Thursday, September 21, 2017

Robert Frost's Poems

New Enlarged Pocket Anthology of Robert Frost’s Poems: With an Introduction and Commentary by Louis Untermeyer.  Pocket Books: 1971 (29th printing):

My first introduction to Robert Frost came in high school, specifically “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” These are his two most famous poems and probably most people have some familiarity with them. I like them and both spoke to me.  I wouldn’t say they inspired me or influenced my own poetry, which developed much later. In high school I was still convinced that I didn’t like poetry. I came to understand later that I didn’t like poetry with facile rhymes or that simply pointed out an observation, thought or feeling that I already knew well from my own experience. It wasn’t until I discovered Dylan Thomas in college that I began to see the possibility for poetry to transcend and expand personal experiences.

Because Frost’s poetry spoke of what I would describe as mundane reality, I just never pursued his work further. I don’t mean mundane in a negative sense here. I mean it essentially as “objective” reality. But that’s not what I want to experience in the literary works that I read. I live mundane reality. I want the poetry I read to twist that reality and surprise me. Knowing of Frost’s influence on the field of poetry, however, I did pick up this collection of his poems. I decided I needed to read them. Here are my thoughts.

First, I can certainly agree with the critics that Frost was a superbly talented poet and a keen observer of the world. His poems are typically quite simple in construction, with straightforward rhyming patterns. When they impact me, they tend to evoke quiet and contemplative moods. And now I’ll say, and hope that I won’t be misunderstood, that quiet and contemplative is not what I want from my poetry. I want disturbing. I want rawness. I want the surreal. Frost does not give me these experiences and for that reason he’ll never be as important to me as someone like Dylan Thomas.

I really hope people do not take this as some kind of “dislike” of Frost, or that I’m saying he’s not a poet worthy of study and consideration. I don’t mean it that way. I’m talking about my own very personal and visceral (or lack of that) reaction to his work. Perhaps the best way I can say it is this: I have a bookshelf where I keep copies of works that inspire my own writing, or that have in some way shaped my philosophy on life. Dylan Thomas’s poetry is on that shelf. Some of Ray Bradbury’s is on that shelf. Robert Frost will not be on that shelf, though he may well be on “your” inspirational shelf.  And if that is the case then I salute you.

Moving from my general response to Frost’s work to this specific collection, I’m not sure I’d recommend it. The poems are well presented, of course, and I generally liked the overall organization of the book. However, I just did not care for, or find useful, the commentary by Louis Untermeyer. Untermeyer was a well respected poet and critic, but I found his comments about Frost’s poetry to be long on hyperbole and low on information. Here’s an example, from page 168.

“The poems of Robert Frost have a way of uniting opposites. They are casual in tone but profound in effect, teasing and intense, playful yet deeply penetrating.  Even when they seem to be about a particular place, they suggest ideas unlimited by space.”

This is a good example, to me, of saying nothing while seeming to say much. I would much rather have had information about when and where the poetry was written, and information about any historical connections that the poem may have had. I bought this collection, in part, because I felt I needed some commentary to help me experience Frost. I think now that this was a mistake and I should have come to the poems without any filter. To those of you who are interested in writing poetry and want to study Frost for that reason, I’d suggest a collection with no commentary. For those of you who are making a more literary study of Frost, this collection might be useful but I don’t think it would be a good starting point. Something that places Frost’s work better into the context of his times would likely prove more useful.


Cloudia said...

What I liked most here was the insight into Charles G!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You want to go elsewhere with your work and that's all right.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, thankee

Alex, glad you get it! :)

the walking man said...

Charles old chap, reading Frost! He sits in his study at night contemplating the if coulds or what mights.

Frost was an interesting character in his own right I suppose, way to much of a stickler for form over function for my taste. For reality I turn to his nemesis Carl Sandburg (especially the Chicago poems) but then blame my grannie, she read both to me without much by way of poetic intent.

I did read a different sort of understanding of The Road Not Taken, interpreted in a series of letters between Frost and the poet Edward Thomas that put a whole different spin on Frost's intent for the work. A subtle jibe at Thomas' indecision on the way they should walk--Thomas it seems was far more enamored of the poem as a great piece of literature than Frost was.

A quick read about the letters is >>>>

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, cool, thanks for the heads up on that additional info.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I enjoyed poetry in school, especially Milton, Whitman, Donne, and Wordsworth. I also read Keats, Frost, Hardy and others. I have recently rediscovered the joys of reading good poetry, which will soon include Frost.

oscar case said...

Nice post on Frost, Charles, explaining your likes or dislikes of his poetry.

David Cranmer said...

Would completely agree across the board, Charles. Excellent post.

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant, I read about a dozen poetry collections a year. I usually have one going. I very much enjoy it.

Oscar, thankee, man

David, cool. Thanks, man

Blogoratti said...

Great thoughts and a very valuable post indeed. Greetings!

Neil Waring said...

Nice post, I have long been a fan of Robert Frost, because of my, long ago, Nebraska roots I have also read much of Carl Sandburg. In college, my minor was American Literature and I remember struggling through the process of trying to create poetry. At that age, I was a,
"I can read this stuff but will never be able to write it, guy." Seems as I get older I appreciate poetry and the beauty of words more and more.

roth phallyka said...

thanks for the heads up on that additional info.