Essays on Robert Frost's poetry

one with but a sole direction in which to head. In Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, the narrator has to choose between two rural paths and decided to follow the trail that was less traveled, even though he described them as similar. wanted to tell his readers that occasionally it is...

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Essays on robert frost poetry - Reata Holdings, Inc

Synopsis : A collection of essays on the work of the American poet, Robert Frost

I have argued that the concepts of indeterminacy, correspondence, and complementarityare useful for developing a sense of Frost's poems and of their modernity. Asillustration, a single poem will have to serve, a famous one. "Stopping by Woods on aSnowy Evening" stages its play of opposites at typically Frostian borders betweennight and day, storm and hearth, nature and culture, individual and group, freedom andresponsibility. It works them, not "out" to resolution but in permanentsuspension as complementary counters in the feeling thought of activemind. The poem is made to make the mind just that. It unsettles certitude even in so smalla matter as the disposition of accents in the opening line: "Whose woods these are Ithink I know." The monosyllabic tetrameter declares itself as it declares. Yet the"sound of sense" is uncertain. As an expression of doubtful guessing,"think" opposes "know," with its air of certitude. The line might beread to emphasize doubt (Whose woods these are I I know) or confidentknowledge (Whose woods these are I think I Once the issue is introduced,even a scrupulously "neutral" reading points it up. The evidence for choosingemphasis is insufficient to the choice.


Ann Taylor: I’m sure I was drawn to writing from teaching college literature and writing for my entire career. Reading great essays by E. B. White and Joan Didion, for example, made me want to try writing essays. Reading Chaucer, Keats, Frost, Bishop made me want to try my hand at poetry. Also, teaching students to write essays and poems is inspiring.If the hatred truly were "beyond words" it could not have found expression,let alone expression in a poem. Here, form has "disciplined" the hatred towhich the lines allude into the obviously very different mood and feeling that we get fromreading the poem itself. The playful rhyme of "gutter"to"utter" has the peculiar subsidiary grace of suggesting the guttural tone inwhich the poem thinks of itself as being uttered. In his "'Letter' to Frost says that, so long as we have form to go on, we are "lost tothe larger excruciations" (740). "Beyond Words" helps us seewhat he means. Resources of rhythm and rhyme transform darker, chaotic emotions into thelighter, altogether more manageable one of what Frost liked to call "play." In"Beyond Words" this "play" is also felt in the tension between theiambic rhythms that underlie the lines and the more agitated rhythms of the spokenphrases. The only true "materialist," Frost explains in "Education byPoetry," is the person who gets "lost in his material" without a guidingmetaphor to throw it into shape (C724). Here, a metaphor comparing iciclesalong a gutter to an "armory of hate," together with the sonic equation of"gutter"to "utter," essentially tame a troubling experience."Beyond Words"offers an example of how hatred can find a profitable,even redemptive outlet—just as an urge toward self-relinquishment may find its outletin "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."Three terms concern us: content, theme, form. In approaching some poems it is necessaryfirst to describe the content. Reading Wallace Stevens's poem "The Emperor of IceCream," for example, we may say that it describes a funeral—a statement aboutcontent. (By contrast, nothing could be plainer than the content of most of Frost'slyrics, especially "Stopping by Woods.") In any event a critic needs someintelligible ground against which to work in speaking of the theme, or if you prefer, the"concern" of the poem—what it aims to draw our attention to as readers ofpoetry. What the poem "has in mind" is not to be confused with what it "hasin view," though the two categories often overlap. "The Emperor of IceCream" may or may not have a funereal theme; "Stopping by Woods" mayor maynot be "thinking" of a man in a sleigh. Form is still another matter, and toaddress it a critic usually has to define and stabilize for purposes of investigation somenotion of theme to work against. Which yields these three (somewhat unstable) concepts:what a poem describes—its content; what it has in mind—its theme; and how itholds together—its form. In emphasizing the lyric's form Frost really only defers the question of theme orcontent. It is not that the poem does not have a theme, or one worth a reader'sconsideration; the form simply the theme. If this seems surprising, it is onlybecause Frost's emphasis makes for so complete a reversal in mood. The mood of the poem atthis second level of form-as-theme is anything but suggestive of self-annihilation:"I was riding too high to care what trouble I incurred." This is the kind oftransformation Poirier has in mind when he remarks in (1971),quoting an interview with Frost originally published in the in 1960:"If [a] poem expresses grief, it also expresses—as an as acomposition, a performance, a 'making,'—the opposite of grief; it shows or expresses'what a of a good time I had writing it'" (892). I would point outfurther that Frost's reading, appearing as it does in "The Constant Symbol,"lends the last two lines of "Stopping by Woods" added resonance:"promises" are still the concern, though in "The Constant Symbol" hespeaks of them as "commitments" to poetic form. Viewed in these terms"Stopping by Woods" dramatizes the artist's negotiation of the responsibilitiesof his craft. What may seem to most readers hardly a metapoetical lyric actually speaks tothe central concern of the poet a poet when the form of the poem is taken as itstheme.