by Robert Frost
Considered with "mending" as a verb, the title refers to the activity that the poems speaker and his neighbor perform in repairing the wall between their two farms. With "mending" considered as an adjective, the title suggests that the wall serves a more subtle function: as a "mending" wall, it keeps the relationship between the two neighbors in good condition.
In a number of ways, the first-person speaker of the poem seems to resemble the author, Robert Frost. Both the speaker and Frost own New England farms, and both show a penchant for humor, mischief, and philosophical speculation about nature, relationships, and language. Nevertheless, as analysis of the poem will show, Frost maintains an ironic distance between himself and the speaker, for the poem conveys a wider understanding of the issues involved than the speaker seems to comprehend.
As is the case with most of his poems, Frost writes "Mending Wall" in the idiom of New England speech: a laconic, sometimes clipped vernacular that can seem awkward and slightly puzzling until the reader gets the knack of mentally adding or substituting words to aid understanding. For example, Frosts lines "they have left not one stone on a stone,/ But they would have the rabbit out of hiding" could be clarified as "they would not leave a single stone on top of another if they were trying to drive a rabbit out of hiding."
In addition to using New England idiom, Frost enhances the informal, conversational manner of "Mending Wall" by casting it in continuous form. That is, rather than dividing the poem into stanzas or other formal sections, Frost presents an unbroken sequence of lines. Nevertheless, Frosts shifts of focus and tone reveal five main sections in the poem.
In the first section (lines 14), the speaker expresses wonder at a phenomenon he has observed in nature: Each spring, the thawing ground swells and topples sections of a stone wall on the boundary of his property. In the second section (lines 511), he contrasts this natural destruction with the human destruction wrought on the wall by careless hunters.
The last sections of the poem focus on the speakers relationship with his neighbor. In the third section (lines 1224), the speaker describes how he and his neighbor mend the wall; he portrays this activity humorously as an "outdoor game." The fourth section (lines 2538) introduces a contrast between the two men: The speaker wants to discuss whether there is actually a need for the wall, while the neighbor will only say, "Good fences make good neighbors." The fifth section (lines 3845) con- cludes the poem in a mood of mild frustration: The speaker sees his uncommunicative neighbor as "an old-stone savage" who "moves in darkness" and seems incapable of thinking beyond the clichéd maxim, which the neighbor repeats, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Forms and Devices
In his essay "Education by Poetry" (1931), Robert Frost offers a definition of poetry as "the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another." "Mending Wall" is a vivid example of how Frost carries out this definition in two waysone familiar, one more subtle. As is often the case in poetry, the speaker in "Mending Wall" uses metaphors and similes (tropes which say one thing in terms of another) to animate the perceptions and feelings that he wants to communicate to the reader. A more subtle dimension of the poem is that Frost uses these tropes ironically, "saying one thing and meaning another" to reveal more about the speakers character than the speaker seems to understand about himself.
When the speaker uses metaphor in the first four sections of "Mending Wall," he does it to convey excitement and humorthe sense of wonder, energy, and "mischief" that spring inspires in him. Through metaphor, he turns the natural process of the spring thaw into a mysterious "something" that is cognitive and active: "something that doesnt love a wall," that "sends" ground swells, that "spills" boulders, and that "makes gaps." He playfully characterizes some of the boulders as "loaves" and others as "balls," and he facetiously tries to place the latter under a magical "spell" so that they will not roll off the wall. He also uses metaphor to joke with his neighbor, claiming that "My apple trees will never get across/ And eat the cones under his pines."
In the last section of the poem, however, the speakers use of simile and metaphor turns more serious. When he is unable to draw his neighbor into a discussion, the speaker begins to see him as threatening and sinisteras carrying boulders by the top "like an old-stone savage armed," as "mov[ing] in darkness" of ignorance and evil. Through this shift in the tone of the speakers tropes, Frost is ironically saying as much about the speaker as the speaker is saying about the neighbor. The eagerness of the speakers imagination, which before was vivacious and humorous, now seems defensive and distrustful. By the end of the poem, the speakers over-responsiveness to the activity of mending the wall seems ironically to have backfired. His imagination seems ultimately to contribute as much to the emotional barriers between the speaker and his neighbor as does the latters under-responsiveness.
Themes and Meanings
"Mending Wall" is about two kinds of barriersphysical and emotional. More subtly, the poem explores an ironic underlying question: Is the speakers attitude toward those two kinds of walls any more enlightened than the neighbors?
Each character has a line summing up his philosophy about walls that is repeated in the poem. The speaker proclaims, "Something there is that doesnt love a wall." He wants to believe that there is a "something," a conscious force or entity in nature, that deliberately breaks down the stone wall on his property. He also wants to believe that a similar "something" exists in human nature, and he sees the spring season both as the source of the ground swells that unsettle the stone wall and as the justification for "the mischief in me" that he hopes will enable him to unsettle his neighbors stolid, stonelike personality. From the speakers perspective, however, when the neighbor shies away from discussing whether they need the wall, the speaker then sees him as a menacing "savage," moving in moral "darkness," who mindlessly repeats the cliché "Good fences make good neighbors."
The speaker does not seem to realize that he is just as ominously territorial and walled in as his neighbor, if not more so. The speaker scorns the neighbor for repeating his maxim about "good fences" and for being unwilling to "go behind" and question it, yet the speaker also clings to a formulation that he repeats ("Something there is that doesnt love a wall") and seems unwilling to think clearly about his belief in it. For example, the speaker celebrates the way that spring ground swells topple sections of the stone wall. Why, then, does he resent the destruction that the hunters bring to it, and why does he bother to repair those man-made gaps? Similarly, if the speaker truly believes that there is no need for the wall, why is it he who contacts his neighbor and initiates the joint rebuilding effort each spring? Finally, if the speaker is sincerely committed to the "something" in human nature that "doesnt love" emotional barriers (and that, by implication, does love human connectedness), why does he allow his imagination to intensify the menacing otherness of his neighbor to the point of seeing him as "an old-stone savage armed" who "moves in darkness"? To consider these questions, the speaker would have to realize that there is something in him that does love walls, but the walls within him seem to block understanding of his own contradictory nature.
Frost ends the poem with the neighbors line, "Good fences make good neighbors," perhaps because this cliché actually suggests a wiser perspective on the boundary wall than the speaker realizes. This stone "fence" seems "good" partly because it sets a clear boundary between two very different neighborsone laconic and seemingly unsociable, the other excitable, fanciful, and self-contradictory. On the other hand, this fence is also good in that it binds the two men together, providing them with at least one annual social event in which they can both participate with some comfort and amiability. To recall the two meanings of the title, the activity of mending the wall enables it to be a "mending wall" that keeps the relationship of these two neighbors stable and peaceful.
Terry L. Andrews
The Poetry of Frost (Masterplots Classic)
Author: Robert Frost
Chapter: Introduction to Robert Frost
The career of Robert Frost is full of surprises. The first is that this most typical of Yankees is a native Californian. He was born in San Francisco and spent his first eleven years there, during the exciting era of gold and pioneering. William Prescott Frost, Jr., his father, followed the waves of westward-moving New Englanders that swept into the frontier lands to seek their fortunes. The elder Frost was the son of a cotton-mill boss in Lawrence, Massachusetts, one of the many cloth-spinning towns of the North which depended on cheap Southern cotton for their living. Naturally, a great number of these mill-town citizens were "Copperheads," or sympathisers with the Confederacy during the Civil War. This is reflected in the poet's own name - another surprise; Robert Lee Frost was named after his father's boyhood hero, Robert E. Lee.
See - Robert Frost: 1874-: The career of Robert Frost is full of surprises. The first is that this most typical of Yankees is a native Californian.
Frost's father, after graduating with honors from Harvard, met Isabelle Moodie at the first stage of his westward journey. He had stopped at Lewistown, Pennsylvania to take a teaching position at Bucknell Academy. He needed funds for the trip. He acquired more than he had planned; he left Bucknell for the West in 1872 a married man. Isabelle had landed a job teaching mathematics at the same academy, and the young Easterner William Frost wed her before the year was out. She had been born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and came to America as a girl of fifteen. Her excellence at teaching served her well in later life, and she passed it on to her son. The young couple could hardly be said to have settled down in San Francisco. William moved from house to house and from hotel to hotel - Isabelle hated cooking - and from job to job as journalist and editor for various turbulent frontier newspapers. His son Robert, born the year after they arrived, became his ardent disciple, following him about as he politicked, missing school, growing up tough. Years later the poet gave his father credit for teaching him to be a fighter. Stubbornly refusing to admit he was seriously sick with tuberculosis, William was always challenging someone to a race or a fight, and encouraged his son to do likewise. Young Robert idolized him. "They'd put gloves on us and egg us on." he remembered, and he would slug it out with another boy his own age until both were in tears. Nothing else mattered except pleasing his father.
Robert Frost's father died in 1885 at the age of thirty-four. Isabelle Moodie Frost was a brave and resourceful woman. She had kept the family together during the unstable California years, and now she took Robert and his younger sister back to Massachusetts. She also resisted the efforts of Robert's tight-fisted and autocratic grandfather to dominate the little family. A district school in Salem, New Hampshire needed a teacher. She took the job, and Robert's days of truancy were over. He sat in her classrooms, was made to memorize long passages of prose and poetry, listened to her sing old Scots ballads, and grew to love language. By the fall of 1888 he was in Lawrence High School, absorbing the staples of a Victorian curriculum - Latin, Greek, mathematics, ancient history - and becoming shyly friendly with his rival for the school's top honors. She was the daughter of a Universalist minister, Elinor Miriam White. When he graduated, in 1892, she was co-valedictorian with him. Robert had been making up for lost time, was becoming precocious even, devouring Hamlet, Shelley's poems, and the respectable anthologies then used in school, known as the Franklin Readers. He read Irving, Dickens, Goldsmith, Milton, Tennyson, Whittier, Longfellow, Byron. "Good books, prime," he said of those readers later. "Nothing trivial there." There was also the continual drilling in grammar. Besides the logic of language imposed by the classics, Frost and his classmates parsed, diagrammed, analysed structure and content, and wrote imitations of the various styles of the masters. Later, as a teacher, he was furious at students who came to him to learn to write poetry without being able to spell. "They don't teach these kids anything constructive at all," he fumed. But the years at Lawrence were pleasant, leisurely, over too soon. When the audience assembled for the commencement exercises that July day, they joined in singing the class hymn. "Words by Robert L. Frost," noted the program, "Music by Beethoven."
Robert Frost's grandfather was convinced that Dartmouth College was the proper place to prepare the youngest of the Frosts for the business career that would, of course, be his. He would meet the proper people and get the proper training. The college had been founded in 1769 under George III, and had the sort of stability the old man valued. The boy was to have an allowance of five dollars a week, and was expected to keep an exact account of every penny of it. The curriculum was classics, algebra, history. Robert had to be at chapel every morning at 7:40 A.M. He read the Georgics of the Roman epic poet Vergil, and Horace, and Livy in Latin, and the Apology and Crito of Plato in Greek. He later admitted to his friend Louis Mertins that his reading in the Georgics confirmed his poetic purpose. That the young man should have been especially struck by this work is fascinating in the light of his later reputation as a country poet. The Georgics is a poetical treatise on farming, and Vergil's second published work (29 B.C.) Commissioned by his patron Maecenas to revive a fondness for agriculture in the civil-war-torn state, Vergil, influenced by Hesiod's Works and Days (eighth century B.C.), produced a charming series of rural essays. They include a farmer's calendar, hints on weather prediction, directions for maintaining orchards, livestock and bees, for crop planning - and all in verse so polished and perfect that some critics rank it above his epic masterpiece the Aeneid. All this was strangely attractive to the future farmer-poet.
Life at Dartmouth and the annoyance of itemizing his expenses for his hard-headed grandsire combined to set Frost out on a period of wondering. He left early in December without taking the term examinations. Waste of time, he thought. The trial of one odd job after another during the next period failed to satisfy him. Tramping through the Carolinas, mill-work, news-gathering, always with a battered and well-marked copy of Shakespeare in his pocket, teaching in a series of private schools, acting as night watchman, he made poetry his first love. Of the many poems produced during this period, only one survives. "My Butterfly" was published by The Independent, a small but influential paper, on November 8, 1894. He got a check for fifteen dollars. Young Frost never made the mistake of trying to live on a poet's income during those early years. He was later to admit that his first twenty years of writing poetry netted him all of two hundred dollars.
Marriage And Harvard
Frost had never forgotten his high school rival and friend, Miss Elinor White. She was attending an up-state Universalist college called St. Lawrence, so except for the summer months the two had to be content with letters. As a prospective suitor, of course, Frost could hardly have been acceptable to thr girl's family. A living had to be made; a position had to be gained that would promise stability. It seems that Frost felt so rejected after a visit to St. Lawrence late in 1894 that his journey through the southern states was actually a flight of despair. But the publication of his first poet, and the period of reporting and teaching that followed it, put things in a better light. The engagement was made, and the couple were married on December 28, 1895. For a while they both taught at Frost's mother's school. Their first son Eliot was born the following September. The Independent bought another poem; then Frost made another try at college, this time at Harvard, the scene of his father's brilliant Phi Beta Kappa performance. He entered in 1897, again at the expense of his grandfather. Again the classics were his absorbing interest. But the end of 1899 found Frost a man of twenty-four, a husband, and the father of two infants (his daughter Lesley was born that March). He did not return for his junior year.
1900 was a year of sadness for Frost. His mother was stricken with cancer. In July his son Eliot, a sickly child from the first, died at the age of four. And Frost decided to become a farmer. This is not easy to account for. His Father and mother had been townsfolk, and his grandparents. He knew nothing much of farming, and was to admit later to elementary blunders. But the turn of the century was an age in which a man could still expect to support a family comfortably on a small farm. The idea of contact with the out-of-doors, the independence, the opportunities for solitude, the rejection of the struggle for worldly success - these must have made a strong appeal. Certain it is, then and later, that he was charged with "burying himself." Perhaps the best answer to this surprising step comes from another Harvard student and classical scholar, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), who wrote before Frost was born: "Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. (Walden, chapter XVIII)."
Frost's Grandfather, for all his reputation as a miserly old skinflint, knew when his help would do the most good. At the request of Elinor Frost, he consented to buy the little family a thirty-acre farm with orchards, fields, pasture, woodland and spring. It had been all but farmed out by the generations of New Hampshiremen who had finally left it for the cities and the West. But it could be worked, and the old man used it as a last resort. "Shall I give you a year?" he asked. "Will you settle down if I give you a year to try this out?" "Give me twenty," said Frost. It took courage and a generous supply of optimism. The farmhouse was unpainted, the land needed much work. Ultimately, they could not make it pay. They always had plenty to eat, but never enough money. But the farm did produce four children, and, most important for us, a fine crop of poems - A Boy's Will, North of Boston, a good deal of Mountain Interval. A man could do worse after six years. To earn some cash income, however, Frost decided to resume teaching, and took a part-time post at Pinkerton Academy, a two mile walk from the farm. He taught English, coached baseball, produced and directed plays, managed debating and oratorical contests. His teaching methods were unusual and memorable. He emphasized "the fine delight that fathers thought," talked to the students, inspired them. One remembers that he rarely asked a question he knew the answer to. His restlessness continued. In 1910 the family moved to a house nearer to the school. By 1911 he was teaching psychology at New Hampshire State Normal School in Plymouth, New Hampshire. The following year the break was complete. He sold the Derry farm, packed up his manuscripts, collected his wife and four children (a daughter had died in infancy) and sailed for England.
Why England? Why not? Anywhere to get away away from the routine of teaching, the fear of turning into a machine, the nosiness of the Lawrence relatives, the possibility of becoming "respectable" and losing the gift of poetry. Why, they had even tried to make him principal of the Pinkerton school! The choice was reduced to British Columbia, home of friend John Bartlett, and the British Isles. Frost tossed a coin, and, as he said, "England won - or lost; lost I guess." The family went by steamer via Glasgow, arrived in London completely friendless, and took the advice of a chance acquaintance to rent a farm in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire. Here life went quietly, and "more than a few" poems were produced, to be included later in Mountain Interval and New Hampshire. Frost shuffled and arranged and picked over the poems he had brought from America, many of them previously sent, in vain, to "all the good magazines." He found that the poems began to group themselves around a single theme. Another spur-of-the-moment decision and he was off to London to find a publisher. This was the method he was to use throughout his life, by the way. His books of poems were never written, always assembled and chosen from a backlog of finished work, some old, some new.
Once in London, he again took a casual suggestion and went to the firm of David Nutt. The man had died and his wife, a Frenchwoman, had taken control of the firm. This intriguing woman tried to get Frost to pay part of the costs; failing that, she read the poems recognized their merit, had him sign a contract which included the right to publish future collections - and never paid him a cent in royalties! No matter. The poet had his book - his first. He had never been prouder of anything in his life. And it was a success. Ezra Pound, the Idaho expatriate who was such a profound influence on T. S. Eliot, and who was to cause such an uproar during the Second World War when he made propaganda broadcasts for the Italian Fascists, had not yet renounced his country. He invited Frost to visit him, went over the proofs of the first book, and wrote an appreciative review of it. A Boy's Will was followed by North of Boston in 1914. The Frosts moved into Gloucestershire where the poet could farm for food-money was running out again - and a circle of literary acquaintances and friends began to grow. There were the noted poet and critic Wilfred Gibson; Lascelles Abercrombie and T. E. Hulme; the poets Edward Thomas and Rupert Brooke, both of whom were to be victims of the Great War.
The Frosts returned to the United States in February of 1915. The war had made it impossible for them to stay. The effect of the English years on Frost is difficult to evaluate. Though some critics make the episode a turning point in his career, it is more likely that he had found his poetic balance before he started the journey. He does not seem to have been influenced by Pound or the circle of Georgian literary lights. Little of his verse reflects any specifically English imagery. In short, Frost lived the friendly, shrewd, leisurely, unsophisticated, speculative life he always had. He loved to talk on any subject: New England, poetry, including his own, psychology, botany, politics, philosophy, farming. So the man who returned at the age of forty-one was no different from the one who had left three years before, except perhaps surer of his talents and of his ability to find an audience for them. The years of isolation and obscurity were over.
The Years Of Fame
The firm of Henry Holt & Company had produced an edition of North of Boston. The demand grew. A Boy's Will came out in an American edition. Frost was heartened at the response. He was invited to read the Phi Beta Kappa poem at Tufts College. His productivity increased. Mountain Interval was published in 1916, the year he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He resolutely settled on another farm, this time in Franconia, New Hampshire, but now the world was coming to him. He accepted the first of many academic appointments in 1917, becoming Professor of English at Amherst College, but now on his own terms. The president, Alexander Meiklejohn, intent on assembling a superlative faculty and transforming the college into one famous for scholarship and good teaching, absolved him from the slavery of regular lectures. Frost became, in effect, poet in residence. He was simply there, available to the students, a genius at conversation, thinking, talking, creating. Such a life of leisure provoked some jealousy among the faculty, but the leisure produced poetry, so no one could object. And there was action, too. In 1920 he became co-founder of the famous Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. He wrote in the preface to the Bread Loaf Anthology that the summer school was not to degenerate into a mere "resort for routine education in English," or for "the encouragement of a vain ambition." It was not intended to correct and improve writers, for "no writer has ever been corrected into importance."
For some time Frost had been considering which of his yet unpublished poems should be chosen for a fourth book. From 1921 to 1923 he was poet in residence at the University of Michigan, the center of an enthusiastic circle of students, and enjoying it thoroughly. He acquired an honorary Master of Arts degree. But almost seven years had elapsed before the new book was ready. It focused on New Hampshire, "one of the two best states in the Union-Vermont's the other." In October, 1923 New Hampshire was published, bound in green and gold, and illustrated by J. J. Lankes with landscapes in woodcut. The poet was feasted at the Hotel Brevoort in Manhattan by an admiring crowd of the nation's literary establishment. It was the March following the appearance of New Hampshire, and his fiftieth birthday. Amy Lowell, Carl and Mark Van Doren, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Louis Untermeyer, and a host of others heard him read a satire on the Irish dialect plays, "The Cow's in the Corn." In the foreword he wrote for the printed version in 1929, the typical Frostian wit crackled: "This, my sole contribution to the Celtic Drama (no one so unromantic as not to have made at least one) illustrates the latter day tendency of all drama to become smaller and smaller to be acted in smaller and smaller theatres to smaller and smaller audiences." The effect was hilarious. The poet was in the spotlight, and he was to remain there. He accepted another post at Amherst, giving scattered lectures in Philosophy, English and Greek. He called himself "a sort of poetic radiator." The world of letters responded to the warmth with a Pulitzer Prize for New Hampshire in 1924 - the first of four.
Frost spent another year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and then returned to his well-loved Amherst in 1926. He stayed for the next twelve years under the John Woodruff Simpson foundation, holding conversations of epic length and stirring the complacency of the old college. When his next book, West-Running Brook, appeared in 1928, critics were concerned at a change in style. Since North of Boston, his verse had been dominated by dramatic monologues. Now there was a return to the lyric strains of his first book, A Boy's Will, and they were of the best.
A Further Range
In 1928 the poet took his wife to France for six weeks, and then revisited the scene of his first recognition, England. Old friends and happy memories crowded the time, but many of the group he had known were scattered, or dead on the battlefields of the First World War. The Frosts then went to Ireland. There were talks with the poets William Butler Yeats and AE (George William Russell) men who "took ordinary conversation and lifted it into the realm of pure literature." He returned refreshed to Amherst. In 1930 A Way Out was published. This one-act play had been produced at the Northampton Academy of Music at Amherst in 1919. That same year his Collected Poems appeared, and he was elected to fellowship in the American Academy. The next year brought his second Pulitzer Prize. But the decade of the New Deal was a sad one for Frost. His daughter Marjorie died in 1934, and his wife in 1938. Elinor White Frost had shared the troubles and triumphs of his life for forty-three years, his best critic and only love. The poet was disconsolate. He published A Further Range in 1936, began spending the winter months in Florida, and continued his writing. He talked more than he wrote. The brilliance and insight, the dry Yankee humor, the keen eye for the incongruities of things were a tradition in themselves.
A Witness Tree
Honors could now be given a wry and salty smile, but they pleased the poet none the less. He accepted the post of Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University in 1936, where his series of talks were received with affection and respect. He was awarded his third Pulitzer Prize for A Further Range the following year. A fellowship in poetry at Harvard occupied him from 1939 to 1942. Though shocked and saddened by the suicide of his son Carol in 1940, he was at work on another book, and produced A Witness Tree in 1942. The fourth Pulitzer Prize followed.
From 1943 to 1949 Frost was Ticknor Fellow in the Humanities at Dartmouth College. There he worked on his dramatic version of a Job situation, A Masque of Reason, and another on the Jonah theme, A Masque of Mercy. They appeared in 1945 and 1947. A new book of verses, Steeple Bush, also appeared in 1947, and a new assembly of the Complete Poems in 1949. That was the year of his seventy-fifth birthday. Accolades poured in from America and the world. The United States Senate adopted a formal resolution extending him the felicitations of the nation. The climax of his recognition seemed to have been reached.
The Gift Outright
Those who knew Frost realized the reserves of energy in the old man. Not one to retire on his laurels, he continued writing, lecturing, talking, puttering in a grove of trees he had bought near, of all places, Coral Gables, Florida. In 1957 he returned to England to accept that country's highest academic honors Litt. D.'s at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Not to be outdone, the National University of Ireland followed suit. The next year Frost was made Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, and made bold to advise that august body to form a National Academy of Culture. 1960 found him back in his native California, lecturing and growling about the state of the humanities. Frost, in that election year, repeated his hopes that the country might elect a president who would foster the fine arts. He recognized the typical attitude of politician and businessman - his own grandfather, for instance - for whom "poetry and the other arts ranked down at the bottom next to zero. Very bottom." His best hopes were realized when John Fitzgerald Kennedy became president-elect, and asked the white-haired poet to read one of his works at the inauguration. It was the first time any poet had been so honored. No one can forget the ceremony that cold, bright January day in 1961. Blinded by the glare of his wind-ruffled pages, he could not read all of his "Preliminary History in Rhyme." But the dedicatory poem from A Witness Tree, "The Gift Outright," could not be hindered by mere weather and the weight of years. Memory and voice were strong as Robert Frost recited the poem, in every sense, by heart.
In The Clearing
Early in 1961 Frost was invited to lecture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Successful but exhausting weeks of touring Israel, speaking at the University of Athens, and paying another visit to England followed. Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? And more was to come. The stormy visit to Russia followed in 1962. It was supposedly to read his poetry to an audience of poets and students in Moscow, but he had his heart set on a talk with Nikita Khrushchev. He arrived with a sick stomach, was sent to a resort on the Black Sea to recover, and there was visited by the premier himself for another long Frostian bout of talk. The poet suggested the two nations fight out their rivalry in peaceful competition: the arts and sciences and sports. Naturally, too, nothing could keep the old Yankee from reading to the assembled Soviet men of letters "Something there is that doesn't love a wall . . ." He returned home tired, but active. More lectures in Detroit. In December he was hospitalized with a heart attack, rallied enough to send his friends belated Christmas cards, with a poem from his last book, published that year, In the Clearing. But early in the morning of January 29, 1963, what was mortal of Robert Frost departed this life. He was eighty-nine.
Nine generations of New Englanders had produced Robert Frost, and he in turn produced in his poetry a distillation of all that is New England. In this he is like John Greenleaf Whittier and Edwin Arlington Robinson. Like them, too, he used the traditional metrical forms, and spoke in the Yankee idioms of "North of Boston." But there is much more. Working in rural isolation, guided by his wit and sensitive ear, Frost succeeded in simplifying his language and intensifying his form in a period in which "modern" poetry was becoming more and more complex, allusive and intricate. This meant of course that he was ignored as unsophisticated and static, incapable of development, outside the main stream of poetry. It took decades for the image of "quaint, kindly, old-fashioned Frost" to change. It was only recently that the complexity of vision came into view, that the power of his contact with the wild and fearsome elemental struggles was felt. Dark woods and snow, storms and stars, and the frightening barriers between man and man are his themes, as well as moments of high comedy, satire, and rural peace. We are seeing him, for the first time, in his rightful place as a major American poet.