Stripping Life to Form
Robert Frost grew up in a state of turmoil. From his tumultuous childhood right up until his death, Frost was a character who could speak at Harvard and live on a farm in New Hampshire. He could dazzle the brightest students with poetic ingenious, but boil life down to, “It’s hard to get into this world and hard to get out of it. And what’s in between doesn’t make much sense. If that sounds pessimistic, let it stand” (Updike 535). Robert Frost’s poems “Mending Wall” and “The Road Not Taken” both exemplify the struggle between individual autonomy and the confines that society puts on it through deceivingly simple speech. Frost specifically deals with the idea that life is no more than a series of relationships and choices, which are never simple to discern.
Frost’s collections of work have not always been considered groundbreaking, for his first book of poems was published when he was forty. Parini even noted that regardless of his early writings and lack of success, he went on to read at a Presidential inauguration and won four Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry. Frost’s poems were even recognized in England as being “Much finer, much more near the ground, and much more national, in the true sense, than anything Whitman gave the world” (Frost Teacher). “Mending Wall” on the surface deals specifically with the ideological struggle between neighbors. This struggle does not go unnoticed even through the eyes of critics and explications alike.
Parini articulated Frost’s crux as being, “Life, between great powers and old friends, is combat, and not clean combat at that” (Updike 539). Parini noticed Frost’s theme of struggle between human forces. He begins on line 32, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/ What I was walling in or walling out,/ And to whom I was like to give offense” (lines 32-34 Mending Wall). The neighbor of the poem who opposes boundaries cannot win this combat, instead Parini pinpointed Frost’s objective. To show how this struggle between friends as well as enemies is a combat. It is more a trade-off than it is a solution. Frost’s writings show human relations as a series of compromises rather than a progression. Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” gives insight into the same struggle. “And sorry I could not travel both/ And be one traveler, long I stood” (lines 2-3 Road). These lines deal with the loss of opportunity, as in a combat rather than complete autonomy. These lines signify that the protagonist understands the grave consequences that will come from his decision. The looming sense that from this point on nothing will be the same explains man’s conflict with choice, both internally and under the pressures of society.
Frost’s simple verse and form with a deceptively deep connotation is not something that critics generally denounce or miss within his writings. “This is no doubt in part to the verse-theory of Mr. Robert Frost that the rhythm of poetry should be that of colloquial speech” (Aiken). Conrad Aiken notes that Frost’s verse is vernacular. It is easy to understand and yet leaves much more to be unpacked within the perceived simple language. This language may come from Frost’s many moods within his writings. There are times of understanding and there are times of confusion. For example, “Mending Wall” allows the neighbors to spar with one another without any type of physical altercation. The two men try their best to get the other to realize his side of the argument. “Good fences make good neighbors” (line 27, line 45 Mending Wall) is Frost’s second repeated line. The repetition of this line is important, as well as the combat that Parini pointed out. These are two neighbors who cannot find a common ground about things as simple as their trees and boundaries. It is unlikely that either man will use up to the absolute boundary of his property, but Frost’s notion of the human struggle to be an individual as well as a member of society holds true. The men want as much for...
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