Robert Frost

ROBERT Frost has been
discovering America all his
life. He has also been
discovering the world; and
since he is a really wise
poet, the one thing has been
the same thing as the other.
He is more than a New
England poet: he is more
than an American poet; he
is a poet who can be
understood anywhere by
readers versed in matters
more ancient and universal
than the customs of one
country, whatever that
country is. Frost\'s country
is the country of human
sense: of experience, of
imagination, and of
thought. His poems start at
home, as all good poems
do; as Homer\'s did, as
Shakespeare\'s, as
Goethe\'s, and as
Baudelaire\'s; but they end
up everywhere, as only the
best poems do. This is
partly because his wisdom
is native to him, and could not have been suppressed by any circumstance; it is
partly, too, because his education has been right. He is our least provincial poet
because he is the best grounded in those ideas--Greek, Hebrew, modern
Europeans and even Oriental--which make for well-built art at any time. He does
not parade his learning, and may in fact not know that he has it: but there in his
poems it is, and it is what makes them so solid, so humorous, and so satisfying.

His many poems have been different from one another and yet alike. They are the
work of a man who has never stopped exploring himself--or, if you like, America,
or better yet, the world. He has been able to believe, as any good artist must, that
the things he knows best because they are his own will turn out to be true for other
people. He trusts his own feelings, his own doubts, his own certainties, his own
excitements. And there is absolutely no end to these, given the skill he needs to
state them and the strength never to be wearied by his subject matter. "The object
in writing poetry" Frost has said, "is to make all poems sound as different as
possible from each other." But for this, in addition to the tricks any poet knows,
"we need the help of context--meaning--subject matter. That is the greatest help
towards variety. All that can be done with words is soon told. So also with meters.
. . . The possibilities for tune from the dramatic tones of meaning struck across the
rigidity of a limited meter are endless. And we are back in poetry as merely one
more art of having something to say, sound or unsound. Probably better if sound,
because deeper and from wider experience."

Frost is one of the most subtle of modern poets in that department where so much
criticism rests, the department called technique; but the reason for his subtlety is
seldom noticed. It is there because it has to be, in the service of something
infinitely more important: a report of the world by one who lives in it without any
cause to believe that he is different from other persons except for the leisure he has
given himself to walk about and think as well as possible concerning all the things
he sees; and to take accurate note of the way they strike him as he looks. What they
are in themselves is not to be known; or who he is, either, if all his thought is of
himself; but when the two come together in a poem, testimony may result. This is
what Frost means by subject matter, and what any poet had better mean if he
expects to be read.

Frost is more and more read, by old readers and by young, because in this crucial
and natural sense he has so much to say. He is a generous poet. His book confides
many discoveries, and shares with its readers a world as wild as it is wide--a
dangerous world, hard to live in, yet the familiar world that is the only one we
shall ever have, and that we can somehow love for the bad things in it as well as
the good, the unintelligible as well as the intelligible.

Frost is a laconic New Englander: that is to say, he talks more than anybody. He