View Full Version : An Appreciation for Robert Frost

11-17-2014, 01:23 AM
As a modern poet, Robert Frost is somewhat of a contradiction. His technique was rarely experimental, and yet he strayed from traditionalist structures expected from the verse forms he commonly adopted; erratic rhyme and pseudo-parallelisms litter his work amid strict meter and wild imagery. His language employed nostalgia and wandered often into pastoral connotations, but his symbols and intentions were delivered from the industrial tensions of his time—not timidly stepping into the idioms of his early twentieth century contemporaries, but also not happily bound to nineteenth century practices, Robert Frost developed a distinctive and recognisable style. A style which, more than any other poet of his day embodies the duality of individualism in poetry, the conflict of emotion versus intellect.

Perhaps it isn’t odd that his impact on poetry and literature has out-lived some of his more eccentric peers when we consider how his compositions seamlessly tie two divergent centuries together. Like the romantics before him, recalling word and phrase borrowed from the greats (usurping the public domain), and ensuring no poem is false but always a personal endeavour, Frost’s poetry is at its best when tangibly vague. A concept found in such work as ‘Locked Out’.

When we locked up the house at night,
we always locked the flowers outside
and cut them off from window light.

The time I dreamed the door was tried
and brushed with buttons upon sleeves,
yet nobody molested them!

We did find one nasturtium
upon the steps with bitten stem.
I may have been to blame for that:

I always thought it must have been
some flower I played with as I sat
at dusk to watch the moon down early. 

While nothing is expected from the reader here, Frost implies we know where these flowers reside and how they grow, their colour and placement—indeed, he puts to us this work as if we comprehend the gravity of the broken stem. The reader is no idiot, and Frost gives us just what we need to ‘know’ his words. When I was 15, I instantly knew the opening passage, but I can never, and will likely never be able to explain why—I know the intention, and the obscurity of the wording allows me to know it without ever needing to understand it in full.

In order to accomplish such phrasal grace, Frost employed what many of his peers deemed outdated methods: the self-imposed restriction of metre, arrangements in static stanzaic constructs (primarily quatrains or octaves when not presented a single, continuous stanza). Frost used these to his benefit, forcing his work to follow a logical resolve, even if his metaphor meandered enough to become almost overly personal language. He believed that the general tone of the poet’s mood should dictate the first commitment to paper, and the poet’s intellect would bring it through by metre and context.

As a poet, I find my own writing following similar patterns, unintentionally mimicking Frost at times—I consider myself modern in my themes and motifs, yet I also reach for metre and structure, rhyme where it pleases and fits, and possibly, as many of Frost’s critics said of him, I over-complicate my work with subtle embellishments. Taking the abstractions of fanciful language and placing them juxtaposed against the directness of common-day speech. Frost’s most frequently received critique was that his verse felt forced, elegant yet rigid metre grafted onto the soft nature of his own accent… but I see that as what identifies him; as a Welshman, the New England accent is alien to me, but even so, I can fit his verse into the melodic Celtic tones of my valley vernacular. If anything, Frost reads to me as a voice in conversation, enriched only by its rhythm—a voice I know as Frost as he speaks to me in his words. However, there are regionalisms to his doing this; his incorporation of dialect and New England colloquialism. I wonder if this makes his work less universal, or whether only more deliberate, like a fence in place to yield good neighbours, as Frost expresses in Mending Wall: catch and celebrate first the differences, our own space where we are secluded, so we can enjoy the common ground. Mending Wall first sees this under the light of ridicule, with a hint of sarcasm in re-stating it, but in ending on that line, we see the cleverness of Frost and how he bends an opposed ideal to fit his own truth—a perfect and neatly sewn example of how a poet's context reforms the mood beyond its core metaphor.

Frost was also a master of the mundane. The primary focus of much of his poetry is the every-day, the routine and the common-place. Though often austere in tone, much of his work delves deep into the relationship between mankind and nature, oddly demarcated by a lyrical fluidity. His explicit inclusion of humdrum facts and monotonous artefacts enables that, presenting to us an insight of near 'education by poetry'—refusing to subscribe to any singular school of poetry, ultimately liberating his verse from the shackles of modernism. In essence, I believe it is Frost’s willingness to be a poetic throwback that keeps him as one of the most revered and celebrated modern poets. Perhaps, ‘Good fences make good neighbors' never sounded so true by any other summation.

I conclude with one of Frost’s best known pieces, one which solidifies my analysis and truly sits on the cross-roads of nineteenth and twentieth century poetry. ‘Acquainted with the Night’ is a terza-rima sonnet which openly discusses the poet’s position in the world, and the loneliness of metropolitan man.

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain --and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
and dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
when far away an interrupted cry
came over houses from another street,

but not to call me back or say good-bye;
and further still at an unearthly height
one luminary clock against the sky

proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.


Please post your favourite Frost poems (with or without comment).

11-17-2014, 01:34 AM
Frost is a favorite of mine, as well.

Good to see you back, Kie. :)

William Haskins
11-17-2014, 01:46 AM
an interesting new yorker piece from earlier this year:


in my opinion, required reading for any poet:

thanks for the thread, kie.

Old Hack
11-17-2014, 01:51 AM
I like Frost's work very much indeed.

11-17-2014, 02:04 AM
It's easy to miss how amazing Frost is, because there is no excess to make you notice him.

I can't say this is my favorite of his, because there are too many great ones, but it's one that comes to mind often:

For Once, Then, Something

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

11-17-2014, 02:41 AM
William, that first link you posted is not working.

William Haskins
11-17-2014, 02:46 AM
thank you. please try now.

11-17-2014, 03:06 AM
Yes, that works, and thanks for posting both of those.

Frost was not just a poetry man; he was also a poultry man.

And he wrote about poultry. When he didn't know the answer to something, he made it up. :D


11-17-2014, 06:26 AM
My Mom's favorite poem is The Mending Wall. I love Birches. He is not my all-time favorite, but I do love Frost.

11-17-2014, 08:45 AM

in my opinion, required reading for any poet:

Thanks for the links William. What is it that 'Education by Poetry' means to you? For me it's thinking outside of what we see and feel, understanding the world and what's in it by speaking of it all as something else, metaphor as a guide...

My Mom's favorite poem is The Mending Wall. I love Birches. He is not my all-time favorite, but I do love Frost.

It's hard not to hold a place for Mending Wall--a poem that really does say many things in terms of something else. There's a wealth of casual metaphoric richness in this gem, and yet that same linguistic austerity so immediately recognisable to Frost:

Mending 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:
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,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
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.
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 wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only 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
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,
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
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
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.'

11-17-2014, 09:13 AM
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost-
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

11-17-2014, 06:32 PM
Great choice! Thanks for posting ableseaman

11-17-2014, 07:07 PM
Although he isn't my favorite, I really enjoy the Mending Wall. It goes so far beyond the casual read and what initially meets the eye. Good stuff

Debbie V
11-17-2014, 11:32 PM
My neighbors and I shared the cost of a fence between our yards. (says something about them and us and fences.)

I don't know if I can pick a favorite of his works. I'll be reading (some rereading, some not) the entire collection in the next few months. Maybe I'll come back then and post my choice.

Chris P
11-18-2014, 07:28 PM
I like Frost because he's accessible. He's a good one for people, like me, who don't know much about poetry. But for those who do, like the OP points out, you certainly can dig much deeper.

12-27-2014, 05:28 PM

WE make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
Till someone find us really out.

'Tis pity if the case require
(Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
The understanding of a friend.

But so with all, from babes that play
At hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.


Even the high-brow criticisms in my Frost eBook (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006BG4QUC) (one of the very first I compiled) do not touch upon the great insights you have provided here, Kie. Revelatory.

12-28-2014, 12:19 PM
I do read Frost. The problem I have with his poetry and poets like Poe and Emily Dickinson is that after reading a few I can't get their styles out of my mind. Everything wants to sound like their poetry. I have to wait another day at least before beginning to write.

12-31-2014, 01:30 AM
I do read Frost. The problem I have with his poetry and poets like Poe and Emily Dickinson is that after reading a few I can't get their styles out of my mind. Everything wants to sound like their poetry. I have to wait another day at least before beginning to write.

Nothing like getting Frost stuck in the head :) For me that always nudges the poetic urge and helps me find my language...

01-04-2015, 10:28 AM
Robert Frost

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns—
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with, I will do my best
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road.
And try to stack them in a better load.