The photo above is of my copy of The Complete Poems of Robert Frost, which was given to me as a birthday present in December 1963. I thumb through the volume on occasion, looking for particular poems, or just looking for something that triggers my memory or attracts me in some way. I have always found the poetry of Robert Frost appealing.
Robert Frost was born in 1874, married in 1895, and attended Harvard for two years (1897-99). He worked as a farmer for nine years, and during that time he must have awakened even earlier than most farmers, because he wrote poetry each morning. Farming didn’t work out economically for Frost . . . possibly because he was so much more interested in poetry. Giving up on agriculture, he became a teacher. In 1912 he and his family moved to England. It was in England that he published his first book of poetry, A Boy’s Will (1913) at the age of 39. “Reluctance” is my favorite poem from that collection.
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
Frost was a master of the iamb: a two-syllable metric foot consisting of an unstressed sound followed by a stressed one. Examples: Exist, Because, Diverge. He wrote poems in iambic dimeter, as in “Dust of Snow.” In iambic trimeter, as in “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” In iambic tetrameter, as in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” And in iambic pentameter, as in “Acquainted with the Night.” I suspect that Frost could have mastered any line length in iambs.
Dust of Snow
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
In 1914 Frost’s second collection of poetry was published, North of Boston. This short collection begins with “Mending Wall.” I swear that every single time I drive by a stone wall on a country road, I think of “Mending Wall.”
Frost and his family returned to the United States in 1915. He bought a farm in Franconia, New Hampshire, continued to write poetry, and began teaching English at Amherst College. The Franconia house is today a museum and writer’s retreat site called The Frost Place.
Unlike many of his contemporaries (Amy Lowell, T.S. Eliot, Carl Sandburg, and others), Robert Frost didn’t experiment with poetic form. He didn’t, for example, write free verse. Because of this, and because of his rural-based subject matter, some literary critics ignored Frost or considered him an “old-fashioned” poet. But of the poets who were awarded the Pulitzer Prize more than once, Frost leads all others: he won four, compared to the next-closest (also traditional), Edwin Arlington Robinson, who won three.
If you aren’t familiar with the poetry of Robert Frost, I suggest you read a few of his poems, including the ones I’ve mentioned. Perhaps they’ll lead you to two roads diverging in a yellow wood . . . and you’ll take the one that makes all the difference.
Barbara Gregorich’s poetry (none of it in iambic pentameter) has been published in several places, including Barnwood, Blue Collar Review, Inkwell, and Prairie Journal, and is available in Crossing the Skyway.