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Full Version: THE MAN-NATURE DIALOGUE IN THE POETRY OF ROBERT FROST
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INTRODUCTION
Although Robert Frost did not conside r himself a "natur e poet, "
did not like to be called one, and would point out the fac t that all but a
few of Ms poems have people in them, his feeling for natur e wa s
obviously a ver y close one. Many critic s of Robert Frost's poems,
however, have not understood his position. In 1938,, Robert P. Tristra m
Coffin stated that Frost presents natur e with people stuck into it wher e
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they belong and that he treats of people in a state of only good nature ,
views which now seem f a r fro m accurate , a s most critic s agree . Even
as lat e a s 1959, Robert JLangbaum remarke d that Frost make s m a n and
natur e intertwine so that they seem identical, an opinion that ignore s
the individuality of Frost's characters. And in his book, The Major
Theme s of Robert Frost (1963), Radcliff J. Squires asserte d that Frost


would like nature to concur with human intuition mor e than it is willing
to do and that he is successful only in seeing natur e a s a friendly mirro r
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in poems that merel y record.
Most modern critic s of Frost, however, seem mor e accurately
to have apprehended the poet's intention. One early criti c and friend,
Law rane e Thompson, stated that Frost's primar y concern is with the
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inner strength and worth of the individual. In 1958, Reginald Cook
assertedth e opinion that Frost illustrate s the effect of man on his
environment and the environment's effect on man. The present decade
ha s brought forth perceptive comments by such critic s a s John F. Lynen,
John Robert Doyle, Jr. , and Robert Francis. Lynea observe s that
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Frost's view of natur e is a fres h approach to reality. Doyle roe-: the
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poet unobtrusively uniting the vegetable world and the human v/orld,
and Francis points out that man's plight and what he does about it is of
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majo r importance to Frost.
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In general, modern critic s agre e that Robert Frost is neither a
mer e "nature poet" nor a realist, pe r se. Though some still accept
merel y surfac e meanings which ignore the possibility that the localized
subjects may have a broade r application than is apparent at first
reading, others see much symbolism in his poems. The consensus
among critic s is that Robert Frost does have a clear understanding of
the life of natur e and a special feeling of closeness to it. They agree ,
too, that he consider soman's inner strength important in his perpetual
struggle with his surroundings,^1 Ther e seems to be no doubt that Frost's
characters, although identified a s residents of a specific locale, a r e
also representative of universa l human nature.
Nature, however, is not the most important element in Frost's
poems. He emphasise s human beings and their relation to their
surroundings. People a r e the focal point in the poems that show them
with nature as a background f o r their actions. Though it is true that in
his lines the poet gives a grea t deal of attention to nature , it is merel y
attention to a background that ha s influence on his centra l figure . Human
characters and their actions and reactions a r e the important elements in
the poems.
Ther e is a pronounced ambivalence in the view of nature Frost
portrays in his poetry. In one poem he may present natur e as actively
hostile, in another a s merel y indifferent, and in a third a s warml y
benevolent. It is difficult to attribute reasons f or these divergent views


of natur e in particula r poems. Frost did not date many of Ms works,
and, from his letters, it is clea r that he did not offe r his verse s to
public view immediately afte r their composition; rathe r he tended to
let them age before bringing them out for general appraisal. Thus it
is not possible to attribute definitely any particula r poem to any specific
period of depression or of high spirits that wa s a part of his life. F o r
example, the vers e "Tre e at My Window,11
expressing a feeling of kinship
between the poet and nature , follows "Bereft, " lines which starkly
express the speaker's fea r of natur e in hie time of bereavement. These
two poems appear in West-Running Brook, a collection that also
includes "Acceptance, " which portrays the unquestioning acceptance
that nature's creature s have f or its ways. Although two poems m a y be
placed side by side in a volume of Frost's poetry, ther e is no evidence
that they wer e created together or in the orde r in which they appear.
Robert Frost see s human beings as belonging to two main
categorie s with varying shades of characteristic s in each. He portrays
characters, either basically strong or basically weak, in relation to
the severa l face s of natur e they observe. Among the secure , he
presents those who a r e self-sufficient and,though they do not need other
people, enjoy healthy relationships with others. His weak characters,
on the other hand, a r e torn by conflicts within themselves. They lack
warm relationships with others, yet they cannot long survive without
them.


The purpos e of this thesis is to examine Frost's us e In his poetry
of ambivalent views of. nature , of varietie s of human character, and of
interrelationships between m a n and nature. Some scholarly work h a s
been done in this area , notably John Lynen's book The Pastora l Art of
Robert Frost (I960) and Lawrance Thompson's work Fir e and Ice; The
Art and Thought of Robert Frost (1942), but ther e has been no detailed
study made of the interrelationships of Frost's characters and their
environment.! In this thesis, the contention is that the view of natur e
presented in Frost's poems is often directly related to the character's
subjective respons e to it. Thus, the indifference of natur e is seen in
a benevolent light by some of his character®,while the hars h neutrality,
when observed by others, assume s fiercel y hostile proportions. In the
demonstration of this point, therefore , it will be necessar y first to
present reflections of natur e a s the poet describe s It--benevolent,
violent, indifferent; and next, to present his characters--th e weak and
the strong--with all the variations that make up the two main groups,
f o r these basic characteristic s determine the individual's respons e to
his surroundings. After these two area s have been carefully defined,
a presentation and discussion of the thesis contention follows.
Such a study of Frost's poetry should be of value to anyone
interested in his works, f or it presents a critica l analysis of his
characters, of his use of natur e a s a variabl e background, and of the
interrelationship between man and nature .
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