Exploring Frost's Spiritual Worl

Document Sample
Exploring Frost's Spiritual Worl Powered By Docstoc
					                                                                                           Bai Ruili

                         Exploring Frost’s Spiritual World
                                        Bai Ruili
        (Foreign Languages Department, Taiyuan Normal University, Taiyuan 030012, Shanxi )
Abstract: Robert Frost is a great New England poet in the history of American literature in the twentieth
century. His poetry concerns the innocent rural life and beautiful landscape of New England he loves.
Meanwhile his poetry reflects the depression and corruption of city life. His poetry is created by no means with
only imagination but firmly rooted in his frustrated but glorious experience, and the emotion from which it is
produced, especially in the love for New England people and their life, which is revealed in his verses.
Therefore, only through understanding his life experiences, reading and understanding his poetry, can we
really understand his spiritual world. In this paper, by analyzing some of his representative poems, we can
better know much about his spiritual world.
Key words: Frost; life experiences; poetry; spiritual world


          (太原师范学院 外语系, 山西 太原 030012)
内容提要:弗罗斯特是 20 世纪美国文学史上伟大的新英格兰诗人之一。他的诗歌主要描写他所热爱的
新英格兰质朴的乡村生活及乡村美景, 同时也反映城市生活的堕落。他的诗歌决非仅靠想象创作而成,
而是深深扎根于他充满挫折和辉煌的生活经历以及由此产生的感情,    特别是他对新英格兰人民和生活的
关键词:弗罗斯特; 生活经历; 诗歌; 精神世界
                                                                                            Bai Ruili

      Poetry is not simply something we learn at school and forget quickly. It can be fun, evocative and exciting
to read. Furthermore, it is the outstanding poets that create so many beautiful poems full of magic imagination.
Robert Frost is such a poet, popular and respectable in American literature of the twentieth century. Frost‟s
poetry, which exposes the different deep themes and his philosophy of life, brings us into his spiritual world.
      Robert Frost is considered to be American national poet, enjoying high fame and reputation in the world.
He is a lyrical poet, an authentic painter of local landscape. His poetry is always his delightful experience. He
won the Pulitzer prize four times and received commendations by the American Academy of Arts and Letters
and the Poetry Society of America respectively in 1938 and 1941. He received honors from forty-four
institutions, and became the nation‟s unofficial poet laureate when invited to read his poem “ The Gift
Outright” at President Kennedy‟s inauguration in 1961. “ Readers tend to find wit and wisdom, peace and
harmony, serenity and joy from his poetry”. (常耀信,2003:198)
      Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, 1874. At ten, his father died and he was sent to Lawrence,
Massachusetts. He took interest in classical literature and romantic lyric poetry. Besides, he tried to write
poetry. On April 1890,he published “La Noche Triste” in the school journals. In 1892, Frost went and studied
in Dartmouth College but quickly dropped out of it. In 1894,his poem “My Butterfly” was carried by The
Independence, a New York famous magazine for literature, which increased his confidence to continue writing
poetry. In December 1895, Frost got married. In 1900,the death of his first child brought his family into deep
sorrow and caused the tense relation of the family. In order to relax the tension, the Frost‟s bought a farm and
lived there until September 1907. The farm life was very important for Frost. He drifted through a string of
occupations, working as a teacher, cobbler, journalist, an editor and then an unsuccessful farmer. Although he
suffered great hardship of life, he insisted on writing poems. Actually, those days for him were so gloomy that
he had the idea of suicide. But during that very period, he encountered New England country life and carefully
observed the pastoral scenery and listened to New England peasant‟s daily chat, the language of whom
sounded simple but beautiful like music. Thus, the ten years country life played a decisive role in the formation
of his style. The poetry created at that period was collected in his first three collections of poems.
      However, Frost did not gain recognition. So he sold his farm in 1911 and went to London to seek for a
better chance. He really succeeded. In 1913 and 1914, his first and second collections of poems, A Boy’s Will
and North of Boston, respectively came out in London, which attracted English critics and won high praise for
him. The two collections both described pastoral life and firmly established Frost‟s status in the history of
American literature.
      After the flames of WWI spread to England, Frost took his family and returned to America in 1915. At
that time, Frost‟s first two collections had been published there and he had been very popular and regarded as
one of the first-class poets in America. The years from 1934 to 1940, Frost suffered a series of family tragedy.
His daughter, wife and grown-up son passed away one after another. However, he was not destroyed. He
devoted himself to his career of writing poems. From his tortuous experience, we know Frost‟s personality of
firm will and determination. On the other hand, due to his complicated life, he wrote his realization of the
corrupt city life and the pleasant pastoral life as well as his pain, loneliness and melancholy into his poems.
Thus, we can know Frost‟s spiritual world.
      “ Frost‟s poems are generally classified into four groups: dramatic poetry, meditative poetry, satirical
poetry and philosophical poetry.” (钱青,1994:122) No matter which kind they are, the theme of his poetry
                                                                                             Bai Ruili

concerns two aspects: 1. exploring interpersonal relationships, such as “A Servant to Servants”, “ The Tuft of
Flowers”, “Departmental”, and so on; 2. pondering on life, society as well as an essential problem of man to
live or not, in poems “ The Road Not Taken”, “ Birches”, “ Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” , “ A
Considerable Speck” , “ Acceptance”, “ Nothing Gold Can Stay”, “ Fire and Ice”.
      Take “A Servant to Servants” for example. It is a dramatic poem, in which only a woman talked to herself.
Through her monologue, we know her family endured hardship and she suffered misfortune. Meanwhile we
realize that interpersonal relationships ---- mutual understandings and misunderstandings. This poem shows
Frost‟s love and sympathy for the lower class.
      Another poem “The Tuft of Flowers” illustrates a brotherhood among people:
      “ I went to turn the grass once after one
       Who mowed it in the dew before the sun
         But he had gone his way, the grass all mown
         And I must be, as he had been, ---- alone.”
      Suddenly a butterfly came into his sight and “ I ” saw it flying and flying and then noticed “ a tall tuft of
flowers beside a brook”, which made “me” feel as if the mowers were swinging the scythes, working, talking
and laughing together:
      “ A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
       Beside a ready brook the scythe had bared.
       The butterfly and I had lit upon
       And feel spirit kindred to my own;
       So that henceforth I worked no more alone;
       „ Men work together‟, I told him from the heart,
       „Whether they work together or apart.‟”
      The last two lines bring out the theme that “I” have changed “my” ideas of interpersonal relationship for
seeing the tall tuft of flowers, which symbolizes fraternal affection of mutual understandings.
      “Departmental”, a satirical poem, describes a society of ants, where each department has a detailed
division of labor. Each ant has its own business. Even if the companions got in danger, other ants would not
show their help and just report it to the leadership. This poem reveals a bad phenomenon in modern society,
where as science and technology have rapidly developed, high social division of labor is necessarily required,
but which causes indifference and estrangement among human beings.
      As for the second aspect, Frost often used figures of speech and symbolism. The poems start with some
natural thing or some event happening in people‟s daily life, with a profound meaning. Here are some
      “The Road Not Taken” describes a dilemma of how to make a choice for unpredictable future. “A
Considerable Speck” is a satirical poem, depicting a speck, which strives for its existence. Frost employs this
image to attack those apathetic people who live in degradation in our society. “Fire and Ice” is a short
philosophical poem, which discusses a serious topic of how the world and human beings will be destroyed.
“ Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice.” “People must be cautious of their desire and hatred that
may lead them to be on the verge of abyss.” (许自强,       1991:  1036) Thus, what the poet suggests is very clear.
“Acceptance” is also a short philosophical poem. Through describing birds, the poet expresses a passive
attitude to life: Since you are powerless before the dark and disordered world, submit to the will of God.
                                                                                            Bai Ruili

      From the analysis of the poems above, we know Frost often selects suitable materials from nature and
then gives them a deeper meaning. Actually, with the natural images, the poems better reflects a human world,
which embodies Frost‟s thought of yearning for a harmonious world full of love and peace and equality.
      Frost‟s poetry mainly depicts the indifference and cruelty of human world, especially concerning the
loneliness, perplexity of human beings. Naturally, the tone of his poetry is mostly desolate. Some poems are
full of terrible images. Critics call them Dark Poems, like “Desert Places” and “Design”, which show Frost‟s
greatest achievement in the creation of poetry and express his thought, viewpoint of life and real world. In a
word, dark poetry embodies Frost‟s spiritual world
      “Acquainted with the Night” is one of the dark poems. On a dreary and miserable night, a sleepless
person wandered on the deserted streets in a strange city. He felt sad and solitary because nobody paid any
attention to him. The first and last lines “ I have been one acquainted with the night” imply his miserable fate
that he would never escape from the state of loneliness. Frost uses the solitude of this individual to symbolize
the indifferent human world:
      “ I have walked out in rain---- and back in rain.
       I have outwalked the furthest city light.
       I have looked down the saddest city lane.”
      In these lines, “ rain” and “ saddest” well reflect the stranger‟s inner world.
      “Deserted Places”, the depiction of the desolation and cruelty of the external world, reflects man‟s void
spiritual world. At the end of this poem, Frost seems to tell readers: Void spirit, more terrible than that of the
external world, is a real desert place. The two poems frankly tell us the dark and ugly aspect of human life,
which reflects the features of that age lack of love among people. Therefore, Frost wrote what he saw and what
he experienced and what he realized for the purpose of waking the corrupted world.
      Most of Frost‟s pastoral poems express an individual‟s praise and yearning for good humanity and good
life by depicting common sight and fascinating scenery of the countryside, people‟s experiences in daily life,
the poet‟s complicated and keen impression of ploughing fields. From childhood, Frost grew up in the
countryside; the nature exerted a favorable influence on his character. Just as he lived such a simple and
natural pastoral life most of the other poets never experienced, just as he always participated in productive
labor, just as he kept a close relationship with the working people, he wrote the poem with fresh and true
content and profound meaning. The passionate love and enthusiasm for New England were cultivated
gradually in his mind and emotion. In other words, he placed his ideal, hope, and vexation in laboring and
writing poetry.
      “Mowing”, is a famous pastoral poem. It reflects a fact that Frost loved labor and nature:
      “ Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
       To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
       Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
       (Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake
       The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.”
      These lines extol an active attitude toward life that “working itself is a joy and a reward”. (朱伯通,   1994:
      Crossroads are seen everywhere on the journey of life. Nowadays people still stand on the crossroads at
any time and confront all kinds of different choices, which may determine their future.
      “The Road Not Taken” typically creates a human situation where man is faced with the difficulty of
making choices.
      “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood”. One disappeared in the undergrowth with the tracks of people
                                                                                                 Bai Ruili

coming and going. The other was les traveled and grassy though it would become the same later. One morning
a passing traveler approached the wood and saw the two attractive roads, showing hesitation which road to
take. What is more he wondered whether the road he would take could lead him to the right destination or a
brighter future. Finally he made a decision to take the second road, but he remained doubted if he should ever
have an opportunity to come back and take the first one again. As a matter of fact, it has been and will be
obviously impossible. “ Time and tide wait for no man.” Once you have a choice, you will have to go ahead
according to your choice. But the choice one makes determines all difference. (辜正坤,           1990:  634) The poet is
deep and wise enough not to be so absolute about life and people on the ground that a different choice causes a
different result. People at different ages, of different sexes, with different backgrounds and experiences have
different contemplation of an answer ---- choosing occupation, nationality, marriage, and so on. Thus,
differences produce fortune or misfortune, happiness or sadness, hope or despair, fall or rise. Before making a
choice, one does not know what the future will be. Certainly it is real difficult to make a choice. In this poem,
Frost gives readers no direct explanation of what the roads symbolize for the purpose of avoiding the
restriction of reader‟s imagination and association with their own experiences. It is Frost‟s witty and artistic
depiction that arouses readers‟ sympathy.
      “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a short philosophical poem, which starts with the description of natural
      Nature‟s first green is gold,
      Her hardest hue to hold.
      Her early leaf‟s a flower;
      But only so an hour.
      Then leaf subsides to leaf.
      So Eden sank to grief,
      So dawn goes down to day.
      Nothing gold can stay.
      From scene to emotion, then to principle, its tone is desolate. But at the end of the lines, the poet gives us
a warning---- nothing gold can stay. In this beautiful poem, the poet uses the images, such as, “first green”,
“gold”, “early leaf”, “a flower”, “Eden” and “dawn”. All of them symbolize the beautiful things. Some simple
words and phrases like “hardest to hold”, “only”, “an hour”, “subsides”, “sank to “, “grief” and “goes down”
exaggerate a kind of sad atmosphere, which forms a strong contrast with those good images. They seem to
exist independently. On the contrary, they cooperate and help readers think over such a philosophic sentence
---- nothing gold can stay.
      The poem depicts the first green leaf bursting forth in spring. “First Green” is a metaphor of hope,
treasured as gold in nature, the same beautiful as fresh flowers. But it was a pity that the “first green” could not
last long but withered in a flash like flowers. Then the poet remembered a tragical story from the Bible. Adam
and Eve once lived in Eden, a beautiful place in heavens. They both ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge,
which turned against God‟s will. Eventually they both were forced to leave Eden as a punishment for their
“degeneration”. Since then, Eden became declined and dreary because nobody took care of it. That is just a
fairy tale but deeply tells us a truth, also a cruel reality: all beautiful and pleasant things live as a brief life as
the dawn. Therefore, the poet got a natural conclusion: nothing gold can stay. This poem suggests that we
should value what we have had, including life, love, friendship, family, peace, the earth, and the like.
      The blank verse “Birches” is one of the best natural poems. Nature often appears as an explicator and a
mediator for man and serves as the center of reference for his behavior. Thus, in Frost‟s poetry, nature, as a
spokesman, voices the aspiration of the people in real world. Additionally, Frost is always in pursuit of the
                                                                                                Bai Ruili

aesthetic principle, that is, “poetry starts with fun and ends with wisdom”, which runs through his creation of
poetry. From “Birches” you can understand Frost‟s philosophy of life ---- find out the pleasure in the usual
daily life and get a hint of Frost‟s witty mind.
      “Birches”, begins with the wonderful description of birches, a living thing in nature. It ends with a
convictive idea,
      “ That would be good with going and coming back.
      One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”
      In this poem, the poet saw the birches bend to left and right across the lines of straighter darker trees as if
some boy had been swinging them into the sky. That reminded him of his careless childhood when he enjoyed
himself as much as he liked; at the same time, he realized the complication of the real world and the hardship
of life. Through reading this poem, we can gain a great enlightenment. Man needs illusion as well as
entertainment. But man can never live in a world of fantasy and should not escape from reality. What man had
better do is to find a foothold in reality and strive to control the complicated situation. In a word, man should
make himself a master rather than a slave of life or reality.
      To sum up, Frost is indeed a great poet in literary history. When seeking ideal career, Frost was pain,
perplexed and solitary; when eulogizing nature and the people, he felt happy, cheerful and unrestrained; when
criticizing the reality, he seemed serious, satiric and resentful. That is the reason why so many readers like
Frost and his poems. He also symbolizes a kind of ordinary people, who are fond of quietness, know
themselves, think and do things independently. He could express himself in the form of poetry and also the
feelings of the working people he loved. Although his poetry embodied Frost‟s pessimistic view of the real
world, he showed an active attitude to his life. His poetry really helped readers understand the complicated
world and the cruel reality. Frost‟s spiritual world truly embodied in his life and poems will enlighten readers


Hamilton. Oxford Companion to 20th-Century Poetry [Z]. 上海外语教育出版社,2000.
常耀信.      美国文学简史(第二版)[Z]. 天津: 南开大学出版社,2003.
程爱民.      20 世纪英美文学论稿[A]. 上海: 上海外语教育出版社,2002.
辜正坤.      世界名诗鉴赏词典[Z]. 北京: 北京大学出版社,1990.
钱 青.      美国文学名著精选(下)[Z]. 北京: 商务印书馆,1994.
孙少先.      外国名诗鉴赏词典[Z]. 北京: 中国工人出版社,1989.
许自强.      世界名诗鉴赏金库[Z]. 北京: 中国妇女出版社,1991.
                                                                                Bai Ruili

杨金才     新编美国文学史(第三卷)[Z]. 上海: 上海外语教育出版社,2002.
詹姆斯·D·哈特. 牛津美国文学词典(第五版)[Z]. 牛津大学出版社,北京外语教学与研究出版社,
朱伯通译. 哥伦比亚美国文学史[Z]. 成都: 四川辞书出版社,1994

Instructor‟s Comments
     This paper is a well-focused and insightful analysis of Frost‟s spiritual world. The argument
is strengthened by the discussion of the specific poems and concrete examples. The writer first
makes a generalization of Frost‟s poetry, which is classified into 4 kinds. Then she analyzes
Frost‟s representative poems. The whole paper is clearly and coherently organized; its focus
progresses through the line of reasoning that moves fluently and smoothly from one part to the

                                                Instructor: Prof. Gao Enguang