each of his first three years (Poirier). Frost eventually graduates second in his high school class and attends, and later teaches at prestigious colleges and universities, such as Dartmouth and Harvard (Oxford 269). However, unwilling to commit his life solely to academic pursuits, Frost seeks a simpler lifestyle, working at such jobs as bobbin boy at a mill, making shoes, editing, teaching, and farming (Oxford 267). This craftsmanship affects his writing. Frost seeks to put complex meaning into each of his poems, while each verse remains “as simple and honest as an axe or hoe.”
Frost uses this simple writing style throughout his poetic career. Frost combines this unadorned style with an ability to blend common language with artistic expressions. Frost first learns the beauty of the straightforward, manner of speech from the rural people of New England: “On his New Hampshire farm he discovered this in the character of a man with whom he used to drive along the country roads,” (Braithewaite). His first books, A Boy’s Will and North of Boston, which reflect this discovery are published in 1914 and gain him instant status as a unique and talented poet (Braithewaite). Frost wrote these books after he had moved to England in 1912 to pursue a full time writing career and upon his return to America in 1915. He is pleasantly surprised to find his poetry gaining popularity among poetry readers.
Many critics also delight in this promising young poet. Poetic scholars marvel at his exceptional ability to learn from the best English and American poets, while at the same time retaining his own identity (Braithewaite). Robert Frost studies poetry for years, practicing and refining his own style. He assumes the qualities of each poet that he enjoys most, and fuses them with his own (Braithewaite). For example, much of Frost’s poetry is written in iambic pentameter. He attempts to listen to New Englanders’ naturally iambic rhythm and adopt it into his poetry (Magill 726). By using iambic pentameter, Frost shows that ordinary people can talk and argue within a medium that William Shakespeare and John Milton in the 16th and 17th Centuries had reserved for aristocrats and angels (Thompson 142). Such authors and poets as Shelley, Wordsworth, and Emerson also influence Frost (Blaithewaite). However, by far the most influential writer on Frost’s is another famous New England naturalist, Henry David Thoreau (Denouden).
Many critics have discussed the connection between Frost and Thoreau. Frost read Thoreau’s Walden several times during the course of his life. The subject matter that each writer addresses often concerns Mother Nature. It cannot be denied that Frost and Thoreau are great admirers of Nature (Denouden). Each writer uses nature as a prevalent subject in his or her works. Frost and Thoreau share great optimism for nature in their writing, yet they are also aware of the complexity nature brings upon them. Frost and Thoreau both partake in nature in their lives and writings, and their works are filled with natural imagery. Both feel a strong relationship with nature (Denouden).
Frost’s connection with nature is unambiguous (Oster 127). In the poem Trees at My Window the narrator respects nature for what it is, as Frost writes: “Tree at my window, window tree / My sash is lowered when night comes on; / But let there never be curtain drawn / Between you and me.” It is clear that that the narrator recognizes that man is separate from nature, yet at the same time has a longing to connect. In much of Frosts’ poetry, imagery of nature is both revered and feared (Denouden). Frost seems aware of a connection between man and nature, yet restricted by an inability to fully connect. This feeling is also very clearly displayed in the writings of Thoreau (Denouden).
True-life tragedies also manifest themselves in Frost’s poetry. At a young age Robert Frost witnesses his father’s excessive drinking, as well as his illness and death of consumption (Poirier). This matter is only the beginning of his problems. In the year 1899 Frost’s four-year-old son Elliot dies of cholera (Magill 716). The same year his mother is diagnosed with advanced cancer, institutionalized, and dies as a result of her illness (Poirier). Eight years later, Frost’s daughter Elinor is born, but dies only three days afterwards. In 1920, his sister’s insanity forces him to commit her to an institution. Some time later, his daughter Irma suffers a similar fate and is confined for mental disorder (Magill 723). Other events that rock Frost’s life include his son Carol’s suicide, his daughter Marjorie’s death of puerperal fever in 1934, and his wife Elinor’s death of heart failure in 1938 (Magill 723). All of these tragic events influenced Frost’s poetry.
Much of Frost’s poetry reflects these dark emotions that result. Frost expresses these emotions through imagery of nature (Denouden). The author Robert French, who wrote a critical essay about Frost, points out that Frost’s narrator feels a fear of darkness in nauture. Even though Frost writes with a certain joy about nature he also expresses a tone of uneasiness and even fear towards nature (Denouden). This fear is expressed more often in Frost’s later poetry, as his life became more and more difficult. Because of this more somber tone Frost loses some of his critical appeal, but his following is larger than ever (Poirier).
Throughout and following his career, Frost enjoys the respect of most critics (Magill 728). However, some criticize him for his over simplicity (Hochman 277). The problem with over simplifying his statement poetry is that many interpretations can be taken from a given poem. Without detail, “the reader is left to interpret meaning, which often results in over interpretation (Hochman, 277). Few critics argue, however, that Frost is a master of rhyming and rhythm. His poem “Departmental” is noted for its clever rhyme scheme (Magill 724). Frost’s ability in this particular field aids him in becoming one of the most well recognized and rewarded writers in American history. In addition to several other awards, Frost becomes the first writer to receive four Pulitzer Prizes in 1924, 1931, 1937, and 1943 (Poirier). However, the most impressive evidence of Frost’s influence relate to his social impact.
By the year 1950, Frost is much more than a masterful poet; he is an icon. The United States Congress adopts a resolution in that year to honor Frost’s seventy-fifth birthday (it is actually his seventy-sixth, but Frost believes that he was born in 1875). The Vermont State Legislature names a mountain for Frost (Poirier). Eisenhower invites Frost to the White House in 1958 (Poirier). President John F. Kennedy invites Frost to read at his inauguration, and then asks the aging poet to serve on several goodwill missions to the Soviet Union (Poirier). These far-reaching social impacts are evidence of Frost’s influence.
Frost gains such influence because of his critical and popular appeal. His simple writing style invites readers of all levels and ages to read his work. Many of Frost’s contemporaries, as well as poets that follow in his wake, try to emulate this simple writing style. His ingenious rhythmic patterns are now taught in nearly every advanced poetry class (Denouden). Frost’s poetry expands poetry into a new era, in which any given poem can be read and enjoyed by readers of all literary levels. Frost’s poetry is appreciated in mainstream social circles, as well as societies of the critical elite. Frost introduces a new generation of poetry readers and writers. His unique style has encouraged the likes of Maya Angelou and others to blend classical styles with their own individual flare.
Robert Frost is a unique and influential author. His poetry merges the rhyming schemes of old with an unsophisticated manner of speech, accomplishing unparalleled success. Frost has accumulated numerous awards and honorary recognitions. Novice poetry readers and poetic experts alike respect his work. His poetry about the rural New England individualists contains beautifully subtle emotions and feelings. Frost’s poetry reaches to the far ends of the social spectrum, initiating a new brand of poetic enthusiasts and rhymesters.
Braithewaite, William Stanley. “Robert Frost, New American Poet.” Boston Evening Transcript. 8 May, 1915.
Denouden, Maria. “Thoreau and Frost: Respect For Nature.” Available at: http://denouden.homestead.com/anjawebpage.html.
“Frost, Robert.” Academic American Encyclopedia. Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1995.
“Frost, Robert.” Magill’s Survey of American Literature. Volume 2. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1998. p.713-729.
Hart, James D. “Frost, Robert.” Oxford Companion to American Literature. 5th Ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Hochman, Jhan. “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.” Poetry for Students. Vol.1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.
Oster, Judith. Toward Robert Frost: The Reader and the Poet. Athens, Georgia: Iberian Publishing Co., 1994.
Poirier, Richard and Mark Richardson. “Robert Frost Biographical Information.” Available at: http://www.ketzle.com/frost/frostbio.htm.
Thompson, Lawrance and R.H. Winnich. Robert Frost: The Later Years, 1938-1963. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.