Modernity in Robert Frost is a mate of great debate among the critics. On the surface level, Frost deals with simple subject matter in a simple and traditional style. Modern poetry, on the other hand, is a mater of complex, ambiguous and intentionally difficult.
Modern poets like Eliot and Auden deal with urban experience and describe the disintegration, loneliness, fear and disharmony that are prevalent in modern life. A superficial reading might find these elements absent in Frost’s poetry. However, the fact is that Frost’s poetry is deceptively simple and is capable of unfolding multiple layers of meaning. Thus a close reading of his poem is likely to show that Frost is no less modern that other prominent modern poets.
In his poetry, Frost deals with man’s relationship to man and man’s relation to nature. He points out the ambivalence in 6he relationship between man and nature. He points ambivalence in the relationship between man and nature. Usually his poems have a rural setting and they are a moving description of a series of local pictures. His poems depict the landscape, people, life and habits, customs and manner of New England region in which Frost was quite familiar.
The landscape Frost describes in his “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a typical New England landscape, which we also find in many other poems such as “Birches”, “After Apple Picking”, “Mending Wall” and “The Tuft of Flowers”. However, Frosts poem convey no romantic notion of nature. Rather, he presents a very realistic picture of nature, thus proving himself a realist. He shows that nature cans a friendly and destructive. Again, in “The Hill Wife”, nature works on the lonely wife so oppressively that she suffers from paranoia. Finally, in “Design” Frost depicts an ominous picture of nature. Here a dimpled spider. A white flower and white moth are described as “As “Assorted characters of death and blight”. Thus Frost depicts nature as it is. His attitude to nature exemplified his modern sensibility.
Although, Frost’s poems are simple, they are rich in suggestiveness. He is regional but his message has a universal significance. In “After Apple Picking”, the speaker thinks that he has completed his job although many apples remain in the bough to be picked. The speaker says, “I am overtired/ of the great harvest I myself desired.” Here Frost hints at the limitations of human beings. We cannot fulfill our ideals in life because we have to die before getting the fruits. Again “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, the woods symbolize something mysterious. The whiteness of the snow, combined with his fact that the time is evening is suggestive of death. In this way, the poem may be taken as the description of a man contemplating on death. All the landscape is lifeless and dark, the lake is frozen; it is the middle of winter. This makes the speaker want to give u the life in order to embrace death. But the harness of the horse reminds him the duty on this earth. He comes to the realization that, “But I have promises to keep/ and miles to go before I sleep”. In the attitude of the speaker we find the modern mans sense of indecision and hesitation as we find in T.S Eliot’s poem “The Song of J Alfred Prufrock” also.
Frost is realistic in dealing with the theme of human relationship. In “Mending Wall”, he objectively presents two opposing points of view. While the speaker hints that there should be no barrier in human relationship, his neighbor thinks, “Good fences make good neighbor”.
Although Frost deals with rural subject matters in a simple manner, his poem offers experiences that are typical of the modern man and has a universal appeal. He speaks of universals in terms of regionalism. Frost delves deep into man’s relation to man and man’s relation with nature. The loneliness, fragmentation, ambiguity and complexity that Frost depicts in his poems certainly reveal his modern awareness.