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Shakespeare and Frost – Masters of their Trade

“The art of the poet is to explore the very questions of human existence”. The art of poetry is a deep and involved process, which when used properly to infer an existentialist message, can turn lines of ink into a work of art. Major and famous authors of times past and present have frequently, and continue to deal with these issues of human existence. Two of these masters, William Shakespeare and Robert Frost are examples of writers who have made the step from poetry to works of art. This is shown in Frosts On a Tree Fallen Across the Road and in Shakespeares Sonnet No. 30 where major existentialist and metaphysical themes are dealt with.

Frosts On a Tree Fallen Across the Road, includes major metaphysical and existentialist themes that are clearly portrayed by the poet, Frost, in a story about travellers whos journey has been bared by a hurdle, represented by a fallen tree.

“The tree the tempest with a crash of wood, Thrown down in front of us is not to bar Our passage to our journeys end for good.”

The first three lines of this stanza already expose this existentialist message. When read literally we see a group of travellers whose passage has been impeded by a tree which has fallen across the path of these travellers, however when we read deeper into the passage we find Frost referring to “Our journey”, a term commonly used in existential writing as a description of life, and the tree a representation of the problems or hurdles faced in life. In his poetry Frost commonly refers to life as “his journey” and in this instance Frost has written about the unexpected challenges, distractions and hurdles thrown into life, which can side track or take our minds of the “journey” at hand. Frost continues his existentialist theme by going on to say:

“We will not be put off our final goal We have it hidden in us to obtain.”

Frost believes that every individual has the ability to reach the goals they have set while on their “journey”, and every person needs to have goals set, otherwise their would be no need to partake this journey, therefore answering this question “why are we here”, and along with his use of natural imagery, simple language and symbolism Frost is able to deal with the major existentialist question and concepts.

While Frost dealt with the ideas of “the journey” in his sonnet On a Tree Fallen Across the Road, William Shakespeare takes a different approach in his sonnet. In his sonnet, Sonnet No.Thirty, Shakespeare deals with the metaphysical times past and the memory of a lost friend.

“When to the sweet sessions of silent thought, I summon up remembrance of things past,”

Already we can see, in the first two lines Shakespeare deals with the metaphysical concepts such as time, this being a major theme throughout Shakespeares sonnets, is important because they often lead to existentialist concepts, as they do in the case of Sonnet No. Thirty.

“Then I can drown an eye (unused in flow), For precious friends hid in deaths dateless night,”

While reminiscing on times gone by, the persona comes across the memory of a friends death. Shakespeare here has written about the “final stop on our earthly journey”, death, and the people who are affected by it. The persona mourns for his lost friend at first, but as the poet goes on to say

“But if the while I think on thee (dear friend) All losses are restored, and sorrows end.”

This shows, using Frosts On a Tree Fallen Across the Road, that the death of the personas friend was a moment for pause on his personal “journey”. While both poems deals with the existentialist concept, Shakespeare differs from Frost by using a different aspect of existence.

It is almost necessity for a poet to deal with the questions of existence in their works, defining poet from master and poem from work of art. Frost and Shakespeare were able to deal with these concepts well, with their sonnets, examples of a masters work. Even though both used a different perspective, both poets were able to challenge the very idea of existentialism and the ideas of life in their very own way.

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