New England Characteristics in Robert Frost’s Poetry

The poetry of Robert Frost comes mostly from his life experiences and the influence of living in New England. His family moved there when more people were moving out than in, and as he was growing up, he lived through a sort of regeneration of nature as it came back to fill in what had been domesticated land. Frost’s family wasn’t exactly well-off, and he learned certain values and ideals by living in this New England, not quite the land of opportunity. When he grew up, Frost raised his family there, and also farmed for a while. He had no sure career besides the typical New England farming until he started to bring his New England values into his poetry and publish it. His first two volumes of poetry are especially expressive of his life in New England, but throughout all his poetry, it is evident that Robert Frost’s New England background influenced the style of his writing, the themes in his poetry, and the topics of his poems.

The style of his writing is very simplistic, using colloquial diction. Frost wrote dialogue in his poetry using natural speech patterns, with aspects in it recognizable as New England in their form and phrasing. His poetry was also very natural in its wording, using words that most people can understand and that make his poetry seem practical and ordinary. There is nothing complicated about the structure of Frost’s poems; they seem to be mere translations of everyday events into poetry. Instead of using elaborate phrasings in the lines, his poems speak in a natural, easily comprehensible manner. This simple way of writing is an effect of living in New England, where Frost lived a relatively simple life. That way of life is brought into his poetry in his laconic speech, which allowed him to convey more elaborate ideas and thoughts without stating them outrightly.

The subjects of Frost’s writing are also simple, a reflection of his life in New England. He wrote of woods, birds, and other parts of a simple life in New England. His works, however, are not only applicable to New England because they can be seen as universal interpretations of common situations. Many people can relate to Frost’s subjects because of their overall simplicity; the situations Frost portrays could essentially happen anywhere. However, the inspiration for these subjects came to Frost from living in New England, and the reactions of the people in his poems are often characteristic of those who live in New England.

Frost’s writing, simple though it may seem, is also formal in its verse. Frost was very strict in following the meter of his poems, as well as the general connections in content. To Frost, form was essential, and he balanced his rhymes in a controlled manner, the same way he controlled his portrayal of ideas. His rhyme scheme is often so blatant that it seems he must have carefully planned it out to make each line work with every other; one is able to discern the pattern of a poem after having read some because of the adherence to form.

The tone of Frost’s writing is also very formal; he emphasizes, in his own words, speech rhythms and the “sound of sense”. His poems often reflect self-restraint, with careful attention to reproduce the diction and rhythms of actual speech of New England farmers.

There is a certain artistry to Frost’s style as well, stemming from the effect of New England on Frost’s sense of poetry. The language is often lyrical, blending thought and emotion with symbolic imagery in his New England speech. The greatness of Frost’s poetry lies in his artistry in language and depiction of New England life, using delicately formed phrases of description. The artistry in Frost’s poetry goes beyond the simple ways of life it portrays to bring them out with a certain mark of individuality.

Frost brings out contrasting images regarding nature in New England, from the simple depiction of nature to the intrusion of man-made objects. The New England that Frost depicts is the regrowth of nature over the land after having been taken over by man; there is an image of nature reclaiming its property and rejecting the intrusions of man. Frost did not address the subject of war very much in his poetry, but he felt its effects and considered it a sin against nature, ruining its beautiful landscapes. More often, Frost considered the effects of civilization and its urbanization on nature. In “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Frost presents many contrasting images, a few of which occur in the second stanza:
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
The conflicting images of nature and man-made objects consist of the woods and frozen lake against the expected farmhouse. The horse is used to man-made facilities and can’t understand why they’re stopping someplace where there’s just pure, unbounded nature. The woods in which they pause are owned by someone who lives in the village closeby, and who apparently doesn’t care for nature. The narrator knows he probably won’t be seen because the owner will not venture out into his woods unless he has some practical purpose there; the owner can’t appreciate nature for itself as there is a man-made fence between man and nature.

The natural beauty of New England is also incomprehensible to mankind; there is a natural barrier between man and nature that prevents mankind from penetrating the mysteries of the natural world. In Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” he mentions that “the woods are lovely, dark and deep,” which shows that he believed there is a connection between natural beauty and mystery. The narrator was not able to see into the woods very far, even though there was lots of white snow on the ground, because the woods were dark, which suggests a certain incomprehensibility in nature.

These New England settings were carried further in Frost’s use of the countryside and rural New England. Frost wrote of New England’s valleys, pastures, wildlife, and farms, conveying a sense of natural beauty in New England. However, there was also a certain bleakness, which Frost showed in the more pathetic characters in his poetry. Frost’s background of social and economic uncertainty led him to show this side of New England as well, which gave his work a sense of transience and finality.

Frost’s background is also brought out in his attention to responsibility. In several of his poems, he brings out the idea of obligations and duties to be fulfilled. This conveys a sense of economic need as well, which Frost experienced early on in life. He was impressed by the fact that after hardships of this sort, the people of New England still had some life in them, and this can be seen in his poetry as well.

Frost dealt with the topic of choices, that having been something he learned a lot about growing up in New England. In Frost’s New England, people were very affected by life decisions, where they had to make hard decisions and deal with whatever consequences their choices might bring. He called this “Trial by Existence” in one of his poems, emphasizing the idea that nothing happens to us except what we choose. Frost’s characters must consider their choices carefully and become aware that their course of action must fit with their life and that any decision could have life-altering affects. They often do not realize, though, just how all-encompassing their choices are and at times only see the immediate effects of any decision they might make. Frost portrays his belief that choices have to be made, and that they are irrevocable and come with irrevocable consequences. His characters may be aware of the implications of choosing badly, but they know that the choice cannot be avoided, so when all is said and done, the fact that a choice has been made “has made all the difference”.

Frost also learned much about human nature through living in New England, especially his own nature. He saw man’s condemnable qualities and sometimes wrote poems to sarcastically point out these human fallacies. He observed how “man runs roughshod over nature” by building over it and completely rejecting it, and Frost often rejected these qualities in his poems. He had a deep-rooted respect for nature and held that man is essentially a stranger in the world and can never adapt to nature. He hoped for a sort of truce between man and nature with mutual respect of boundaries and principles.

In New England, Frost’s hope was realized for the most part, as nature had free reign over inhabited land, showing a civilization reformed in regards to nature. In “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” this is taken to another extreme when the horse seems to assume the human quality of impatience, giving his harness bells a shake, and the narrator wants to pause and appreciate nature for a moment. Often in Frost’s poetry, man finds refreshment in a brief submission to the isolation of nature, something Frost experienced himself when living in New England.

Thus we can see that New England life played a major role in Frost’s writing, from his poetry’s actual structure to the content and social commentary it contained. There is a certain simplicity in the way Frost writes, brought out in his subjects and his wording, as well as a contrasting formality in the way he structures the lines and the words within the lines of his poems. Frost’s tone can range from steady and constrained to flowing and artistic, which brings a sort of controlled lyrical elegance to his poetry. This is especially seen in Frost’s portrayal of nature, which he sees as enchanting and comfortably isolating. The intrusion of man-made objects into Frost’s New England upsets him, and he comments in his poetry on the unappreciativeness of man. According to Frost, man should accept nature and its mysteries, respecting the beauty of the natural world. Frost’s New England surroundings influenced these ideas especially because of the rural beauty he grew up in, but also because of the endurance of people who could not afford to reject nature, as it made up the very livelihood of New England farmers. Frost’s experience in this aspect taught him about responsibility, and his lessons area apparent in his poems dealing with duties that must be upheld for financial and moral reasons. Choices and human nature both were a part of Frost’s life in New England, where he learned the value of good decisions and the importance of the actual making of choices. Frost’s New England is brought out in his poetry through all of these things, and it is hard not to see the deep-rooted influence that his life there had on Frost’s poetry.

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