Write an essay on the poetic technique of Robert Frost.
Discuss the poetic style of Frost.
Write an essay on the language, diction and versification of Robert Frost.
Answer: The poetic technique of Frost, his poetic art, is remarkable. He is a great metrical artist, a great word painter. Almost like Wordsworth’s declared poetic craft, Frost has turned the living speech of men and women into poetry, in his case the customary Yankee speech. Most of his poems are like people talking. He possesses great skill in his handling of the difficult art of conversation in the form of verse.
Simplicity and clarity, and brevity are the prime qualities of Frost. His words are carefully chosen with an eye to their sense and sound. He tried to express his ideas with utmost economy. As a result many of his lines have acquired an epigrammatic terseness and condensation. They can be easily memorized and quoted. Mark Van Doren remarks, “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 more truth than volumes of ordinary rhetoric can express.” Though he was learned in the classics, there are few references and allusions in his poems. He presented the incidents and situations of common life in a language actually used by the ordinary people. Through the arrangement and choice of words he tried to convey the sense of humor, pathos, hysteria, anger and all kinds of moods and feelings. He believed that poetry consists of words that have become deeds, and that “words are worse than nothing unless they do something.” Lawrence Thompson points out about the simplicity of Frost’s diction, “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 man, whose heartfelt 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.
In sentences, he uses the speech syntax of the Yankee speech. The sentences are broken and loose. There are parentheses, ellipses, pauses, unfinished sentences, sudden ejaculations, repetitions and abrupt openings. Sometimes the speaker has no patience to round off a sentence, but breaks it up at a point where he feels that his meaning is conveyed. At other times, the speaker is too excited to complete his meaning, and breaks in the middle. Of course, in the short lyrics, the syntax is not so broken — it is smooth, continuous and direct. Frost has the flexibility to adapt his syntax to the theme of the poem. His syntax is varied. Also typical of the rhythms of conversation are the rhythms of his poetry.
Most of his poetry is cast in the iambic pentameter, the common meter of English poetry. But there are subtle variations skillfully introduced. Frost has the ability to maintain a strong regular Cadence, while at the same time to make his lines seem “loose and unpatented”. The looseness can be traced to the many spondees and clusters of unaccented syllables, which break up the meter again and again without ever displacing it. It is not displaced because the variations, though humorous, are balanced by the frequent reiteration of the meter in perfect lines. Syllable count as well is strictly observed. All these have created a rhythm which has the advantages of regular meter, 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 poetry has thus become a kind of lofty prose, without prosaicness.
The distinctive features of Frost’s diction are first, the conversational tone and secondly, this conversational tone is regional. 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 mood, thought, emotions, and situation of the same character.
Frost builds into his verse the conversational tones of the New Englanders. According to Cornelius Weygandt, “All rural New England shares a laconic speech, a picturesqueness of phrase, a stiffness of lip, a quizzicality of attitude, a testiness of approach to thought, but there is a New Hampshire slant to all these qualities, and that you find in the verse of Frost.” 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”.
Some critics have disparaged Frost’s blank verse, but Elizabeth Jennings admires his blank verse for its amazing flexibility and variety. She praises the poem “From Plane to Plane” in the following words, “It is a very different poem, it is a sort of conversation piece between two hired men, a country man and a man from college. Frost uses blank verse and it is amazing how flexible he makes this medium seem”. Frost has shown a great skill in handling blank verse.
In verse forms and stanza forms also, Frost was a tireless experimenter. Though he was no innovator, he was able to adapt traditional meters to his purpose. He experimented with odes, dialogues, dramatic monologues, masques and ballad meter, heroic couplet, blank verse and free verse and all sorts of things like that.
His poetry displays high craftsmanship. His poetic art is of the lofty dimension. His use of simple, everyday words of common parlance, his handling of the loose syntax of speech of the Yankee, his experiments with different verse forms, and stanza forms, and the dramatic quality of his poetic style—all mark him out as a distinguished poet. In respect of diction, rhythm and versification, Frost holds a very high place in American literature.