Answer: Robert Frost has a balanced philosophy of life. He is neither a pessimist to see darkness all around nor an optimistic fool who fails to understand the practical and realistic sense of life and nature. The austere and tragic view of life that emerges in so many of Frost’s poems is modulated by his metaphysical use of detail. As Frost portrays him, man might be alone in an ultimately indifferent universe, but he may nevertheless look to the natural world for metaphors of his own condition. Thus, in his search for meaning in the modern world, Frost focuses on those moments when the seen and the unseen, the tangible and the spiritual intersect. John T. Napier calls this Frost’s ability “to find the ordinary a matrix for the extraordinary.” In this respect, he is often compared with Emily Dickinson and Ralph Waldo Emerson, in whose poetry, too, a simple fact, object, person, or event will be transfigured and take on greater mystery or significance.
The poem “Birches” is an example: it contains the image of slender trees bent to the ground temporarily by a boy’s swinging on them or permanently by an ice-storm. But as the poem unfolds, it becomes clear that the speaker is concerned not only with child’s play and natural phenomena, but also with the point at which physical and spiritual reality merge. Though sometimes he is frightened by nature yet he enjoys it his fill.
About social life also he remains a practical thinker who bases every experience on some or the other cause. This philosophy is at the same time modern and scientific and at the same time not non-religious. Combining both intellectual history and detailed analysis of Frost’s poems, Robert Faggen shows how Frost’s reading of Darwin reflected the significance of science in American culture from Emerson and Thoreau, through James and pragmatism. He provides fresh and provocative readings of many of Frost’s shorter lyrics and longer pastoral narratives as they illustrate the impact of Darwinian thought on the concept of nature, with particular exploration of man’s relationship to other creatures, the conditions of human equality and racial conflict, the impact of gender and sexual differences, and the survival of religion.
The book shows that Frost was neither a pessimist lamenting the uncertainties of the Darwinian worldview, nor a humanist opposing its power. Faggen draws on Frost’s unpublished notebooks to reveal a complex thinker who willingly engaged with the difficult moral and epistemological implications of natural science, and showed their consonance with myths and traditions stretching back to Milton, Lucretius, and the Old Testament. Frost emerges as a thinker for whom poetry was not only artistic expression, but also a forum for the trial of ideas and their impact on humanity.
Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin provides a deeper understanding not only of Frost and modern poetry, but of the meaning of Darwin in the modern world, the complex interrelations of literature and science, and the history of American thought.