Biographical Poetry posted August 27, 2023

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Robert Frost

A Poet of New England

by Debbie D'Arcy

He loved to roam when still a boy,
explore the woods and farms,
find solace there and then enjoy
free rein with open arms.
He'd chat with folk, absorb their ways
of speaking and their quirks
and this would shape his carefree days,
inspire him in his works.
The rhythm of his verse would aim
to capture normal speech
and bring his artistry acclaim
to broaden then its reach.
But kinship deaths would haunt his mind,
infuse his verse with fear,
change scenes of such bucolic kind
with message far less clear.
And war would also fuel his dread,
that all might come to grief:
a fate twixt "fire and ice," was said -
a world in disbelief?
So art assumed a darker tone
and lost its early charm.
Within his soul, some dreams had flown
as age would mock, disarm. 
For in his heart he longed for calm
with urge to stand and stare,*
enrich his soul with nature's balm,
and quell demand to care.
But social change was all around
and moving ever fast:
pastoral roots and all things bound
were fading in the past.
Yet, as his thoughts became more mixed,
he never ceased to write -
a man of vision quite transfixed,
"acquainted with the night."
And though his road would lead him to
a maze of grief and fears,
his mastery would help him through
distraction fused with tears.
The basis of his love and pride
was rooted in the earth.
Those people he would make his guide
gave poetry its birth.



"The great American poet of our time" ( quote by J.F. Kennedy re. the above poet whose dates are:1874 - 1963 )

Stanza 1 "One could do worse than be a swinger of branches" from Birches 1915. He loved nature and especially trees and the birches in this poem were a metaphor for his boyhood playing days.

Stanza 2 &3 He was perceptive of local speech and the way in which the New England farmers would speak to each other and their animals. Even as a young boy, he had a unique ear for dialect and was soon able to mimic the different accents of those around him.

Stanza 4 His personal life was plagued with grief and loss: father died in 1885; mother 1890; his first son died very young in 1890; his daughter 1 day after her birth in 1907. Only two of his six children outlived their father. Both he and his mother suffered from depression, as did his wife Elinor (d.1938). His sister and one of his daughters were committed to a mental institution where they subsequently died.

Stanza 5 & 6 His poem "Fire and Ice" written in 1920 after World War One has an apocalyptic sense although fire could also be symbolic of passion, rage, war while ice, indifference, passivity. A world perhaps losing the more unifying element of religion. It should not be missed the significance of Frost's preference for "ice" in his verse (given its association with his name!)

Stanza 7 He had often been tempted away from the treadmill of trying to maintain an impoverished family lifestyle with thoughts of an escape, that he would never take, into the woods. "But I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep." ("Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.").
*There would seem to be influence here from the poem "What is this life if full of care" by William Henry Davies (1871 - 1840).

Stanza 8 Further reinforcing the pressure felt of technological developments replacing the agrarian/pastoral traditions.

Stanza 9 "I'm not confused, I'm just well mixed." "Acquainted with the Night" -this is a poem, unusually, about an urban setting and the loneliness, despair and fear experienced of wandering through the night. He would never explain the full meaning but there is a sense here of the demons that haunted him.

Stanza 10 Reference to "The Road Not Taken." Although, apparently written for the poet, Edward Thomas, there was a recurring theme throughout his life about the choice between difference paths in life. This concern was particularly evident with the death of his daughter who died in a mental institution. He agonised over whether he should have been less invested in his own thoughts and more attentive to her needs. Likewise with his wife's decline through depression. That said, these strong emotions continued to inspire some of his best poetry. In Directive (1947) his troubles and sense of nostalgia flood through the verse as he seems to be directing the reader to forsake all the modern developments that have transformed his New England town and return to a spring there, the spiritual source of childlike purity, avoiding the confusion/industry of life in the present world.

Stanza 11 New England was the place - its people, its culture and its countryside - that forever shaped his poetry and he never lost sight of the essential inspiration and debt he owed to his homeland.
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