Frost's Hallmarks
Poetry is a game of words. There are two players: the writer and the reader. Like all games, there are rules that can be followed or broken for the effect of the game. Like all games, the way to play has evolved over time. The game has a history of traditions and a history of past players. As in all games, experience and appreciation of the history and the rules make you a better player. The object of the game is fun, but sometimes we learn something.
 
Poetry is a sophisticated game of words. A good reader is the compliment of a good writer. A great writer raises the game to the level of art. To better understand Frost, look for these hallmarks. We are asking: What is organic in the poet - the core elements?
 
Here is a list of attributes a natural reader can look for to enrich his or her appreciation
of Frost's poetry. These are not listed in order of importance.
 

 
Subject Matter. Everyday experience fresh from life, not evoked in quite the same way before in poetry. Rural scenes and landscapes, prosaic farmers, and the natural world are used to illustrate a psychological struggle with experience met with courage, will and purposefulness in the context of Frost's life and personal psychology. His attitude is stoical, honest and accepting.
 
Themes. The theme is the central idea of the work. Reginald Cook, a noted Frost scholar, listed 7 major categories of themes in Frost:
 
1) Relationship to fellow man. (To Earthward, Two Tramps in Mudtime, The Tuft of Flowers)
2) The tragic sense (The Hill Wife, The Death of the Hired Man, Home Burial)
3) A strong, sensitive, restrained feeling for the non-human world of nature. (Mowing, Spring Pools)
4) Retreat, not escape. (A Drumlin Woodchuck, One Step Backward Taken)
5) Fatefulness. (Stars, Bereft, Once by the Pacific)
6) Trust in oneself, in our fellow man, and trust in the future. Variants include affirmation, reverence and humility, and religious emotion. (Into my Own, Neither Out Far Nor In Deep, The Fear of God)
7) Yankee comedy. (Brown's Descent, Departmental, The Cow in Apple Time, Etherealizing)
 
Sound. Frost once said, "I want them all to sound different." He often says, "Listen for the tune." Frost uses wordplay and sound for its own sake.
 
Tone and Drama. Frost once said, "It's the tone I'm in love with; that's what poetry is, tone." From the beginning, he was after "tones of voice". He uses drama and situation to vary the tones. He said, "Literature is a performance in words." Frost used distinctive human tonalities, generally subdued and low key , ranging through the scale of human emotion, including tenderness, scorn and blandishment.
 
Vocabulary Frost once described himself almost an anti-vocabularian. He admired the precision of Emerson's idea of "ancient speech", the 100 words of an ordinary man's vocabulary. As in Monadnock,
"Scoff of yeoman, strong and stark,
Goes like bullet to the mark,
And the solid curse and jeer
Never balk the waiting ear."
Frost enriched his simple words with situation, tones of voice and his power of association.
 
Form. Frost primarily wrote short to medium length poems. His poems are highly structured in terms of meter, rhythm, and rhyme. He used traditional stanzaic organization. Form includes the technical aspects of poetry. Frost takes particular delight in these things. Frost was a metricist. He said, "I would sooner write free verse as play tennis with the net down."
 
Metaphor. Frost said, "Poetry permits the one possible way to say one thing and mean another." Frost's greatness is in his power of association. This begins in observation and follows with connection. Frost said, "The figure (of a poem) is the same as for love, it begins in delight and ends in wisdom." Frost said, "A poem is a thought-felt thing." Its psychological overtones and undertones are important.
 
Nature. Frost uses nature as a background. He usually begins a poem with the observation of something in nature and then moves toward a connection to some human situation or concern. Frost said, "I am not a nature poet. There is almost always a person in my poems."
 
Reserve. Frost believed poetry should engage ideas, but not take sides. He never answered important questions directly. He is the master of the abeyant judgment and the withheld conviction. He said, "Poetry is gloating." His feelings are restrained. He said, "Never larrup an emotion."
 
Region. Frost's backdrop is 19th C. New England and he was often thought of as a regional poet, however, he described himself as a "realmist." His poetry is universal, but told in the setting of New England. He wrote of New England because he knew it and loved it best.
 
Humor. Frost once said, "The height of poetry is a kind of mischief." Frost liked to be a rascal. Look for his puns and double entendres - they are delicious. "And to whom I was like to give offense." (a fence) Mending Wall. Frost had a great sense of humor and play.
 
Contradictions and Paradox. Frost's life, seen in retrospect, began as a contradiction. The great Yankee poet was born in San Francisco and named for a Confederate general. Frost often pointed out contradictions in life, but he did not choose between good and evil. He more often saw "opposing good." He acknowledged the existence of evil, but thought it "unworthy to play the good without the ill." He accepted the good and ill and did not seek to unify the world. He liked the idea of separateness and freedom of the individual. He believed life's "contraries" (opposing qualities) could be resolved in a sort of play.
 
Be careful how you treat these terms:
The SETTING is usually rural or nature.
The SUBJECT of a poem is the topic that the poet has chosen to write about, e.g. labor.
The THEME of a poem is the main thought that it expresses about the subject.
The theme may be explicit or implied. It is something psychological OR believed OR felt. For example in "Mowing" the theme is: "Working at a task one loves is its own best reward" or "the joy of work is sweeter than any dream."
 
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