Robert Frosts nature poetry occupies a significant place in the poetic arts; however, it is likely Frosts use of nature that is the most misunderstood aspect of his poetry. While nature is always present in Frosts writing, it is primarily used in a pastoral sense (Lynen 1). This makes sense as Frost did consider himself to be a shepherd. Frost uses nature as an image that he wants us to see or a metaphor that he wants us to relate to on a psychological level. To say that Frost is a nature poet is inaccurate.
His poetry is n the main psychologically oriented with emphasis on specific recurring themes, which include, but are not limited to, loneliness, retreat, spirituality, darkness, and death. Frost said himself repeatedly, I am not a nature poet. There is almost always a person in my poems (quoted in Thompson). This may be hard for some to grasp, as Frost is world renowned for his alleged nature theme. Contrary to popular opinion, nature is not Frosts central theme in his poetry; it is the contrast between man and nature as well as the conflicts that arise between the two entities.
Frosts nature poetry interconnects the world of the natural and the world of human beings Both key elements of his motivation in writing poetry. The harsh reality of nature and the thoughtless expectations in the minds of man scarcely cohere to one another. Frost usually starts with an observation in nature, contemplates it and then connects it to some psychological concern (quoted in Thompson). According to Thompson, His poetic impulse starts with some psychological concern and finds its way to a material embodiment which usually includes a natural scene (quoted in Thompson).
According to John F. Lynen, Frost sees in nature a symbol of mans relation to the world. Though he writes about a forest or a wildflower, his real subject is humanityhis concept of natureis a paradox and it points toward the greater paradox in man himself (4,5). Lynen also states that the struggle between the human imagination and the meaningless void man confronts is the subject of poem after poem (6). On speaking of Frosts nature poetry, Gerber says, with equanimity Frost investigates the basic themes of mans life: the individuals relationships to himself, to his fellow man, to his world, and to his God (117).
All of these independent observations of Frosts work acknowledge his connection between nature and mans psyche as being intentional on Frosts part and central to his poetry. The contrast between the humans and nature enables Frost to deal with and illustrate significant issues affecting humans. A very interesting point regarding Frosts relationship with nature is that he views it with ambiguity. Most assume that Frost is a nature lover; however, while this is true in part, Frost also views nature as having the capability of being destructive.
Lynen speaks of this duality by saying, You cannot have one without the other: love of natural beauty and horror at the remoteness and indifference of the physical world are not opposites but different aspects of the same view (7). On speaking of Frosts dualistic view of nature, Phillip L. Gerber states, For nature is hard as she is soft, she can destroy and thwart, disappoint, frustrate, and batter (132). Robert Frost views nature as an alien force capable of destroying man, but on the flip side, he also views mans struggle with nature as a heroic battle (quoted in Thompson).
In his poem Our Hold on the Planet Frost illustrates this point by saying, There is much in nature against us. But we forget: Take nature altogether since time began Including human nature, in peace and war, And it must be a little more in favor of man, Say a fraction of one percent at the very least, Or our number living wouldnt be steadily more, Our hold on the planet wouldnt have so increased. (Frost 317). Here, Frost is implying that nature has allowed humanity to move in and take over. Nature has the capability of destroying humanity, yet it has let us thrive.
Even we humans have the capacity to destroy each other, yet still, we thrive. On a psychological level, it appears that Frost is contemplating the survival of man despite the powerful forces (nature and ourselves) that are constantly present. According to Gerber, Frost is indicating in Our Hold on the Planet that nature is not to be worshipped as a benevolent deity but neither is nature to be targeted as a black-browed adversary, with cruel intentions of bringing about mans obliteration. Rather, both elements are present.
Nature becomes both friend and foe together. If nature showers gifts and also confounds those gifts, so are the actions of man toward nature alike in that respect (135,137). Frosts poems usually refer affectionately of natural objects such as flowers, trees, or animals. Yet at the same time there is always darkness or potential danger lurking (Lynen 6). Perhaps the darkness or danger is subtler than the beauty and this is why many do not realize the duality or underlying psychology of Frosts nature poetry.
Frost may have wanted us to realize, as he had, that nature and man are separate yet related to one another. Nature affects man and an affects nature in both positive and negative ways. Frost seems to have a firm grasp on this idea, as his writings usually depict some form of dualism either related to nature, man, or both. According to Gerber, As Frost ponders the lot of individual man, he stresses the human being as an entity. One among many, man yet remains single and alone with his fate.
Life holds the possibility of terror and the potential for beauty (117). In his famous poem The Road Not Taken, Frost depicts a conflict between man and nature by saying, Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent beneath the undergrowth; (Frost, 910). The two paths represent nature and more specifically mans freedom to chose. The paths cannot chose for the man.
The man is confused over which path to chose and uncertain of the potential outcomes each may offer to him. Here we see Gerbers theory in action. The man realizes that terror or beauty may be lurking at the end of either path. He wants to take both paths, but that seems impossible to him. Gerber states that the man in The Road Not Taken is at war against natures posted oundaries in mans unquenchable desire to reach beyond his grasp. He longs to break through the barriers set up against him.
If a thing is impossible, then this is what he lusts after (132). 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 made all the difference (Kennedy, 910). The man realizes that he can take both paths and that is what Frost means when he says, I took the road less traveled by. The man makes a decision to travel both a paths (symbolizing the ability to choose ones own destiny) where nature otherwise implies that it impossible.
The conflict of natures boundaries is overcome by the mans will to not submit to the ordinary boundaries, which impede him. This poem also depicts heroism in the sense that the man triumphs over the boundaries nature places upon him. Gerber said, As a strong advocate of individualism, Frost saw man as learning from nature the zones of his own limitations.
Within these naturally imposed boundaries, man struggles to achieve whatever he might with whatever talents he has been granted [this reminds me of classical sociological theory or possibly existentialism i. , Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, etc]. Conversely, Frost saw man as achieving little so as he considers only himself, isolated from those around him. At best this preoccupation leads to egocentrism; at its worst, to lonely madness (124). Frost views nature as being separate and independent of man. According to Lynden, Nature evokes paradoxical attitudes: on the one hand it is a realm of ideals where the essential realities are found in their pristine forms; on the other it is an inferior plane where life is crude, insensate, and mechanical (8).
Lynen also asserts unwavering honesty in the face of facts is a recurrent theme in Frosts nature poetry. For it is in this that he sees the foundation of mans power and his spiritual being. Man can never find a home in nature, nor can he live outside of it. He can assert the reality of his spirit and thus can exist independently of the physical world in the act of looking squarely at the facts of nature(7). Nature is a timeless force and does not need man to survive. Man, on the other hand, while being separate from nature depends on nature for life and livelihood.
This is paradoxical. The relationship between man and nature is one of dependence on mans part. Nature exists in its primal form while man thinks, feels, suffers, and dies and worse yet man is aware of the harsh realities that face him while nature is unknowing (Lynen 7). Loneliness as well as darkness and fear are recurring themes in Frosts nature poetry. Concerning loneliness, Gerber says, Loneliness and the fear of loneliness are entrenched in the human heart. They are lodged there by mans knowledge of his isolation on a whirling planet poised precariously in space.
They are anchored by mans awareness that he is no more than grass for the mower. Always there is the tremulous reaching out of the hand for a warm, reassuring clasp. There is the search for warmth and illumination from a spark of light; all to drive back into the dark woods the knowledge that man stands alone (125). On loneliness, Lynen says, The remoteness of nature reveals the tragedy of mans isolation and his weaknesses in the face of vast, impersonal forces (Lynen 4). In The Most of It Frost clearly shows us the separation between man and nature:
He thought he kept the universe alone; For all the voice in answer he could wake Was but the mocking echo of his own From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake (Frost 307). The man calls out to the wilderness with desolate hope that he is not alone; however, he is greeted only in return by the echo of his own voice in nature. This, to the man, is a bleak confirmation that he actually is alone with the exception of natures presence. The man continues in desperation: Some morning from the boulder-broken beach He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech, But counter-love, original response (Frost 307). The man is unsatisfied with the outcome of his efforts, so he cries out in anger and disappointment that he does not wish to be mocked by repetition of his own words he desires the presence of love and life of another sentient being. The poem continues, and the mans cries bring forth no desired results; however, after time has passed the poem moves to an unexpected event: And then in the far distant water splashed, But after a time allowed for it to swim. Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him, As a great buck it powerfully appeared, (Frost 307). As the splash of water is heard, the man dances with the glorious thought of not being alone in the world. His anticipation grows stronger as time passes and the thing swims; however, to the mans disappointment the thing is not human after all, but an animal (clearly not what the man was hoping for). On speaking of the poem The Most of It, Lynen says, It demonstrates how exalted an idea of the human mind and how awesome a view of reality the contrast between man and nature expresses (5).
The man assumes that his cries for love and companionship will yield him another human being, but instead nature yields only an animal. The man could perceive the Bucks presence, as being better than nothing being that it was a companion of some form; however, one can assert that the man indeed is disappointed and feels alone. The theme of spirituality and darkness often appears in Frosts nature poetry. I say spirituality and darkness because the two forces are opposites and often one element results from the others being present.
According to Robert Pack, what every Frostian confrontation with nature teaches is that Gods ways and his purpose for men are obscure, and the poet, the preacher, must lead the reader to prayer without denying or sentimentalizing the divine mystery (Bloom, 17). In his poem, Bereft, Frost says: Something sinister in the tone Told me my secret must be known: Word I was in the house alone Somehow must have gotten abroad, Word I was in my life alone, Word I had no one left but God. (Frost 230). The man in the poem feels alone abandoned a secret has been exposed.
He is literally alone, and only in desperation does he open himself to the possibility that God is with him even if everyone else has deserted him. Frost may be implying that God is really the only one who is always present in our lives, yet we often forget that he is there until we are desperate with fear, sorrow, or regret. Another valuable teaching may lie within Frosts poem titled The Fear of God, in which he says: If you should rise from Nowhere up to Somewhere, From being No one up to being Someone,
Be sure to keep repeating to yourself You owe it to an arbitrary god Whose mercy to you rather than to others Wont bear too critical examination Stay unassuming. If for lack of license To wear the uniform of who you are, (Frost 349). Frost seems to be advising in this poem that spirituality is real, and not only is it a loving, gentle creator we answer to, but is also a jealous and wrathful creator. To wear the uniform of who you are, can be interpreted as a warning that vanity or egoism may bear wrathful consequences from spiritual forces.
Another major theme that can be found in some of Frosts most impressive poetry is the theme of retreating. A well-known poem by Robert Frost is Birches. Near the end of the poem, he says: Id like to get away from earth for a while And then come back to it and begin over May no fate willfully misunderstand me And half grant what I wish and snatch me away Not to return. Earths the right place for love: I dont know where its likely to go better (Frost 118). The man is saying hed like to retreat and then come back and begin over.
He then carefully hopes that no fate (God or nature) misunderstands his wishes. He only chooses to go for a while with the ability to return to where he is. He asserts that there is love on earth and one may presume that he would miss it if he were taken away. He simply wishes to explore other places possibly of divine origin. The poem continues: Id like to go by climbing a birch tree, And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more, But dipped its top and set me down again. That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches. (Frost 118). The man wants to know what heaven is like to catch a glimpse of the alleged golden gates. He wants to accomplish his wish through climbing up and down a birch tree. The birch tree seems to be a symbol of the divine with its black branches representing life, and its snow-white trunk representing death. The man wants to experience the divine to affirm that it is real; yet, he does not wish to retreat entirely from the earth that he knows and loves. One may say that the man is confused.
But there are worse things to be confused over than the desire to retreat. The psychological aspects that Frost chooses to use for his nature poetry may be subtle or hidden to the reader upon first inspection, but nonetheless, they are there beneath the surface waiting to be interpreted. Frost uses these psychological themes in metaphors and analogies that point to the contrast and conflicts between man and nature. After close analysis of Frosts poetry, we see that nature is obviously secondary to the contrast and conflicts between man and nature which is the main theme in many of his poems.
According to Pack, Frost believed that surface of a poem such as the speech, should be simple and immediate yet that, upon careful analysis, the poem should reveal itself as elusive. After all, life does not readily yield its meaning to anyone (Bloom 9). From that last statement, one can recognize that indeed Robert Frosts nature poetry is more than blooming flowers and snowy nights; obviously there is an underlying psychological meaning in most of his poems.