Romanticism in the Poetry of Robert Frost
Frost’s poetic vision in the 20th century collection, ‘Early Poems’, is very much motivated by his profound sense of ecological consciousness which in turn, is driven by his environmental activism. As a result, he presents an all-pervasive and constant world of nature within his poems. Therefore, Frost’s repeated pastoral sentiment contrasts directly with the anthropocentric view that nature should be ‘humanised’. Indeed, Frost successfully employs a sense of deep ecology in his work via a literary universe in which nature has the capacity to help mankind transcend the limitations of civilisation, to which critic Lionel Trilling describes as “terrifying” and “dark” (Hepburn, 1962).
In Frost’s After Apple-Picking, he confidently negates the assertion that “nature should be…humanised” through illustrating how nature is ultimately likened to God. Perhaps, Frost was directly influenced by the Wordsworthian, Romantic tradition of the natural sublime, an idea that we repeatedly see expressed throughout his early pastoral poetry. Here, he carefully moves between explicit and implicit meaning, to which he names “the pleasure of ulteriority” (Shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in, 2019). Thus whilst the poem is explicitly about apple-picking, Frost simultaneously allows for this to act as an allegory. Arguably, the motif of ‘apples’, common in the Western canon, is symbolic of the fruit in the Garden of Eden which was responsible for the fall of man. The apple becomes a device symbolising the extreme power of nature, like the storm in Wordsworth’s ‘Prelude’.
First and foremost, the speakers “long two-pointed ladder”, perhaps an allusion to Jacob’s ladder due to its proceeding “Toward heaven still” and notably aided by nature as it is “sticking through a tree” is illustrative of the intimate relationship between Nature and heaven, to some extent the gateway nature provides. On the one hand, this could be interpreted as how Frost assumes that God and Nature are interlinked thus feeding into his suggestions of deep ecology, whereby human life is merely one of the various components within the global ecosystem. When the poem was published, this was certainly a sentiment that would appeal to a religious audience. However it is additionally crucial to note that Frost isn’t attributing ‘divine’ qualities to humanity, rather he is discussing the ‘individual self’ and its bemusement with the concept of there being ‘something greater’. Perhaps then, this is evidence of nature’s capacity to help humankind transcend its own finite limitations.
For example, Frost employs an extended metaphor of apple-picking and figurative language of a long sleep. The speaker states that they have undergone “too much/ Of apple-picking: I am overtired/ Of the great harvest I myself desired”. This is illustrative of life’s privations and the subsequent yearning to escape these difficulties by entering an illusory sphere in which they are convinced that these difficulties are fictitious, transforming the poem into the reverie of an exhausted apple-picker. Perhaps, Frost is subtly employing the speaker’s speculation of his “long sleep” as a metaphor for death. Arguably, this is emblematic of nature’s power to impose existential thoughts about reality vs the unconscious upon the reader. Frost adroitly infers this ability through how he varies the standard pentameter, integrating shorter lines of di-, tri-, and tetrameter that serve to disrupt the monotonous pentameter. Whilst this technique arguably retains the reader’s attention, the speaker almost ‘drifts off’ into mental blankness. Furthermore, Frost employs a sequence of interchanging tenses to blur the boundary between what is dreamt and what is not, allowing for the speaker to explore otherworldliness.
Therefore, Frost may be conceivably evoking in the reader, thoughts about how nature has the capacity to allow humans to see beyond ‘reality’, an evident illustration of nature’s inherent worth and ability to engender imaginative spontaneity. However, Frost still manages not to glorify Nature but presents it in a realistic light by highlighting the value of nature in terms of its ability to invoke self-reflection and control human emotion, he successfully negates the anthropocentric claim that nature should be “cultivated”, in the sense that it should rather be celebrated and relished.
The lyrical poem The Road not Taken is arguably one of Frost’s most commemorated works due to the debate it evokes concerning ecocentric and anthropocentric ideological thinking to which critics Nitika Grover and Zameerpal Kaur have observed that “both of these ideological modes are a creation of human beings” (Anthropocentrism versus Ecocentrism: An Ecocritical Analysis of the Selected Poems of Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop, 2019). At face value, the poem is about facing difficulty when choosing which path to take when approaching a fork in the road. Frost employs this attractive and common archetypal dilemma that the reader is familiar with to illustrate the crisis and decisions that come with the human lifeline; the criticality of human nature. This is illustrative of how nature’s phenomena’s allow for humankind to undergo a state of perplexity, perhaps transcending the limitations of their ‘civilised’ society. This is further supported by the ancient, ingrained metaphors associated with ‘paths in the woods’ or ‘forks in the road’. Arguably, the two different paths available epitomise the two contrasting ideologies, thus opting for one, will cause the rejection of the other. However, Frost doesn’t intend to abandon one ideology but envisions managing one along with the other, almost as a nuanced ‘carpe diem’. Therefore, Frost allows for these natural descriptions to create a soothing, absorbing, meditative tone such as “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Critic Deirdre Fagan observed that “Frost describes the process of working through a conflict with nature” (123helpme.com, 2019) as opposed to experiencing a conflict regarding nature and independently resolving it, which is essentially the basis of The Road not Taken and would lean to the view that Frost is a deep ecologist.
Certainly, in The Road not Taken, Frost expresses the necessity to refrain from “polishing” and “cultivating” nature, as its imperfections such as the fork in the road, allow for human revelation. The very fact that nature is unpolished thus there is no ‘clear’ path, allows for man and nature’s relationship to intertwine. He aptly utilises the symbolism of trees to delineate ‘borders’ within his poetry. For example, the imagery of the “yellow wood” creates a ‘boundary space’ in which the speaker is enabled to engage with nature and undergo critical moments of self-discovery. Interestingly, Frost subtly evokes a sense of irony in that the settings appear to be that of a frontier society, where man is trying to impose his will on nature such as how the speaker states that one path “wanted wear”. Thus alike many Romantic writers, Frost illustrates the power of nature and its capacity for enlightenment, while also colonizing it. Hence, The Road not Taken is representative of man and nature’s interrelatedness. Although he aligns with evolutionary ecologist, Eric Pianka’s comment that “anthropocentrism is the biggest enemy we face” (Pianka, 2019), Frost envisions a somewhat ‘middle-ground’, in which there is a sustainable environment through which man can co-exist with the natural world.
In terms of The Wood Pile, Frost approaches his sense of deep ecology in a rather different way. to his other early poetry. Here, Frost infers that nature essentially ‘confuses’ man through the remarkably unexceptional phenomenon of a wood-pile. The mere idea that nature is able to control and ultimately bemuse man, challenges the principles of anthropocentrism that infer human supremacy. In this poem, Frost employs a series of opposites, potentially ‘ambiguities’ to illustrate the complexity of nature. First off is the “frozen swamp” which the speaker wades through, highlighting paradoxes such as fluidity/solidity and heat/cold. This is tactfully employed alongside “one gray day” within the same first line to infer nature’s duplicitous phenomena. Furthermore, the speaker who is unusually wading in a swamp becomes nervous due to an overhead bird “He thought that I was after him for a feather”. Although this could be illustrative of man’s desire to interfere with nature, the fact that the speaker is submerged in the swamp and possesses no selfish interest towards the bird is equally illustrative of his ecological consciousness. Nevertheless, Frost allows for controversy as the speaker questions “And say no word to tell me who he was / Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.” Arguably, the monosyllabic nature of these lines is indicative of Frost’s intent to invoke the question as to whether the man or the bird is more foolish- a debate challenging anthropocentrism. Conclusively, Frost rejects the anthropocentric view and writes in the Romantic tradition that infers that nature is the source of human imagination. However, humans take it upon themselves as a supposed duty, to conserve and manage it.
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Frost’s poetic vision in the 20th century collection, ‘Early Poems’, is very much motivated by his profound sense of ecological consciousness which in turn, is driven by his environmental activism. […]