Frost and Nature
Frost's use of nature is the single most misunderstood element of his poetry. Frost said over and over, "I am not a nature poet. There is almost always a person in my poems." "Spring Pools" and "A Winter Eden" are two rare exceptions to this rule, although both poems embody the idea of perfection - the spring pools "almost without defect" and the snow scene described as "paradise." Nature does not idealize - that is the work of man, so perhaps there is a person there after all.
Most of Frost's poems use nature imagery. His grasp and understanding of natural fact is well recognized. However Frost is not trying to tell us how nature works. His poems are about human psychology. Rural scenes and landscapes, homely farmers, and the natural world are used to illustrate a psychological struggle with everyday experience met with courage, will and purpose in the context of Frost's life and personal psychology. His attitude is stoical, honest and accepting. Frost uses nature as a background. He usually begins a poem with an observation of something in nature and then moves toward a connection to some human situation or concern. Frost is neither a transcendentalist nor a pantheist.
Robert Frost saw nature as an alien force capable of destroying man, but he also saw man's struggle with nature as an heroic battle. As told in his poem "Our Hold on the Planet",
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 wouldn't be steadily more,
Our hold on the planet wouldn't have so increased.
Nature is separate and independent from man. Man "keeps the universe alone," even though he may call out for "counter love," he will not find it. Even though he loved natural beauty, Frost recognized the harsh facts of the natural world. He viewed these opposites as simply different aspects of reality that could be embraced in poetry. He accepts these facts with honesty and is remorseless in his realization of them. He probes the quality of truth and accepts that there may be no answer.
Frost uses nature as metaphor. He observes something in nature and says this is like that. He leads you to make a connection, but never forces it on the reader. Read on a literal level, Frost's poems always make perfect sense. His facts are correct, especially in botanical and biological terms. But he is not trying to tell nature stories nor animal stories. He is always using these metaphorically implying an analogy to some human concern. The reader may or may not be reminded of the same thing that the poet was thinking of when he wrote the poem, but he hopes the reader is close. Frost is often described as a parablist. His poetic impulse starts with some psychological concern and finds its way to a material embodiment which usually includes a natural scene. Frost always takes time to describe it with sensitivity and care while using good poetic technique especially figurative language. Many of his poems are text book examples of the use of imagery and poetic devices of all kinds. He was a skilled versifier.
Frost struggled all his life with a traditional faith-based view of the world and the rise of science. It is still being argued whether or not he believed in God. Curiously, people of opposing beliefs can find justification of their views in Frost because this poet is full of contradictions. Basically he believed in a ever changing open-ended universe, which could not be explained with systematic thought, whether it be science, religion or philosophy. He declared that evolution was simply a metaphor for a changing world.
He believed the universe was unknowable and his poems reflect the withheld judgment based on his skepticism. He declared he was not an agnostic. He said, "I have no doubts about my beliefs." The contradictions Frost found in the world did not bother him. He saw no reason to resolve them but believed that man acting in freedom could balance the contradictions in a sort of play. He never believed one age was worse than another. He embraced the Christian doctrine of Acceptance thinking it unworthy to "play the good without the ill."
Read essay "Nature and Pastoralism" from The Pastoral Art of Robert Frost by John F. Lynen
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