A poem, says Robert Frost begins in delight and ends in wisdom. Discuss this statement with reference to Frost’s poetry and elucidate it with at least one poem.

Frost’s statement that a poem begins with delight and ends in meaning has often been misinterpreted to signify a view that a work intriguingly leads the reader to a thematic conclusion or that the majority of the poem is enjoyable and the last few lines filled with the moral. But Frost himself had a different interpretations: It [a poem] begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down. It runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of lifenot necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on but in a momentary stay against confusion.

Frost is here speaking not so much of the horizontal lines of the poem—that is the movement from start to finish—but of the vertical lines the deepening meanings which one finds inherent in the words and descriptions of the surface. Frost seems to intimate that there is no other way to write a specific poem than the way in which it has been written. This is because the wisdom it contains is eternally true, and thus it is inevitable, it should be stated in such a way. Nonetheless, the poet does not present the wisdom in a rigidly abstract form which makes the poem appear as if it were thought out in advance like an abstract philosophical problem. Rather it flows naturally and, in a sense, recreates the spontaneity of the poet’s own movement toward a discovery of the wisdom contained in the subject. The end result is a momentary stay against confusion; the poet has not clarified all the principles of the universe or of life, but has cast some light on the meaning of the experience or experiences recreated in the specific work.
Frost emphasizes the natural, spontaneous quality of the writing. But poet and reader must share the excitement surprise of discovering a truth which, because it is faithful to life, they have a sense of having known all along. It is the discovery and awareness of recognition which is most important. He wrote, “It must be a revelation, or a series of revelations, as much for the poet as for the reader.”
Poems like Stopping by Woods, Gathering Leaves, Acquainted With the Night, Being Versed in Country Things, etc., all from his later volumes, express the poet’s personal responses to particular situations, and are also statements of his ripe inferences, regarding the nature of the human predicament. They come direct from the poet’s heart, and so go direct to the heart of the reader. They express the surprise of the poet and so come as a surprise to the readers. They reveal, clarity and illuminate. Frost once said that the greatest aim of a poet should be to communicate the thrill of sincerity’, and the poet’s pure lyrics do convey this thrill.
The poet observes the world around him. The common scenes and sights of nature, fields, farms, and roadside dwellings, the flora and fauna of New England, the Yankees at their rural occupations and pastimes, mowing, apple-picking, gum gathering, birch-swinging, wall mending, etc. all claim the poet’s attention. All these and a hundred other commonplace things are observed minutely, and rendered precisely. Observation leads to emotion and emotion to thought. As Frost himself tells us, “emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the word.” His lyrics begin in delight in the beauty of the world around, and they end in wisdom. His lyrics express his sensuous joy in the beauties of nature, or his sense of pathos and tragedy of human life, resulting from his observation of the rural scene. This sets him thinking, and the lyric ends with an expression of his, “rich and ripe philosophy”. Thus in Birches he observes the ‘habit’ of Birches, thinks over what he observes, and concludes,
….Earth is the right place for love:
I do not know where it is likely to go better.
In the Oven-bird, the singing of the bird fills him with delight, he ponders over and derives the philosophical conclusion:
The question he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
In Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, express the conflict in the poet’s mind between his love of the scene and his urgently felt need of keeping his promises and doing his duty. Mowing is a humble rural occupation, but it sets the poet thinking and he comments: the Fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows. Almost all the nature—lyrics of Frost reach out to a metaphysical conclusion.
Fact and fancy are the two polarities of Frosts lyrics. At places he escapes in a world of ideal existence, but very soon he is back again to hard reality. His flights from the world of reality are only momentary; ultimately he comes back to earth and accepts his duties and responsibilities. The wood may be ‘lovely and dark’ but they fail to hold him for long, because he remembers that he has promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps, and in Mowing the scythe whispers to him, “The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows.” Birches illustrates this exquisite blending of fact and fancy most eloquently, for in this lyric the climb, “toward heaven”, ultimately results in a move “earthward”. The withdrawal is momentary and it makes him see life more clearly and face it more courageously. For him “Earth is the right place for love”, and so he longs to return to it. Frost’s devotion to fact shines brightly throughout his lyric. But his is never a mere transcript of actuality, a kind of dogged reporting. When he is most faithful to things, he is most lyrical. The Grindstone is a familiar portrait, a still-life painting of the tool-sharpening instrument common to every farmyard. Yet a whimsical fantasy is woven round it and this is seen even in the opening lines:
Having a wheel and four legs of its own
Has never availed the cumbersome grindstone
To get in everywhere that I can see.
“As the poem gathers speed, it accumulates wit and inventiveness. The grindstone turns in an acceleration of energy, and after achieving its highest momentum, it suddenly slows down-slow-down, as it were, from fantasy to philosophy.”
The poem Birches certainly begins in delight. The poet sees birches bending to right and left across the lines of, “darker, straighter trees”, he imagines that some boy has been swinging them. But soon the truth dawns upon him, and he realises that swinging cannot bend them down permanently. It is the icestorm alone which can bend birches down to stay. After rain and storm the birches are covered with ice. The poet has observed the phenomenon minutely, and his description is vivid and picturesque. When the wind blows, the birches swing up and down and the ice on them shines, and turns many-coloured, as the rays of the sun are refracted in passing through ice. As the sun grows warmer, the ice is shaken down. It fells on earth covered with snow. It seems as if the central dome of heaven has cracked and the earth is covered with heaps of broken glass. It is with the burden of ice that the birches are bowed so low for so long that, “they never right themselves.”
This is the true reason, the hard fact, for the permanent bending of birches. But from this truth, the poet again returns to his fancy that the birches have been thus bowed down permanently by, “some boy’s swinging them”. He imagines that some boy, who lives too far from the town to learn baseball, devises a game for himself, a game which he can play alone, summer or winter. He takes to birch-swinging as a pleasant sport. He climbs the birches over and over again, so much so that not a single tree remains unconquered and unbent. He has painstakingly acquired such skill that even when he reaches the top, he is able to maintain perfect balance, and then he comes to the ground with a swift movement:
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
The poet is in a reminiscent mood. With a wistful longing he remembers the time when he himself was a swinger of birches. He dreams that he would take to birch swinging once again, sometime in the future, when he is, “weary of considerations”. Then by birch-swinging he would get away from earth awhile, “and then, come back to it and begin over”. The poet would never like to leave this earth permanently after a momentary climb to heaven, he would like to return to it, for,
Earth is the right place for love
do not know where it is likely to go better.
He would like to climb up toward heaven by mounting the birches, but then he would also like that they should set him down on earth after a moment. Birch-swinging, “is good both going and coming back”.
The fine lyric brings out several aspects of Frost’s art. Fact and fancy are the two polarities of Frost’s art and both mingle in this fine lyric. His passion for fact is seen in his minuteness of observation and his love of the earth. His imagination or fancy is seen in his imagery, and in his vivid and picturesque descriptions. Says Untermeyer, “Fact and fancy play together throughout the poem”. The crystal ice becomes heaps of broken glass: You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen. The arched trees are transformed into girls on hands and knees, “that throw their hair before them over their heads to dry in the sun”. The country boy, “whose only play was what he found himself, riding and subduing his father’s birches becomes the mature poet who announces:
….Earth’s the right place for love: I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
“Thus wisdom and whimsy join to make a poem that delights the mind and endears itself to the heart. The popularity of Birches lies in its combination of picture and human appeal. It is all the more appealing because of the shrewd turns and the “rare twinkle”. In other words, the poem is an expression of Frost’s, “rich and ripe philosophy”.

A General Estimate of Robert Frost as a Poet

A Great ‘Classic’
Robert Frost has been called the finest American poet of the 20th century, “the purest classical poet of America to-day”, “the one great American poet of our times”, and a New Englander in the, “great tradition, fit to be placed beside Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau”. He has been called, “the voice of America”, and more honours have been showered upon him than any other American poet of the century. On the occasion of the inauguration of Kennedy as the President of the U.S.A. he was called upon to recite one of his most patriotic poems The Gift Outright, and another of his lovely lyrics Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening was the stay and solace of Jawahar Lal Nehru during the last years of his life. He has won world-wide fame and recognition, and has already established himself a ‘classic’, as one who is so great that he stands in a class by himself.

His Simplicity: His Complexity
The first thing which strikes the eye is the extreme simplicity of his poetry. He writes of the simplest subjects, and he says what he has to say in the most lucid and simple manner. It is this simplicity of Frost which has endeared him to ordinary readers. They admire him and go to him again and again, for they can understand and appreciate him without any trouble. But this simplicity of Frost is deceptive. As a matter of fact. Frost is both for the masses and the classes—the learned few as Randall Jarrell points out, a careful reading of his poems reveals that he is extraordinarily subtle, complex and intricate. They have a rich texture, and there are layers within layers of meaning. He makes extensive use of symbols to convey profound truths, and in this respect he is one with such modern poets as Eliot, Yeats, Pound and Auden. As he himself tell us, “he is by intention a symbolist who takes his symbols from the public domain”. His complexity is seen in his habit of bringing together the opposites of life in the manner of the metaphysical poets. “He is a highly conscious artist who is constantly lauding impulse, a penetrating thinker who is afraid of being discovered in the act of thought, a countryman who conceals behind his feeling for the land a sophisticated attitude towards men and their motives.” The ambivalence in his work, appears in the taste for contraries, in the opposition of worlds of light with worlds of darkness in the passion for balancing one idea against its opposite, in the conflicts between good and evil, reason and instinct, conflicts which Frost is always reluctant to resolve completely. “He writes of simple subjects in a simple conversational style and so has endeared himself to the masses; but the learned few also find in him such food for thought, and so respect him and admire him. His poetry appeals to all classes of people, for one reason or the other.” A skilful combination of an outer lightness with an inner gravity is one of his major poetic achievements.
A Great Pastoral Poet
Frost is a great pastoral poet. He writes of rural people, occupations, events and situations. The background to his poetry is provided by country-scenes and sights. He writes of rural people and rural occupations and pleasures—apple-picking, gum-gathering, birch-swinging, mowing, hay-collecting—and the language he uses is the simple, colloquial language of country folk. In his poetry, we do not find the city scenery and city people to whom we are used in modern poetry. There are no shop-girls, truck-drivers, factories, trains and buses in his poetry. But the essentials of city life—the note of anxiety, the heart-ache, neurosis and emotional disturbance which characterise life in a big, industrialised city—are all there. Life is basically the same everywhere, and it is this basic element which is brought out by Frost. Frost has succeeded in imparting universal validity and significance to pastoral art.
A Great Regional Poet
Frost is a great regional poet. The region north of Boston forms the background to his poetry. Its people, its scenes and sights, appear and reappear in successive poems, and impart a rare continuity and unity to his works. It is this particular region that Frost has made his own. He loved it and knew it intimately, and this first hand knowledge makes him interpret it so realistically and accurately. Above all, Frost is the poet of the rural New England. He knew every part of this limited world, and he renders it in words with a brilliant, off-hand ease. His characters are all New Englanders, and he has succeeded in capturing the very tone, diction, idiom, and rhythm of Yankee speech. He writes of a particular region, but from the particular he constantly rises to the universal and the general. He writes of the joys and sorrows, loves and hatreds, of the simple Yankees, but he also shows that such joys and sorrows, loves and hatreds are common to all humanity. Regionalism in his hands acquires a universal appeal.
His Originality as a Nature-poet
Frost is a great nature-poet. He writes of the natural scenes and sights, flora and fauna, hills and dales, of the region which lie north of Boston. Like Wordsworth, his love of nature is limited to nature in a particular district. But unlike Wordsworth, he loves both her pleasant and unpleasant aspects. He enjoys her sensuous beauty, but he is also alive to much that is harsh, bleak and barren in her. He does not shut his eye to her harshness and cruelty. His approach is realistic. He was a working farmer and no working farmer can be romantic about nature. As W.H. Auden has pointed out, Frost’s, “Poems on natural objects are always concerned with them not as fact for mystical mediation or starting points for fantasy, but as things with which, and on which, man acts in the course of the daily work of gaining a livelihood.” He does not find any ‘holy plan’ at work in nature, nor does he regard her as a kindly mother watching benevolently over man. In his view, Nature and man are two separate principles, and it is futile to search for friendship in the external world. He constantly emphasizes the difference, rather than the similarity, between man and nature. In both Two Look at Two and The Most of It, creatures of nature look at man from a distance and that is all. There are no other signs of love, friendship and sympathy. Inseparable barriers divide man from Nature.
His Greatness as a Poet of Man
Though Frost is a great nature-poet, he is still greater as a poet of man. As Untermeyer tells us, “Robert Frost has written on almost every subject. He has illuminated things as common as a wood pile and as uncommon as a pre­historic people, as natural as a bird singing in its sleep and as mechanistic as the revolt of a factory worker. But his central subject is humanity. His poetry lives with a particular aliveness because it expresses living people. Other poets have written about people. But Robert Frost’s poems are the people; they work and walk about and converse, and tell their stories with the freedom of common speech. “People in Frost’s books are all rural New Englanders. He knew them intimately and his portrayal of them is realistic and vivid. Writes Marcus Conliffe in this connection, “his poetry has cropped out of his farmer’s world, every part of which he knows, and knows how to render it in words with a brilliant, off-hand ease. His reticent, poor, dignified New Englanders are evoked in monologues, a little like those of E.A. Robinson, or of Robert Browning, but with a difference. His people speak cautiously and intervals of silence, making each word count. Valuability would be alien to them. They do not go on and on, as in Robinson, or explode, as in Browning. Their lonely farms, the cold winters and all-to-brief summers; the imminence of failure, of the wilderness, of death—all give one the sense of people loving tensely. The tension comes out in the poetry and the moments of relaxation have by contrast an almost extravagant gaiety. The hardl-hood, to repeat, is that of life in New Hampshire, as such, not that imposed by the poet, though, of course, Frost describes it with a professional mastery.” Frost’s range or characters are beyond his range, and he shows great artistic self-restraint in staying within his range. But working within his range, he achieves great vividness, diversity and subtlety.
Alienation, His Major Theme
Frost pictures man as a stranger in an indifferent, if not actually hostile, world. Isolated and alienated people abound in his books, more specially in his book of people, North of Boston. Unsurmountable barriers separate man from nature, from God and from his fellow men, and the result is emotional loneliness and isolation, resulting in severe stress and strain, neurosis and mental agitations verging on insanity. Home Burial, The Death of the Hired Man, Hill Wife, etc., are all studies in alienated and maladjusted individuals. Emotional and physical alienation is a major theme in his poetry.
His Rich and Ripe Philosophy
There is no doubt that Frost takes a rather bleak and gloomy view of man’s earthly existence, but he cannot be condemned as a pessimist merely for this reason. In fact, he is a realist and an ameliorist. He is realistic enough to recognise the ills to which flesh is heir to. He does not shut his eyes to the evil, sorrow and suffering which beset man’s life on this earth. Such a recognition is necessary, if human lot is to be bettered and improved. His approach is never cynical and nihilistic; he does never suggest that the life is not worth living or that it would have been better not to have been born at all. He loves the world as it is, Birches expresses his attitude to a nicety. He, “would like to get away from earth awhile”, but then he must return to earth, for,
…… Earth is the right place for love
I do not know where it is likely to go better,
Human lot may be hard but it can be made bearable by doing one’s duty, sincerely and devotedly, by recognising the otherness of other individuals, and by faith in divine Mercy. His approach to life and its problems is sane and healthy; his philosophy is ripe and mature.
His Conservatism
Frosts is a traditionalist and a classicist. His conservatism is seen in his suspicion of new ideas and innovations. His pre-occupation with country scenes and sight and with simple rural folk links him up with the romantic-Georgian tradition in poetry. He uses the Iambic metre, because most English poetry has been cast in this measure. Though his metres are varied, they are at first glance quite orthodox. He uses the speech of New England but not so as to jolt the reader. The city—that intoxicating theme for the writer of his time—has no place in his work. He is the countryman, with the countryman’s apparent conservatism; for rural life, with its heavy seasonal rhythm of growth and decay, imposes its own continuity on those who live amongst it.
His Classicism
Frost is a classicist in his habit of understatement and self-restraint. He says what he has to say in the fewest possible words, and the result is classic terseness and concentration. Many of his lines are epigrammatic and are frequently quoted. He is a classicist in the formal finish and perfection of his verse, as well as in his simplicity and austerity. His poems of rural life, scenes and sights, breathe the very spirit of the pastorals of Theocratus and Virgil. He is a classicist in his reticent manner, proverbial wisdom, and his habit of reflecting and moralising.
As a Lyricist
Though Frost has left behind him a number of excellent philosophical and narrative poems, his genius was essentially lyrical. Lawrence Thompson rightly points out: “His (Frost’s) primary artistic achievement, which is an enviable one, in spite of shortcomings, rests on his blending of thought and emotion and symbolic imagery within the confines of the lyric.” His lyrics have the simplicity, brevity and intensity which characterise the lyric at its best. The lyrics in The Boys Will are subjective and personal and in them the young poet’s moods find a spontaneous expression. But more characteristic of him is the dramatic lyric, the Browning type dramatic monologue or dialogue. Home Burial, The Death of the Hired Man, Two Tramps in Mud Time, reveal Frost’s mastery over this type. When at his best, Frost is able to combine a serious philosophical theme with a light-hearted, humorous manner, often his lyrics begin with a simple idea or situation, the full implications of which are revealed as the lyric develops, often by the use of rich and varied symbols. The lyrical magic of such lyrics as Stopping by Woods, Neither Out Far, Nor in Deep, The Peaceful Shepherd, etc., has been noted and admired by all readers of Frost.
His Shortcomings
Even the greatest have their faults and Frost is no exception in his respect. More glaring of his shortcomings may be listed as follows:
(1)   He is an unequal poet. He has left behind him many an excellent poem, but also many others which are not so good. Like Wordsworth, he continued to write even when inspiration flagged, and the result is work, inferior and trivial.
(2)   He showed a tendency to moralise from the very beginning and the tendency grew upon him with the passing of time. In his later poems, his didacticism becomes too obtrusive and offensive.
(3)      His range of characterisation is limited to rural New Englanders. It does not include complex human type such as intellectuals. Moreover, he does not probe into the depths; we do not get from him those penetrating psychological studies and soul-dissections which are the hall-mark of modernity.
(4)      Malcolm Cowley criticises Frost for his economic, social, ethical, political views, and regards his views as shallow and conservative. “Frost is opposed to innovations of all kinds, and is contemptuous of every thing Russian. He strongly disapproves of Russians of all kinds, the pessimistic Russians, the revolutionary Russians, the collectivistic Russians, and the five-year planning Russians. He revolts against the possibility of New England adopting any good or bad feature of the Russian programme.”
(5)      He displays mid Victorian prudery in matters of sex. All his characters are decently clothed, and all his love-affairs are etherealised and intellectualised. His reference to adultery are cautious. Sex is never frankly and freely treated.
(6)      He makes no difference between separateness and self-centredness. In his poems, the passions of the New Englanders are diverted into narrow-channels. According to Malcolm Cowley, In Two Tramps in Mud Time there is neither Christian charity nor brotherhood. It makes the learned critic vaguely uncomfortable.
(7)      In the view of Frederic I. Carpenter, Frosts philosophy lack depth and profundity. “The fault of Mr. Frost lies merely in this—that he is a poet, only. His criticism of life is merely poetic. He has not the cosmic imagination which creates its own world.” Frist’s world is fragmentary and meaningless. It is, in his own words, “the vast chaos of all I have lived through.”
(8)      His poetry does not offer us any coherent message or vision of life. He does not clarify and illuminate. At the most, he offers only a momentary stay against confusion. His poetry suffers from a basic uncertainty and indecisiveness.
(9)      According to Yvor Winters, he is a, “spiritual drifter”, who, “puts on the reader a burden of critical intelligence which ought to be born by the poet” Thus in the Road Not Taken no choice is made, and clear path is indicated. The poet is vague and uncertain, as if afraid to come to a decision and make a choice.
(10) Often he treats serious subjects in a casual light-hearted fashion, and the result is comic and ridiculous, rather than serious. For example, in the poem The Egg and the Machine, the locomotive obviously symbolises the evil of machinery, and the traveller, in order to express his disapproval of it, throws turtle eggs at it. “The turtle-egg, of course, may have a symbolic significance: it is plasm, raw life, and therefore, capable of confounding the mechanical product of human reform. But the locomotive does not just represent human reason, it is something created by human reason to facilitate higher activities. There is nothing either of wisdom or of greatness in a turtle egg. As we analyse the symbolism, the poem is reduced to a feeble joke.” The title of one of his poems, A Serious Step Lightly Taken is suggestive. Comments Yvor Winters, “but if serious steps are to be lightly taken, then poetry, at least, is impoverished, and the poet can have very little to say. Most of the world’s great poetry has had to do with serious steps seriously taken. And when the seriousness goes from life, it goes from the poetry.” The fact is that Frost had only a lover’s quarrel with the world, and, therefore, his criticism of it is half-hearted and halting. It does not go far enough. As a matter of fact, “it is no criticism at all.” Therefore, the learned critic calls him, “the poet of the minor theme, the casual approach, and the discreetly eccentric attitude.”
(11) He relies too much on instinct and impulse and ridicules the, “reasoning man” as in The Bear. But if man is guided by his impulses, he would be like the caged bear. But man has advanced from the level of the beasts by subordinating his instincts and impulses to reason. To be guided by instinct alone would be a retrograde step. In Yvor Winter’s opinion, in this poem Frost is satirising the intelligent man from the point of view of the unintelligent. The more one studies the poem, the more trivial and ridiculous it seems. Further, the learned critic points out, Frost is guilty of self-contradiction and inconsistency when in The White-Tailed Hornet he shows that the hornet is mistaken even when it acts on instinct.
(12) Frost’s habit of instituting, “downward comparison”, is a degradation of the human race. He constantly compares main to animals and trees and finds much that is animal and vegetable inhuman nature.
Such are Frost’s shortcomings, but they do not direct even a little from his real greatness. He may not be so great a poet as, say Shakespeare, but he is certainly a distinguished and valuable poet. He has certainly earned a place of distinction, at home and abroad, as a major American poet.

Frost: Language, Diction and Versification

Epigrammatic Terseness
Frost is a great artist with words. His words are carefully chosen both with reference to their sense and their sound. He painstakingly revised and polished what he wrote and tried to express himself with utmost economy, with the result that many of his lines have an epigrammatic terseness and condensation and can easily be memorised and quoted. He has the Yankee habit of understatement. Elizabeth Jenning notices this aphoristic quality of Frost’s verse and cites Reluctance and Stopping by Woods as examples. Epigrammatic lines like, “The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows”, “Earth is the right place for love”, “Nothing can make injustice just but mercy”, “the hand that knows his business won’t be told”, etc. readily come to one’s mind in this connection. Says Mark Van Doren, “Frost knows how to say a great deal in a short space, just as the many men and women, whom he has listened to in New England and elsewhere, have known how to express in the few words they use more truth than volumes of ordinary rhetoric can express.”

Simplicity and Clarity
The first quality which strikes the eye in Frost’s poetry is its extreme simplicity and clarity. He was well-learned in the classics and other literatures, but his diction is never burdened with this learning. There are few learned references and allusions in his poetry, neither does he have the obscurity and difficulty of T.S. Eliot. As Lawrence Thompson points out, “Frost’s poetic concerns are akin to those which led Wordsworth to choose incidents and situations from common life and then to present them in a language actually used by the common present man, whose heart-felt passions are not restrained. Like Wordsworth, and like many other poets before and after Wordsworth, Frost has particularly emphasized his concern for catching within the lines of his poems the rhythms and cadences and tones of human speech. He uses, a simple, colloquial diction, which is, however, purified, in the manner of Wordsworth, of all that is slangy, coarse and vulgar.”
Richness of Texture
Frost’s simplicity is only apparent. Careful reading reveals that it is the result of an art that conceals art. There is constant shifting, selecting and ordering of material till perfection is attained. “His poems are remarkably flawless as far as technique goes; there are few cracks either in rhythm or verbal texture.” Further, the simple texture of his verse conceals within it layer within layer of meaning. His imagery is drawn from the most common and familiar objects of nature, but it is used symbolically and hence arises the richness of his texture; Frost’s language is simple, but highly suggestive.
Colloquialism: Voice Tones
Frost’s ambition was to write in the natural, everyday speech of New Englanders, to capture the speaking voice with all its rich inflections and intonations. According to Mark Van Doren, Frost builds into his verse the conversational tones of the New Englanders. Says Cornelius Weygandt, “All rural New England shares a laconic speech, a pictures queness of phrase, a stiffness of lip, a quizzicality of attitude, a twistiness of approach to thought, but there is a New Hampshire slant to all these qualities, and that you find in the verse of Frost.” In his own pronouncements on the nature of his art, Frost again and again emphasized the value of the speaking tone of voice. Through a proper arrangement and choice of words, he tried to convey the sense of humour, pathos, hysteria, anger, and all kinds of effects. He believed that every meaning has a, “particular sound posture”, or the sense of every meaning has a particular sound. In this way, he stressed that, “in speech the movement of a sentence is an expression of its sense, the accents, the pauses, the voice’s rise and fall, evoking a feeling which exactly fits the tenor of what is said.” Further, he believed that real poetry consists of, “words that have become deeds”, and that, “words are worse than nothing unless they do something”. Therefore, in his poetry he tries to make words expressive of action-gestures by introducing even into his more serious poems various kinds of word-play, voice tones, and punch lines and other action devices. He complained, “what bothers people in my blank verse is that I have tried to see what I could do with boasting tones and quizzical tones and shrugging tones (for they are such) and forty-eleven other tones. All I care a cent for is to catch sentence tones that haven’t been brought to book.”
Dramatic Variety
From this it becomes clear that the distinctive feature of Frost’s diction are: first, the conversation tone, and secondly, this conversational tone is regional, i.e., the tone of Yankee speech. Now in conversation the tone, the inflections, the intonations, the accents, vary from speaker to speaker, and Frost’s diction has this variety. It is dramatic, it varies from character to character, and also according to a change in the mood, thought, emotions, and situation of the same character. Thus the tone and posture of the speaker, in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening are different from the tone and posture in Mending Wall or in The Death of the Hired Man or in After Apple Picking.
Speech Syntax
Besides this, the speech-syntax  is broken and loose. There are parenthesis, pauses, breaks, ellipses, unfinished sentences halting measures sudden ejaculations, repetitions and abrupt openings, and all these qualities characterise Frost’s style. Sometimes the speaker has no patience to round off a sentence, but breaks it up at a point where he feels that his meaning  conveyed. At other times, the speaker is too much excited to complete his meaning and breaks in the middle. At still other times, the speaker abruptly interrupts his speech to talk about something else, or to throw in a side comment or an interjection. The most important things in the diction of poems like The Home Burial, Directive, etc., are the breaks the dashes, the asides and exclamations. We may be excused for quoting at length from The Death of the Hired Man to illustrate the point:
Warren, I wish you could have heard the way
He jumbled everything. I stopped to look
Two or three times—he made me feel so queer—
To see if he was talking in his sleep.
He ran on Harold Wilson—you remember—
The boy you had in haying four years since.
or, the following:
You know where they cut off the woods—let me see
It was two years ago
or no! can it be
No longer than that
?—and the following fall
The fire ran and burned it all up but the wall’
He thinks I only have to say the word,
And she’ll come back. But, bless you, I’m her mother
I can’t talk to her and Lord, if I could
I didn’t like the way he went away.
That smile
! it never came of being gay.
Still he smiled—and you see him—
                                      I was sure.
However it should be noted that in his short personal lyrics the language is not so broken. It is smooth, continuous and direct. Thus Frost may be said to have two styles, and not one.
Regional Flavour and Tone
Frost’s conversational language is regional. He has succeeded in capturing the distinctive flavour and tone of Yankee speech. This regional touch is not imparted by the use of dialectic words. As Lynen Points out, there are few dialectic or regional words in the poetry of Frost. There is nothing regional about Frost’s vocabulary. The words he uses are the words which are in common use everywhere. The regional quality of his diction is seen not in the choice of words, but in their arrangement. It is seen in his phrasing and idiom. Phrases like, “To get it anywhere that I can see”, “Has nothing any more to do with me”, are real Yankee speech. But phrasing alone cannot account for the peculiar regional quality of Frost’s diction. The impression of regionalism is also created by the fact that Frost’s idiom and phrasing grow out from the meaning and emotion which the poem conveys. The style is not distinct but a part of the content of poetry. The meaning is, “reflected in, and symbolised by, the details of language.” The speakers in his poems are Yankees, and their moral sense, their attitudes and values, their mental states, are conveyed by their manner of speaking. For example, in The Code, there is a perfect fusion of style and content, and so the style acquires a peculiar local flavour. The Yankee pride and sense of self-respect are expressed through the reticence and understatement peculiar to the rural dwellers in the region north of Boston. In Fire and Ice, “the more one listens to the nuances of tone, the more one hears the Yankee qualities of the speaker’s voice.” As a record of colloquial English, the poem is a tour de force. It acquires much of its intensity from the Yankee habit of understatement and reticence. Says Lynen, “The colloquial phrasing does not negate the poem’s bitterness. Quite the opposite; it is the means of raising it to an extreme pitch. The more the speaker’s manner disclaims strong feelings, the more powerful his feelings seem.” Furthermore, the understatement dramatizes the special character of the Yankee concerned. His ironic, casual manner manifests a more than normal sensitivity of thought. He is speaking of things in human nature which arouses the deepest terror, but he will not yield to emotional outbursts. Instead he holds back, pretending to be amused, indifferent, because only by reining in his own feelings can he be free to face the brutal results of man’s emotions realistically or recognizes their full destructiveness. Most serious ideas are here expressed, through humble, everyday phrase. In such poems Frost’s style acquires a symbolic significance. We see in it, and through it, the essential nature of the Yankee mind.
Use of Traditional Metres: His Rhythms
The conversational, colloquial quality of Frost’s poetry is also seen in his rhythms. Most of his poetry is cast in the traditional Iambic metre. But variations are introduced subtly and skilfully. Frost is not an innovator and he has never tried his hand at free verse, like Yeats, Eliot, Pound and Auden. But his variations are wider and more frequent than those of other poets upto the 19th century. His handling of rhythm is distinctive. It is seen in his ability to maintain a strong, regular cadence and yet make the lines seem loose and unpatterned. “The looseness can be traced to the many spondees and clusters of unaccented syllables, which break up the metre again and again without ever displacing it. It is not displaced because the variations, though numerous, are balanced by the frequent reiteration of the metre in perfect lines. Syllable count as well, is strictly observed.” The result is a rhythm which has the advantages of regular metre, and yet creates an abrupt and rough effect suggestive of everyday speech. In this way, he is able to capture the casual and informal rhythm-pattern of the spoken language. His talking rhythms result from a close balancing of looseness and flexibility with regularity, reiteration and tightness.
A Great Experimenter with Verse-forms
Frost is a great metrical artist, a great experimenter with stanzaic-forms and verse-forms, but he is in no sense an innovator. His skill is seen in his adaptation of old traditional metres to his own uses. He has experimented with odes, eclogues, satires, dramatic monologues and dialogues and masques. He has employed ballad metre, sonnets and sonnet variants, terza rima, heroic couplets, blank verse, and free invented forms. Elizabeth Jenning admiring his skill as a versifier writes, “Frost’s verse is formal, even at time, stately; its movements are often easily anticipated. Yet, despite this, his technique is so flexible, his handling of language and cadence so careful and delicate, that he is able to give his most elegant poems the air of spontaneity.” He himself once said that just as in sport a game is more enjoyable when played according to rules, so poetry is more skilled and enjoyable when written within the limits of forms and conventions. So he avoids the formlessness and eccentricity of modern free verse, and keeps the appropriate form and shape.
His Blank Verse
Frost’s skill in the handling of blank verse has not been generally recognised. Yvor Winters, for example, is critical of his handling of blank verse and says it is inept, undistinguished and monotonous. Elizabeth Jennings, however, admires his blank verse for its amazing flexibility and variety. Admiring his use of blank verse in his poem From Plane to Plane, she writes, “It is a very different kind of poem; it is a sort of conversation piece between two hired men, a countryman and a man from college. As is his custom in this type of poem, Frost employs blank verse and it is amazing how flexible he makes this medium seem.” It can carry equally and effectively the colloquial.
They were giving corn
A final going over with the hoe………
and the allusively humorous,
“So I have heard and do in part believe it,
Dick said to old Pike, innocent of Shakespeare.
and the reflective,
I like to think the sun’s like you in that Since you bring up the subject of the sun.
This would be my interpretation of him.
He bestows summer on us and escapes
Before our realizing what we have
To thank him for.
In short, Frost is a great metrical artist, as well as a great artist with words. He has turned the living speech of men and women into poetry. He has carefully rendered into metre customary Yankee speech. His poems are people talking. His greatness and skill is seen in his mastery over the difficult art of handling conversation in verse forms.