December 4, 2010
Nature and Society:
“Diminished Things” in the Poetry of Robert Frost
Frost’s poetry is rich with simplistic and beautiful natural imagery. The poet uses these vibrant images to appeal to the reader’s senses, absorbing the experience of the poem in the natural world. Sensory images envelope objects of apples, flowers, animals, and the elements of the natural world. Abundant with the picturesque, nature provides the backdrop for Frost’s poetry. His poems often are set among the landscape of the New England countryside. Within this natural setting, such as in “Birches,” “Mowing,” “Mending Wall,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “The Oven Bird,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “After Apple-picking,” the speakers encounter, observe, and reflect upon objects in nature and sometimes even nature, itself. The voice of the speaker often expresses pessimism towards the natural object. This view expresses a human antagonism which observes a decline in the natural world. However, the speakers of the poetry must not be confused with Frost, the poet. Autobiographical readings are problematic and often short-sighted, undercutting the chance of any greater meaning in the poems. The reader must resist this temptation to view the poems’ speakers as direct mouthpieces for the voice of the poet and, instead, delve towards the intention of the “implied author” (Booth 151). Therefore, the values of the speakers in Frost’s poetry are not necessarily those of the poet but an underlying indication of the values of society. In Frost’s poetry, the voice of the poet can be located, not in the voice of his speakers, but in the natural objects of the poems, themselves. In this view, while the speakers illustrate pessimism towards nature, the implied author utilizes these speakers to indicate the flaws of that larger society. Rejecting traditional American values, Robert Frost evokes individual feelings of doubt, despair, and decline in both nature and society, expressing the desire towards a balance between these two co-existing worlds. While the natural imagery of the poetic objects in Frost’s poetry envelopes the senses of the reader, it also distracts the reader from the speakers’ apprehensive feelings towards the natural world. Frost’s poetry contains speakers who express fear, alienation, and an overt antagonism with nature. These speakers encounter a doubt in the natural world which can be located in their feelings of apprehension and disatisfaction. The speakers offer a voice which doubts the beauty and power of the natural world. The subject of “The Oven Bird,” “knows in singing not to sing” (12). The speaker is critical of any beauty that might be found in the song, instead doubting both the ability of the other birds which do not sing and the cause for which the oven bird sings. He views nature as a “diminished thing” (14), unworthy of celebration. Of little worth, nature becomes an indeterminable landscape with no attributing beauty in much of Frost’s poetry. In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the speaker is unclear of the forest’s owner. He states, “I think I know” (1). This uncertainty is an attribute of the repetitious and inseparable way natural scenes of the New England countryside seem to blur together, in these and other poems. The speakers frequently find themselves lost and aimless amongst the wilderness. Even the speaker’s horse, in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” finds the scene unfamiliar, in the line, “My little horse must think it queer” (5). The natural setting renders Frost’s speakers lost in terms of both location and interaction. In “The Wood-pile,” there is doubt in the speaker’s travel through the “frozen swamp” (1) of the setting. The speaker finds himself lost in an unfamiliar area, stating, “I was just far from home” (9). The speaker is uncertain of the way he “might have gone” (20), assigning...