Depict the theme of alienation in the poems of Robert Frost.
Discuss the poetry of Frost as the poetry of isolation.
Answer: The theme of alienation or isolation is a recurrent one in Frost’s poems. The word alienation actually belongs to psychology. It means different things in psychology, but the meaning that is relevant to discussing this theme in Frost’s poetry is someone’s feeling of being detached from society, from the world or even from one’s own self. The term isolation has a close denotation with alienation, but connotatively the words are different. Isolation, properly speaking, means the process of separating or placing apart. In talking about Frost’s poems, however, the terms are used almost synonymously.
In Frost’s poetry, we frequently find man isolated or alienated from his immediate environment. Nature even appears extraneous to man’s physical existence. Man is isolated from other men through a sense of fear. Man is isolated in space from the stars and the sky. He is isolated from God, and even from himself, that is from his own self. Women’s isolation or alienation seems harder than man’s. According to Frost’s vision or philosophy of life, it is man’s lot to be alienated from all the other things and beings of the universe, and destined to live alone, live a lonely existence.
Man is seen to be alienated from his immediate environment in many of his poems. This alienation is created by the barriers between man and the world of nature. We find open spaces and deserts which are not meant for man. Man feels lost and alienated from such open spaces and deserts. Man’s spirit sinks at the sights of vast, desolate deserts and barren places, or high unsociable mountains. He feels inevitably separated and alienated from such places, which, to their feelings, appear like barriers. Man sometimes feels like challenging these barriers, and sometimes yields to them. But even if some very highly spirited men may challenge them, they are not successful in overcoming them; they are invariably defeated. Montgomery makes a very relevant observation about this point: “There are those souls, of course, who are content to have a barrier stand as a continual challenge which they never accept, such as the old teamster (cart driver) of “The Mountain” who lives and works in the shade of the mountain he always intends to climb, but never does. And there are those who accept the challenge and go down in defeat: the deserted village of the “Census Taker” with its gaunt and empty buildings is evidence of such a failure”.
Not only from nature or his immediate environment, man is also alienated from his fellow men in society. That happens mainly through fear. Frost’s poem “North of Boston” is full of people who are emotionally isolated or lost. The poem “Mending Wall’ puts forward the view point of a farmer who sticks to a conservative view—the view that good fences make good neighbors. He opposes the young man’s view that fences are not necessary since they have farms of two different types of crops. Thus a barrier is created between man and man, by the fences set up by them. If the poem is read symbolically, the poem is a comment on racial, religious, national, and ideological barriers which divide and separate one man from another, one nation form another. In “The Home Burial” there is a pathetic lack of communication between husband and wife, and the mother’s grief deepens into insanity. The shadow of their dead child forms the barrier which alienates them from each other. Similarly, “The Death of the Hired Man” depicts the terrifying picture of the loneliness of a socially alienated old servant, Silas, who must work even in his old age to support himself. His pride keeps him alienated from his own, rich brother, and keeps him moving from one master to another in search of better salary. But his efficiency gradually decreases, and he comes to die in his old master’s house where the mistress seems to be talking very kindly to him. Poems like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, “The Hill Wife”, “and An Old Man’s Winter Night”, and “Acquainted with the Night” depict man’s alienation from his fellow men in society through fear created by different barriers.
Another type of alienation that we come across in Frost’s poems is man’s isolation in space from the stars and the sky. The volume of poems called North of Boston specially deals with this kind of alienation of man. The barriers that create the alienation in man can be the void, the space—separating man from the stars. Man tries to bridge this gap but fails; his attempt proves vain, futile. His efforts only serve to prove the littleness of man in a vast universe. “I Will Sing You One—O” depicts the immensity of the universe and its permanence in contrast to man’s tiny space, and helpless temporary existence. The poem “The Lesson for Today” tells us that contemplation of the great heights of the sky and the stars cowers man into realizing his futile existence, and he is overcome by a terrifying sense of isolation or alienation.
Man, as is seen in Frost’s poems, feels alienated from God. Man’s Power of reasoning stands as a barrier between God and himself.
Man’s absolute or unconditional surrender to God might have enabled him to establish a blissful communion with God. But man’s rational power and his intellect prevent him from doing that. They stand as a barrier, and throw man as an isolated existence. Faith is required of man to establish sweet relationship with God, but his rationality and intellect opposes his faith, and, as a result, he remains detached from God.
Apart from man’s alienation from his immediate environment, the world of nature, and God, man is alienated even from himself. “Desert Places” is a poem that poignantly indicates the fact that every heart contains a waste land within itself. It is a more pitiable situation than man’s being alienated from other things external to him.
Another thing to be noted is that alienation in Frost’s poems appears to be harder or more dreadful for women than for men. A woman may not isolate herself from other things if she has love, but if love is lost, or if love fails, then she is doomed to the deepest frustration, and is bound to have a sense of alienation. As a result of that she may go mad or even die.
For Frost, the theme of alienation stands for man’s destiny in the universe. He is born alone, lives a lonely existence, and dies a solitary death. For all these attitudes of Frost towards human existence, for his sense of isolation of the human kind, Lionel Trilling branded him as a “terrifying poet.” His vision of a lonely existence of man is not a mere American dilemma; it is a universal situation, a situation of utter helplessness of man.
Frost has been consistent in dealing with this theme of alienation in many of his poems. The treatment of the theme is highly poetic, and induces a feeling of utter desolation in the human soul.