Robert Frost: An Introduction.

The Poems

For Robert Frost, one of the most distinguished of American poets, the 1930s were, in addition to their political and economic volatility, a time of personal tragedy. His daughter, wife, and son all died in succession between 1934 and 1944, events followed by the institutionalization of another daughter (Faggen xiv). His only book of new verse in the decade was A Further Range (1936), for which he won a Pulitzer.

The poems in the volume assert the poet's "complex and often seemingly contradictory" politics which included a love of "the possibilities of individuality and freedom but recongized the equally the limitations of environment; he regarded enforced egalitarianism with contempt but looked suspiciously and often with fear at excesses of the self-obsessed" (Faggen 5).

Above all in A Further Range Frost expresses a weariness with the demands of the chaotic age and a seeming desire to disengage. As such, evidence of the Depression appears in concert with expressions of disdain for any mass political solution.

Among the best examples of this sensibility are the poems "Not Quite Social" and "To a Thinker". In the former, Frost expresses his desire to be "but loosely" tied to the world. He denies that the society, the "city," has any greater claim on the individual than at any other time in history. In the latter, "To a Thinker," Frost's disdain is explicit. The poem's speaker addresses "a thinker" who sways back and forth intellectually, "weaving like a stabled horse," from one position to its opposite and back. The thinker endlessly pursues the political and social fads of his day. Frost decries the behavior, the pursuit of the socially acceptable, more than he does any particular attitude the thinker adopts, though the suggestion is that the political movements of the time are faddish rather than long-term solutions.

Stylistically, the poems largely diverge from the long, blank verse dramatic monologues of Frost's early career. They employ rhyme, often humorously, and shorter lyric forms. Frequently the tone is light, as in "A Lone Striker," where a factory worker, shut out of work for lateness, "strikes" not for political action, but to go off and wander in nature on "a path that wanted walking" to a "spring that wanted drinking".

Frost employs his verse to deny the demands which the strident and demanding world makes on the individual. Poetry becomes a prop against external demands, the proverbial "stay against confusion," a means by which to preserve the human in the midst of the encroachments of a time of social upheaval.

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