Terrifying Elements in Robert Frost’s Poetry

Dinesh Kumar
Asstt. Prof. of English
Dyal Singh College, Karnal

Robert Lee Frostwas an American poet. His work was initially published in England before it was published in America. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. His works frequently employed settings from rural life of New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. One of the most popular and critically respected American poets of the twentieth century Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. He became one of America's rare "public literary figures, almost an artistic institution.

There is a large heated controversy regarding the nature of poetry Frost has written and the type of poetic vision he has explored in his poetry. The roll call of the past and present opinions show some traits of Robert Frost being a nature poet because of his abundant ant frequent use of nature as a subject matter for his poetry, while some call him a regional poet of New England, while some understand him as a modern poet in the company of Ezra Pound T.S.Eliot, and  W.B.Yeats, but before striking a label to the poetry of Robert Frost we must know what the term modern stands for as says Rene Wellek” One is not modern just because he is born in modern age nor because he deals with the modern issues of life, but because one responds to contemporary life in modern vein and temper.
In this way, modern poetry is more a matter of poetic temper and style that a mere expression of topical subject matter. On the basis of this artistic touchstone, we can assess and evaluate the poetry of Frost to find out whether he is a modern poet, or mere a regional and nature poet. According to Frost himself, his poetry begins in delight, but ends in wisdom which, taken as a whole, makes a figure that assimilate both fact and fancy in the final reckoning
Most of Frost’s poems are located in the region of either New Hampshire or North of Boston or New England territory due to which Frost has rightly been called as a regional poet and what else a poet can be called when he measures the quantum of snowfall against a maple, a bird and an oak tree which are peculiar to the region of New Hampshire.
That means, Robert Frost is meticulously aware of the poetic craftsmanship and the simple language in his poetry, but that does not mean that he is merely a nature poet like William Wordsworth and Matthew Arnold, while Wordsworth Treats nature as a spiritual entity and divine bosom which is a constant source of inspiration for the whole mankind, Frost, on the other hand, takes a very realistic and pragmatic  view of nature, e.g, Frost aspires to go heavenwards to attain the ideal; but the ultimate reality lies in the poem, Birches where the poet asserts:
                Earth’s the right place for love
                I don’t know where it’s likely to better.
Not only this, even each of his poems takes up a rural or pastoral issue as its subject matter like the poem Mending Wall, where two farmers are engaged in repairing their common boundary wall with the boulders of uneven shape and size because:
                “Good fences make good neighbours”
It can also be witnessed in his poem, Two Tramps in Mud Time, in which the poet is splitting woods in his courtyard, overseen and stared by two huckling tramps who want to stay, but the poet did not like their separation of love and need as the poet himself says:
                My object in living is to unite
                My avocation and my vocation

                As my two eyes make one in sight
Frost’s poem, After Apple Picking is a beautiful dramatic lyric where the poet successfully blends both fancy and fact to illustrate his nature theme which is further picked up and elaborated in The Onset, where through a minute perception and observation on the onset of the season of snowfall, the poet sounds a note of optimism when he says:
                      Nothing will be left white but here a birch
                      And there a clump of houses with a church
So, whether it is North of Boston, or New Hampshire, or The West Running Brook, or The Steeple Bush, there is a dominant presence of the region of New England and its surroundings like a witness Tree, its thatch and bear which makes Frost a powerful regional poet and his poetry as the nature poetry.
But, the meticulous skill and the poetic craftsmanship of the poet lifts this regionalism and nature themes to the level of modern vision of life, where the poem becomes a trimmed figure with a well chisseled face and illustrates Frost’s own statement of poetry that a poem begins in delight but ends in wisdom. For instance, the poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Eveningbegins on a casual note of delight, but concludes on a moral when the poet says himself:
               The Woods are lovely, dark and deep
               But I have promised to keep
               And miles to go before I sleep
               And miles to go before I sleep
That means, there is a conflict between the personal desires and moral responsibilities, between the temporal enchantment and spiritual engagements, and between the physical deviation and metaphysical transmutations which lies at the heart of the poem, but Leonard Vuger and William Van O’ Connor think that the “traveler’s choice is between estheticism and moral action”1
However, Yvor Winters instead of appreciating the modern strains in Frost’s poetry, finds him a spiritual drifter because the intellectual strength and the critical acumen which should have been born out by the poet, have been transferred to the readers as is evident in the poem, The Road not Takenwhere the poet does not speak of the road taken because it would have entailed a serious moral choice which cannot be accepted and faced by a minor poet like Frost due to which Frost has rightly been called as a spiritual drifter as he says:
                   Two roads diverged in a wood, and
                   I took the one less tavelled by,
                   And that has made all the differences.
It is because of this opinion that Robert Frost is a spiritual drifter that the critic, Yvor Winters says “Robert Frost is incapable of grasping the predicaments of modern man”2
But, the critics like Lionel Trilling  admires the critical depth and poetic range of Frost on the basis of his Poems like Neither Out Far Nor In Deep, and Design, where the poet makes a very beautiful analysis of the hollowness and littleness of man against the vast immensity of the universe. The poet concludes the fact that small human life does not need a design to guide the assorted characters of death and plight to begin the morning rite as the poet asserts in Design:
What but the design of darkness to apall
              If design govern in a thing so small
That is why, Lionell Trilling calls Robert Frost “ a terrifying poet and the universe that he conceives is a terrifying universe”3
In this way, by making a hurried survey and incisive study of Frost’s  poetry, we can safely and rightly aver that whether Frost is a farmer repairing his wall, or an apple picker, or a traveler stopping in the mid stream to enjoy the falling snow flakes, or a wood chopper splitting woods, or a swinger of birches trying to go heavenwards, the fact remains that he is a spiritual drifter diagnosing the psyche and spiritual sickness of society always in search of the mythical water which will redeem mankind of its ailments as he illustrates in Directives:
              Here are your waters and watery places
              Drink and be whole again beyond confusion
That makes Frost not only a modern poet, but a tarrying modern poet.


1Leonard Vuger and William Van O’ Connor, Poems for Study (NewYork, 1953)p. 597-600
2Yvor Winters, “Robert Frost ,or the Spiritual Drifter as Poet”, The Function Of  Criticism(Denver, 1957)p.187

3Lionel Trilling , A speech on Robert Frost : A Cultural Episode, Partisan Review,xxvi,451