Life And Works Of Robert FrostRobert Frost was born in California where his father, a journalist with political aspirations and a dissatisfied northeaster, had moved. He was an occasionally violent man and developed in Frost a lifelong wariness towards destructive impulses. His mother was Scottish and wrote poetry. Through her Frost became acquainted with the Romantic poets as well as New England poets like Emerson. She also introduced him to organized Christian religion.
Frost’s father died in 1885, the family returned to New England, and Frost finished high school from Lawrence, Massachusetts, (studying classics) as the class valedictorian. Three years later he married his classmate and fellow valedictorian, Eleanor White. Frost studied for a short time at Dartmouth College, taught in schools, and then enrolled as a special student at Harvard (1897-1899) where he was influenced by William James and George Santayana. He took courses in English, philosophy and the classics. From Harvard he entered completely different world. His grandfather had Left him a farm in New Hampshire and Frost, his wife and his four children endured years of hardship there. While he was struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide Frost was also composing poetry and establishing a close link with nature.. In the years 1906-7 he wrote many of the poems that would later appear in North of Boston and Mountain 1ntervi (1916). In 1909 Frost left the farm to teach in New Hampshire; From there he sold his farm and moved to England in 1912 because he was unable to find publishers for his work in the land of his birth. Within a month of his arrival in England he was able to publish his poems and North of Boston won varies from Ezra Pound. , Within two years his volumes had appeared in America and he won a number of honors, including election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Frost rewarmed to New England in 1915 and started teaching in Amherst College two years later. He was obviously making a commitment to a tradition and a particular location. Kipling had already pointed out that Frost’s language sounded strange to English readers; Frost regarded this as an advantage--he felt his language had the “freshness of a stranger,” and that strangeness, be it in language or metaphor. is intrinsic to poetry. Critics suggest that Frost’s poetry sounds unfamiliar even to those Americans outside new England and of course we in India would feel no differently. There were a number of sources form Frost inherited the technique of using the ordinary to suggest something other than itself: the Bible, the classics, the poetry of Wordsworth, and New England writers such as Thoreau or Emerson. 14e admired Emerson’s use of simplicity to suggest profound meanings. The classical pastoral tradition and the Romantic tradition of poetry about nature were in his hands refashioned by the use of New England vocabulary and turns of phrase. Rather than the fine arts or music that influenced a poet like Wallace Stevens Frost was more drawn to science and philosophy. He was not as radical an experimenter as Ezra Pound. He felt poets ought to develop links between sound and sense and emotion. Metre was important too, but ils rigidity should be qualified by the rhythms of actual speech. (14e was a master in the use of a number of verse forms, however, rhymed couplets, the sonnet, blank verse and rhyming quatrains.) Drama, also, was vital for it made writing “unboring,” but poetry should contain no excesses--the effect should be a carefully controlled one. He called the poem in its beauty and its slow, dignified exploration of reality, “a momentary stay against confusion” (Selected Prose 36. Norton 1102). A poem is an affirmative entity for it springs from belief, be it belief in God, in the poet’s own self, in art or in the nation.
His important poems were all written before 1930. While his first priority was Robert Frost! always poetry he also made time to teach and to read his poems in public. He was associated the longest with Amherst (1917-20, 1923-38, 1949) but he also spent time at Michigan and Dartmouth and Harvard. He helped to establish the famous Bread Loaf School of English in Middlebury College, Vermont. He was a very popular teacher. I-Je won four Pulitzer prizes before the publication of two ambitious philosophical poems, The Masque of Reason (1945) and The Masque of Mercy . (1947). In the Clearing (1962) was his ‘last work. He won many honors, including honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge universities in 1957, and last but not least the invitation to read a poem at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 where he recited “The Gift Outright” from memory.
Mending Wall” Text of Poem
1. Text of Poem 1Mending
Wall Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing: 5
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone ,
But they Would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made, 10
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
Let my neighbor know beyond the bill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go 15
To each the boulders that have, fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls.
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We war our fingers rough with handling them. 20
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where ii is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am app le orchard.
My apple trees will never get across 25
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him:
I-le oily says, “Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder ‘
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it 30
Where ‘there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know,.
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, 35
That wants it down. I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather . . .
he said it for himself. I see him there, ,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top, ‚ ‘9
in, each hand, like an old stone savage armed - 4C
He moves in darkness. As it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
• He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well ‘
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ 45
2. Mending Wall” Critical AppreciationIn this poem Frost takes a very ordinary incident, building or repairing a wail - between his neighbor’s garden and his, and turns it into a meditation on the divisions between human beings. While his neighbor believes that “Good fences make good neighbors,” Frost questions this point-of-view. According to him land should be shared with trust and a mutual ‘understanding. Walls give him a sense of being “walled in” or “walled out” that is ‘cut off from his immediate environment’ and he does not enjoy this. there are no cows to stray from his graded info his neighbor’s-- why then,.’ the wall, the fence?
From this ordinary incident Frost wants to suggest deeper meanings about the way human beings intrinsically distrust each other even when there is no reason to do so and how these suspicions should be replaced by trust and mutual good will. While his neighbor believes “Good fences make good neighbors,” Frost keeps thinking, , “Something there is that doesn’t loye a wall.” When one notes the year, 1914, in which this poem is composed one cannot help relate it to the outbreak of the First ,. World War. It is the same sensibility of building walls and fences, of protecting one’s property, of suspecting one’s neighbors, that can take place even on a global basis and lead to wars. . Trust and fellow feeling can go a long way in avoiding this sort of ‘ a situation. ,
‘ . Note the masterly way in which Frost uses the rhythms of the speaking voice and his understated style. His poetry helped evolve a new voice for modern poetry so that poetry sounded effortless, shorn of any deliberate poetic ornamentation, was meditative. ‘In his hands poetry took on some of the qualities of prose.
3. “Mending Wall” Notes“Mending Wall” 1914
L1 -4 Here Frost is showing how nature dislikes the concept of walls or barriers and ‘‘-tries to break through walls and make gaps that at least two people can pass through. There is something unnatural about walls. ,
L1O”No one.. .made” Here Frost suggests the mysteriousness of these gaps in the ‘ wall--they were not made by hunters. Nature itself seems to be ranking them in protest against its laws of freedom and sharing and property common to all which human beings do not follow. ‘ L24”He is all pine. Orchard” Frost means that his neighbor has mainly pine trees on his land while Frost has apple frees. Perhaps he also means to suggest that his neighbor does not believe in growing trees which give fruit, and thus food and pleasure. Also, pines are rather prickly--rather like Frost’s neighbor who insists on everything being just so and on. Every gap in the w211 being “ ended.
L36 “elves” Elves are tiny supernatural creatures drawn from fo klore and myth. ‘3v ‘this word Frost wants to suggest to his neighbor that some. On-human., agency is protesting about the existence of this wall and wants it to be broken down. But rather than suggesting it to his neighbor Frost wishes his neighbor had enough 10 ‘ imagination -to think of it himself--”I’d rather/ He said it for himself” (L.37-38).
1. Text of poem IIBirches
When [see birches bend’ to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning ‘ 5
After a rain. They. Click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored.
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells 10
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.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed 15
So low for Long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods p
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair.
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun. 20
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them,
As he went out and in to fetch the cows-
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball, 25
Whose only play was what he found himself.
Summer or winter, and could play alone.’
One by one he subdued his father’s tree
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them, 30
And not one but hung limp, not one was left.
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon,
And so no carrying the tree away ‘
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise. 35
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,.
Kicking his ‘way down through the air to the ground. 40
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be. ‘
It’s when I’m weary of considerations, “-
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face bums and tickles with the cobwebs 45
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me 50
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away,.
Not to return;-. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk 55
Toward heaven, till the tree could bar no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
Flat would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches; .
2. “Birches” Critical AppreciationThe first part of this poem (LI-41) consists of a fairly straightforward nature description. Frost speaks of the many different appearances of birches in summer and in wintry weather. Frost imagines a rural boy climbing the birch free, a boy who. lives too. far from town to enjoy baseball, and whose only entertainment is nature (Frost draws on his own childhood memories as a “swinger of birches” here). He says he longs for the return of those innocent pursuits.
In the next part of the poem (L43f1) Frost compares life’s difficulties and hardships to the difficulties of walking through a “pathless wood” and says that he longs to get away from the pressures of life, not in the sense of dying, but in the sense of climbing a birch tree, tipping its branches towards heaven, and then returning to earth. By this metaphor Frost wants to suggest he wants to be able to return to the innocence and beauty of nature, to let nature refresh him, and then to return to the everyday grind of life on earth. He does not dislike earth—-”Earth’s the right place for love”--but a refreshing-dose of birch-climbing would be a welcome respite. . ‘ . The influence of the English Romantic poet Wordsworth, who composed The ‘ Prelude, on this poem is marked--we have the same fond recollection of a childhood closeness to nature, the same sense of oppression of an adult life spent apart from nature and the same sense of nature’s rejuvenating energy.
Note the effectiveness with which Frost captures the rhythms and the locutions of the speaking voice with the use of the first person singular and conversational phrases like “Often you must have seen them” (LS) or “You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen” (L 13) or “But I was going to say when Truth broke in/With all her matter- of-fact about the ice-storm! I should prefer to have some boy bend them” (L21-23) or “I don’t know where it’s likely to go better” (LS 3) or the last line “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches” (LS 9). One gets a strong sense of the speaker and with the repetition of the word “you,” the reader is also invited into the-world of the poem and made to feel comfortable there. The atmosphere’ of the poem bec6mes confidential and, intimate.
3. “Birches” Notes“Birches” (1916) .
Title: Birches are smooth-barked, slender-branched northern forest trees L9 “enamel” Frost uses a metaphor here. He compares the shiny birch bark to enamel which is a glass-like coating of metallic surfaces for the purpose of ornament or for preservation. By this metaphor he expresses the shiny beauty of the birch bark. .
L12 “broken glass” Another metaphor. The snow crystals are compared to bits of broken glass because of their transparency and their sharpness.
L14 “bracken” Fern abundant on heaths
L19-20 “Like girls...sun’’ This is a simile which compares the arched trunks of the Robert Frost birches trailing their leaves on the ground to girls who throw their wet hair over their faces in order to dry it. This simile brings out the delicacy and the vulnerability of the birches.
L44 “life is too much...wood” A simile which compares life, with its enigmas and its hardships to a forest in which there is no clearly-marked path. One may easily lose one’s direction.
JAS-47 “Where your face... open” Frost adds a metaphor to the simile and compares the physical hardships of trekking through a pathless forest to the rigors, physical and emotional, of life. The word “weeping” suggests that the tears do not come simply as a result of a cut or bruise but because of some inner sorrow.