Robert Frost

September 11, 2006

robert-frost.jpg
(1874-1963)

Insanely popular; cause for many false preconceived notions about poetry
Read at Kennedy’s inauguration: turned him into a National Poet though it was not a suitable title
Received the Pulitzer Prize four times
Commonly associated with New England
Uses themes of nature and travel/movement to convey loneliness in poetry

Quotations:

All out-of-doors looked darkly in at him / Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars, / That gathers on the pane in empty rooms. / What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze / Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand. / What kept him from remembering what it was / That brought him to that creaking room was age. / He stood with barrels round him-at a loss. / And having scared the cellar under him / In clomping here, he scared it once again / In clomping off; -and scared the outer night, / Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar / Of trees and crack of branches, common things, / But nothing so like beating on a box. / A light he was to no one but himself / Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what, / A quiet light, and then not even that. / He consigned to the moon, such as she was, / So late-arising, to the broken moon / As better than the sun in any case / For such a charge, his snow upon the roof, / His icicles along the wall to keep; / And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt / Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted, / And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept. / One aged man-one man- can’t keep a house, / A farm, a countryside, or if he can, / It’s thus he does it of a winter night.

-An Old Man’s Winter Night (in whole)

You were forever finding some new play. / So when I saw you down on hands and knees / In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay, / Trying, I thought, to set it up on end, / I went to show you how to make it stay, / If that was your idea, against the breeze, / And, if you asked me, even help pretend / To make it root again and grow afresh. / But ’twas no make-believe with you today, / Nor was the grass itself your real concern, / Though I found your hand full of wilted fern, / Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover. / ‘Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground / The cutter-bar had just gone champing over / (Miraculously without tasting flesh) / And left defenseless to the heat and light.

-The Exposed Nest (in whole)

The house had gone to bring again / To the midnight sky a sunset glow. / Now the chimney was all of the house that stood, / Like a pistil after the petals go.
The barn opposed across the way, / That would have joined the house in flame / Had it been the will of the wind, was left / To bear forsaken the place’s name.
No more it opened with all one end / For teams that came by the stony road / To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs / And brush the mow with the summer load.
The birds that came to it through the air / At broken windows flew out and in, / Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh / From too much dwelling on what has been.
Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf, / And the aged elm, though touched with fire; / And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm; / And the fence post carried a strand of wire.
For them there was really nothing sad. / But though they rejoiced in the news they kept, / One had to be versed in country things /Not to believe the phoebes wept.

-The Need of Being Versed in Country Things (in whole)

He would declare and could himself believe / That the birds there in all the garden round / From having heard the daylong voice of Eve / Had added to their own an oversound, / Her tone of meaning but without the words. / Admittedly an eloquence so soft / Could only have had an influence on birds / When call or laughter carried it aloft. / Be that as may be, she was in their son. / Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed / Had now persisted in the woods so long / That probably it never would be lost. / Never again would birds’ song be the same. / And to do that to birds was why she came.

-Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be the Same (in whole)

And both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black. / Oh, I kept the first for another day! / Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence: / Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.

-The Road Not Taken
(See Poetry Speaks)

Could be seen as an ironic poem- written for an indecisive friend
Perhaps making fun of reminiscent story telling; the tendancy of humans to attribute more meaning to past decisions when we reflect on them
Sometimes falsely read as an optimistic poem about unique life paths; “difference” is a neutral term

There is a singer everyone has heard, / Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird, / Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again. / He says that leaves are old and that for flowers / Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten. / He says the early petal-fall is past, / When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers / On sunny days a moment overcast; / And comes that other fall we name the fall. / He says the highway dust is over all. / The bird would cease and be as other birds / But that he knows in singing not to sing. / The question that he frames in all but words / Is what to make of a diminished thing.

-The Oven Bird (in whole)
(See Poetry Speaks)

The oven birds in an American warbler that builds a dome-shaped nest on the ground: creates more vulnerability in the bird to industrial progress (“highway dust”)
The bird carries no celebration in its song
“what to make of a diminished thing” does not ask us to fix the problem

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 the houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-by; / 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.

Acquainted with the Night (in whole)

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast / In a field I looked into going past, / And the ground almost covered smooth in snow, / But a few weeds and stubble showing last.
The woods around it have it- it is theirs. / All animals are smothered in their lairs. / I am too absent-spirited to count; / The loneliness includes me unawares.
And lonely as it is, that loneliness / Will be more lonely ere it will be less- / A blanker whiteness of benighted snow / With no expression, nothing to express.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces /  Between stars- on stars where no human race is. / I have it in me so much nearer home / To scare myself with my own desert places.

-Desert Places (in whole)

Nothing is reflected in a positive light; there is no break in sadness: not the snow or anything underneath it; the worst thing is the expressionlessness of the snow
Speaker is not afraid of the stars, but the distance between the stars
The landscape has nothing to express and no way to shape the speaker, therefore he has nothing to express- but why does he write a poem (a vessel of expression)
The poem has no moral center: the situations created by Frost are neither good nor bad

Loneliness
(Her Word)

One ought not to have to care / So much as you and I / Care when the birds come round the house / To seem to say good-bye;
Or care so much when they come back / With whatever it is they sing; / The truth being we are as much / Too glad for the one thing
As we are too sad for the other here — / With birds that fill their breasts / But with each other and themselves / And their built or driven nests.
House FearAlways — I tell you this they learned — / Always at night when they returned / To the lonely house from far away, / To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray, / They learned to rattle the lock and key / To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight: / And preferring the out- to the in-door night, / They learned to leave the house-door wide / Until they had lit the lamp inside.
The Oft-Repeated DreamShe had no saying dark enough / For the dark pine that kept / Forever trying the window-latch / Of the room where they slept.
The tireless but ineffectual hands / That with every futile pass / Made the great tree seem as a little bird / Before the mystery of glass!
It never had been inside the room, / And only one of the two / Was afraid in an oft-repeated dream / Of what the tree might do.

The Impulse

It was too lonely for her there, / And too wild, / And since there were but two of them, / And no child,
And work was little in the house, / She was free, / And followed where he furrowed field, / Or felled tree.
She rested on a log and tossed / The fresh chips, / With a song only to herself / On her lips.
And once she went to break a bough / Of black alder. / She strayed so far she scarcely heard / When he called her —
And didn’t answer — didn’t speak — / Or return. / She stood, and then she ran and hid / In the fern.
He never found her, though he looked / Everywhere, / And he asked at her mother’s house / Was she there.
Sudden and swift and light as that / The ties gave, / And he learned of finalities / Besides the grave.

-The Hill Wife (in whole)

No set rhythm or shyme
2 distinct speakers: “Her Word” speaker, and observer- don’t speak to each other, both address us
Frost borrows perspectives from drama
Written at the moment of women gaining the right to vote
Poem about freedom: what it would mean for a woman of this time- structure of the poem is free, bird as a symbol of freedom
Could the woman be insane?

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs / Before she saw him. She was starting down, / Looking back over her shoulder at some fear. / She took a doubtful step and then undid it / To raise herself and look again. He spoke / Advancing toward her: ‘What is it you see / From up there always? -for I want to know.’

‘You make me angry. I’ll come down to you. / God, what a woman! And it’s come to this, / A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.’
‘You can’t because you don’t know how to speak. / If you had any feelings, you that dug / With your own hand- how could you? -his little grave; / I saw you from that very window there, / Making the gravel leap and leap in air, / Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly / And roll back down the mound beside the hole. / I thought, Who is this man? I didn’t know you. / And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs / To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.

‘The nearest friends can go / With anyone to death, comes so far short / They might as well not try to go at all. / No, from the time when one is sick to death, / One is alone, and he dies more alone. / Friends make the pretense of following to the grave, / But before one is in it, their minds are turned / And making the best of their way back to life / And living people, and things they understand. / But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so / If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!’

-Home Burial

Concerns a home burial for the couple’s child
It was the custom then to bury family members on family property
The death reveals deep fissures in the relationship between husband and wife
Thought of as a scene

I stayed the night for shelter at a farm / Behind the mountain, with a mother and son, / Two old-believers. They did all the talking.

Mother.   And when I’ve done it, what good have I done? / Rather than tip a table for you, let me / Tell you what Ralle the Sioux Control once told me. / He said the dead had souls, but when I asked him / How could that be- I thought the dead were souls, / He broke my trance. Don’t that make you suspicious / That there’s something the dead are keeping back? / Yes, there’s something the dead are keeping back.

Mother.  … I struck the hand off brittle on the floor, / And fell back from him on the floor myself. / The finger-pieces slid in all directions. / (Where did I see one of those pieces lately? / Hand me my button-box -it must be there.)

Mother.   … When they sometimes / Come down the stairs at night and stand perplexed / Behind the door and headboard of the bed, / Brushing their chalky skully with chalky fingers, / With sounds like the dry rattling of a shutter, / That’s what I sit up in the dark to say- / To no one anymore since Toffile died. / Let them stay in the attic since they went there. / I promised Toffile to be cruel to them / For helping them be cruel once to him.

She hadn’t found the finger-bone she wanted / Among the buttons poured out in her lap. / I verified the name next morning: Toffile. / The rural letter box said Toffile Lajway.

-The Witch of Coos

“Abstraction is an old story with the philosophers, but it has been like a new toy in the hands of the artists of our day. Why can’t we have any one quality of poetry we choose by itself? We can have in thought. Then it will go hard if we can’t in practice. Our lives for it.”

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. For me the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew. I am in a place, in a situation, as if I had materialized from cloud or risen out of the ground. There is a glad recognition of the long lost and the rest follows. Step by step the wonder of unex pected supply keeps growing. The impressions most useful to my purpose seem always those I was unaware of and so made no note of at the time when taken, and the conclusion is come to that like giants we are always hurling experience ahead of us to pave the future with against the day when we may Want to strike a line of purpose across it for somewhere. The line will have the more charm for not being mechanically straight. We enjoy the straight crookedness of a good walking stick. Modern instruments of precision are being used to make things crooked as if by eye and hand in the old days.”

“We prate of freedom. We call our schools free because we are not free to stay away from them till we are sixteen years of age. I have given up my democratic prejudices and now willingly set the lower classes free to be completely taken care of by the upper classes. Political freedom is nothing to me. I bestow it right and left. All I would keep for myself is the freedom of my material-the condition of body and mind now and then to summons aptly from the vast chaos of all I have lived through.”

” Originality and initiative are what I ask for my country. For myself the originality need be no more than the freshness of a poem run in the way I have described: from delight to wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting. A poem may be worked over once it is in being, but may not be worried into being. Its most precious quality will remain its having run itself and carried away the poet with it. Read it a hundred times: it will forever keep its freshness as a petal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.”

-The Figure a Poem Makes

Frost attempts to name what is unique about poetry: settles of ‘wildness’- wildness of form (organic form)
Believes the shape of the poem should come from the context

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One Response to “Robert Frost”


  1. I am having to study this shit poem for my as level english and i have to say its the most random, no-sense warble i have ever read.
    Why teachers insist on swamping us with 10,000 different poems all like this one confuses me!!! why can’t we just get a good one like…wotever! i don’t even know a frickin good poem.

    Robert Frost please help me!!! If anyoone ever needed your help it is me! Please don’t let me fail!!!! Please!!!! I just couldn’t live without my parents!!!!!


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