Robert Lee Frost, New England’s cherished poet, has been called America’s purest classical lyricist and one of the outstanding poets of the twentieth century. He was a modernist poet. During his childhood, he thrived in English and Latin classes and discovered a common thread in Theocritus’ and Virgil’s poetry and the romantic balladry. Frost’s style was influenced by the early romantic poets as we can see the romantic features in his poems and also by the contemporary British poets as Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Graves. Many of his poems had to do with nature and transcendentalism.
“Of all his poetic elements, Frost’s style seems the hardest to pin down. Actually one cannot pin it down, but something could be said to further our un-enlightenment”, says Lawrence Thompson. He then moves on to state what Frost said about style in a letter to his friend Louis Untermeyer dated March 10, 1924, “style in prose or verse is that which indicates how the writer takes himself and what he is saying…….His style is the way he carries himself toward his ideas and deeds.” Randall Jarrell a poet/critic praised Frost’s style as “No other living poet has written so well about the actions of an ordinary man.”
The essential element of Frost’s style is his choice of words or diction. He uses everyday (simple) words you would use in conversation. Frost writes his sentences with meter and rhythm to increase their beauty. His style also comprises various elements such as lyric and narrative, with characters, background, and imagery drawn from New England, choice of rural (pastoral) subjects, and realistic depiction of ordinary life and people. He also uses many poetic devices adding to the craftsmanship of the poem. The language used in his poems is simple and rustic.
Frost is universally recognized for being a pastoral poet who deals with the subject of everyday life of the humble dwellers in the countryside with their works and loved ones, with their joys and sorrows, and the background setting is nature. Many of his most famous poems (such as “Mending Wall” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”) are inspired by the natural world, particularly his time spent as a poultry farmer in New Hampshire. Ironically, until his adulthood in New England, Frost was primarily a “city boy” who spent nearly all of his time in an urban environment. It is possible because of his late introduction to the rural side of New England that Frost became so intrigued by the pastoral world. Frost states that “Poetry is more often of the country than the city…Poetry is very, very rural – rustic. It might be taken as a symbol of man, taking its rise from individuality and seclusion – written first for the person that writes and then going out into its social appeal and use.” Yet Frost does not express pastoral only in terms of beauty, as in a traditional sense. Instead, he also emphasizes the harsh conflicts of the natural world: the clash between urban and rural lifestyles as seen in his poem “Mending Wall”.
Frost’s poetry is simple and clear. Richard Wilbur points out “it is not written in the colloquial language of an uneducated farm boy, but rather in a beautifully refined and charged colloquial language.” Poems are said to be lyric, narrative, or dramatic and Frost wrote in all these three forms. Lyric poetry is usually short; expressing personal thoughts and feelings, and it is spoken by a single speaker about his feelings for an object or a person. For example ‘Mowing’ is a lyrical sonnet where Frost talks about the speaker’s own opinion or rather ideas about the sound a scythe makes mowing hay in a field by a forest, and what this sound might signify.
Narrative poetry tells us a story of a single event. For example: ‘Out, Out’ is a narrative in blank verse written in a continuous structure where Frost talks about the death of a boy in a farm (accident). Dramatic poems have speaking characters as in a little play. Frost’s dramatic poems fall under four categories- ballads, linear narratives, dramatic monologues, and dramatic narratives. One of Frost’s famous poems ‘The Death of a Hired Man’ is an example of dramatic narrative which is written in blank verse.
Frost has written many poems with speakers engaged in conversation like ‘A Hundred Collars’ and ‘The Death Of A Hired Man’, he has always been interested in distinguishing New England speakers who are highly characterized in his poems because he was born in San Francisco and spent his early years there. “I could enumerate more derivations in Frost’s conversational style, but the point is that this style doesn’t try to imitate the inconsequentialities of spoken discourse” (Charney, Maurice. 1). Charney also stated, “Frost is not at all like David Mamet or Harold Pinter, although these two dramatists are probably just as far from the realities of everyday conversation as Frost.” His use of ordinary conversational style is tremendous.
Symbolic and metaphorical devices are one of the elements of Frost’s poetic style. Frost said, “Every poem I write is figurative in two senses. It will have figures in it, of course; but it’s also a figure in itself – a figure for something, and it’s made so that you can get more than one figure out of it.”(Cook Voices p235). The use of metaphorical devices in Frost’s poetry is more obvious. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a comparison is made between two things which are not alike. In most of his poems, we can see the use of metaphors; he is notably a poet of metaphors more than anything else. For example: In the poem ‘Putting in the seed’ the planting of seed in the garden, in springtime is like (compared to) making love, in another poem of Frost called ‘Devotion.’ the passive but ever-changing shore and the persistent energetic ocean are compared to a devoted couple.
Frost said,” Poetry begins in trivial metaphors, pretty metaphors, ‘grace metaphors,’ and goes on to the most profound thinking that we have. Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another. People say, ‘Why don’t you say what you mean?’ We never do that, do we, being all of us too many poets. We like to talk in parables and hints and indirections – whether from diffidence or some other instinct” (Excerpt from an essay entitled “Education by Poetry” by Robert Frost).
Symbolic representation may be an object, person, situation, or action which stands for something else more abstract. For example: In the poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ even though there is no one overt symbol in the poem, the entire journey can represent life’s journey. “Dark woods” also become a powerful recurring symbol in Frost. Certain signature images become symbols when we look at Frost’s work namely, trees, birds and birdsongs, solitary travelers, etc.
Inspired by the romantic poets, Frost’s works influence romantic features as in the use of imagery. Poetry indirectly appeals to our senses through imagery. Frost’s use of “the sound of sense” is most successful because of the clarity and colloquial nature of his poetry. It is only because of this clarity that Frost can explore topics of emotion, struggle, and conflict that would be incomprehensible in any other form.