Robert Frost Key Points and Quotations
FEATURES OF FROST’S STYLE
Language – Accessible; simple; clear; elegant plainness of the expression:
‘Some have relied on what they knew,/ Others on simply being true’ (Provide..)
Not elitist/for all (democratic language) ‘..he had gone his way, the grass all mown’
(The Tuft of flowers)
Colloquial; everyday language:’ I went to turn the grass once’ (The Tuft of flowers)
Sound: Alliteration – ‘sweet-scented stuff’ (Out, Out – )
Assonance – ‘mown….alone’ (The Tuft of Flowers)
Onomatopoeia – ‘whispering ’(The Tuft of Flowers) ‘snarled and rattled’ (out..)
Imagery – Poetry rich in symbolism: Often provided by nature ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow
wood’ = choices in life (The Road Not Taken)
‘tuft of flowers’ = life/hope/renewal? Mower = God?
Striking/memorable imagery e.g. metaphor: ‘A leaping tongue of bloom’ (The Tuft …)
Variety of tone and mood –
Mood: sombre; bleak – (Out, Out – )
(The Tuft of Flowers) ranges from sad that he is alone, until ‘the message from the
dawn’ = now joyous: ‘men work together….whether they work together or apart.’
Tone: cynical, sarcastic (Provide, Provide) ‘Die early and avoid the fate.’
Structure – Poem needs structure or ‘playing tennis without a net’ (Frost)
Flowing rhythmic pattern: ‘The witch that came (the withered hag)/ To wash the steps
with pail and rag/ Was once the beauty Abishag’ (Provide, Provide)
Wonderful musical quality: : ‘And I feel a spirit kindred to my own;/ so that henceforth I
worked no more alone’ (The Tuft of Flowers)
Utilises Narrative style– ‘Out, Out – ‘ = dark moralistic (boy shouldn’t be working) and tragic tale:
‘but the hand was gone already’
‘The Tuft of Flowers’: story of a typical day’s work.
Poetry about ordinary people living ordinary lives –
Mower and the poet saving hay: ‘after one/ Who mowed it in the dew before the sun’
(The Tuft of Flowers)
‘the boy’ cutting timber ‘made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood’
Love of nature – Peaceful, calm – time to reflect: ‘two roads diverged in a yellow wood’
Provides powerful insights: ‘tall tuft of flowers’ = hope, possibilities, life.
TYPICAL FROST THEMES
Habitual Concerns (Themes)
– Fragility of life: boy tried ‘to keep the life from spilling’ (Out, Out – )
– Life as unpredictable journey; decisions: take the ‘one less travelled by’?
– Transience of life/Passage of time: ‘No memory of having starred/ atones for later
disregard’ (Provide, Provide) life moves on relentlessly: ‘they, since they/ Were not
the one dead, turned to their affairs’ (Out, Out – )
– Importance of carefree childhood: ‘big boy/ Doing a man’s work, though a child at
– Isolation: alone with nature – ‘I must be, as he had been – alone’ (The Tuft of F.)
Important decisions have to be made alone: ‘The Road Not Taken’
Risk of dying alone ‘Provide, Provide’: better to die ‘with boughten friendship
at your side/ Than none at all.’
‘In Frost’s poetry, seemingly ordinary subjects often yield complex and interesting interpretations.’
To what extent do you agree with the above statement? Support your answer with reference to both the themes and language found in the poetry of Robert Frost on your course.
For me the beauty of Robert Frost’s poetry lies in its deceiving simplicity. It is this fact that I believe explains his enduring popularity across the globe – and particularly of course in the nation of his birth, where he has been described as an ‘artistic institution’. He was truly a poet of the people, composing verse about the everyday trials and tribulations of ordinary subjects but, crucially, in a language that could be appreciated across the social divide. The key to his brilliance though, is that beneath the initial accessibility of these elegantly composed lines lie many complex and intriguing perspectives. That I believe is the real genius of Frost – the fact that so much of his work is open to such interesting interpretations. Three poems that really capture that perspective are ‘The Road Not Taken,’ ‘Out, Out -,’ and ‘The Tuft of Flowers.’
A perfect example of an apparently ordinary poem that under scrutiny offers a number of complex perspectives is ‘The Road not Taken’. In this memorable poem we encounter a very simple scene, that of a person approaching a path where ‘two roads diverged in a yellow wood.’ Though he weights up both possibilities, considering one that ‘is grassy and wanted wear’ over the other, the speaker is still unsure as to which path to take even though ‘long I stood.’ Immediately I was struck by the potential symbolism of the images; how the paths in the woods could so easily serve as a metaphor for the paths we must take in life and of course for the choices we must make. The simple image of the speaker standing uncertainly before both paths, straining to see where one path ‘bent in the undergrowth’ was a complex way of portraying something that we can all relate to: the challenge of trying to make the right choice, when the future is shrouded in uncertainty and you know deep down that you might never ‘come back’ to the path that you ignored. I really enjoyed being able to interpret this simple poem in a way that offered genuine meaning for me, particularly at the stage of life I’m at where so many key decisions have to be made.
Another poem that deals with an ordinary everyday subject is ‘Out, Out – .’ Even though it appears to be a simple narrative – typical of Frost’s style – the title and its connection with Macbeth’s bleak and disturbing soliloquy suggests a greater degree of complexity than is immediately apparent. I was very disturbed by this tragic tale and its sudden and tragic outcome. The onomatopoeic description of the buzz-saw that ‘snarled and rattled in the yard’ hinted at the terrible danger that existed for ‘the boy’ who should of course have been ‘saved from work’ of this kind at his age. I’ve rarely come across a line as shocking as the image of this ‘child at heart’ as he ‘swung towards them holding up the hand, half in appeal,’ before he realises that everything was ‘spoiled.’ This was a simple poem, written in everyday language, yet for me it yielded much more complex ideas about the fragility of life for us all and the difficulties that people face when dealing with loss. I thought Frost captured really memorably the challenges that normal people face when dealing with a tragedy of this kind. It may seem appalling that ‘since they were not dead’ they ‘turned to their affairs’, but I think Frost ultimately is conveying the perspective that for ordinary people, life must go on.
Perhaps the most ordinary of Frost’s poems is ‘The Tuft of Flowers’, where the poet finds himself labouring at a typical rural task – that of turning the hay. Here again, what appears to be a relatively mundane poem about an annual occurrence, offers itself up to incredibly interesting interpretations. The speaker in the poem is dismayed by the isolation of the job – a theme I noticed recurring in a number of Frost’s poems – concluding that all of us are ultimately alone, ‘whether they work together or apart.’ I found the rhyming couplets here to be quite deceiving, their rhythm disguising the sombre mood of the poem. The real complexity here starts to form with the metaphor of a’ leaping tongue of bloom’. This uplifting image is the cue for a complete change of tone in the poem. Suddenly there is new sense of optimism about the scene. From this point the speaker feels connected with the butterfly, and eventually all of nature, no longer alone but ‘together.’ I felt that the line here that throws the entire thing open to interpretation is that of a ‘spirit kindred to my own’. I really believe that the poet, through nature, had felt a connection with some higher power- that it was the feeling of being connected with God that had removed his sense of isolation and left him with a feeling of companionship and joy.
I’ve had time now to reflect on the various poets I studied throughout my school years and I’ll be honest, there’ve been some less than enjoyable moments ( a certain Ms. Plath springs to mind!) However there have also been poets that I really feel I have genuinely connected with, poets who have illuminated my thinking in all kinds of different ways. For me however, above them all stands the multiple Pulitzer Prize winning Robert Frost. He was the first poet that I really felt could communicate his ideas directly to me, without guidance from teachers or text books. His poems very much deal with the ordinary – that’s a crucial part of the appeal – but what was most enjoyable was the depth and complexity of the interpretations that his poems allowed. He was a poet who certainly spoke to me in ‘brotherly speech.’