Robert Frost is one America's most beloved poets. His poems speak to the heart and make us re-live our experiences, as all great poetry does. According to The American Tradition in Literature, Frost's "art is an act of clarification, an act which, without simplifying the truth, renders it in some degree accessible to everyone." And though his scenery was primarily the New England countryside, "people who have never seen New Hampshire or Vermont, reading his poems in California or Virginia, experience their revelation." His poetry has an important universal appeal.
You can find in Frost's canon poems for each season of the year. Two of his best loved and most anthologized poems are "After Apple-Picking" and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," the former taking place is late fall and the latter on the first day of winter. If you are a student in a class studying Frost's poems, you might find you can write a useful paper comparing and/or contrasting these poems. You will notice that the speaker of each poem emphasizes "sleep"; what do you think he is implying? Does he mean more than ordinary nightly repose? Read the poems for fun, but study them for the experience they impart.
Another Frost poem that takes place in fall is "The Road Not Taken." How can you be sure it takes place in fall? Well, the yellow wood and the fact that a lot of leaves have fallen. This poem is often misunderstood. That the "road" is a symbol for making choices is clear enough, but many students read into the poem the notion that the speaker is claiming he is happy with the choice he made, that he is happy that he chose to walk down the road he selected. But if you look closer you will see that the speaker cannot be making that claim. And what the speaker actually claims could be the focus of a useful essay.
A Frost poem that takes place in spring is "Mending Wall." This poem lends itself to a character study: how much can we know about the speaker and about his neighbor? The speaker says that spring brings out the mischief in him, but what does it bring out in his neighbor? We know the action of the poem takes place in Spring, because there are two references to the season: "at spring mending-time we find them there," referring the gaps in the wall that have to be mended. And, of course, as mentioned earlier the speaker refers to spring when he says, "Spring is the mischief in me."
Another spring poem that is seldom anthologized is called "Putting in the Seed." What do you notice about this poem's structure? Right! It's a sonnet. Is it an English or Italian sonnet? Or is it an innovative sonnet? A useful paper could incorporate a discussion about the sonnet form of this poem. Of course, the subject of the poem is intriguing, because with thoughts of spring come thoughts of birth and rebirth. The last two lines, "The sturdy seedling with arched body comes / Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs," might be compared to the birth of a human "seedling." This poem is rich; see what else you can find there.
Other spring poems include "Spring Pools," and "Nothing Gold Can Stay" gives a nod to spring: "Nature's first green is gold, / Her hardest hue to hold. / Her early leaf's a flower; / But only so an hour." And of course, the purpose for beginning with spring in "Nothing Gold Can Stay" is to make the statement that spring won't be around long.
Then comes summer with "The Oven Bird," which is an innovative sonnet, resembling the English and Italian forms but also varying its structure somewhat. A useful essay can result from focusing a discussion on the sonnet form and how it enhances the meaning of the bird's sounds.
Then there's "A Tuft of Flowers" with its meditative scene in which the speaker refers to another worker. Is that other worker really another person or could the speaker be referring to God?
Other summer poems include "Rose Pogonias," "Mowing," and "Blueberries," which features a conversation as many Frost poems do. When poems feature more than one character, the opportunity for character analysis results.
Frost's "Reluctance" is a rich poem that refers to seasons in a telling way as he compares human feelings about seasons and feelings about love.
Of course, Robert Frost wrote about much more than seasons, and even the poems whose setting we can identify with a season does much more than celebrate the season. His poems always examine the human heart; they try to identify what's happening to us as we live. Frost poems are accessible but challenging at times. But we can always trust him; we never feel that he is hiding behind a mass of unrelated words as is often the case with poets of the modern era.
There are a few poets including Shakespeare, Longfellow, the Metaphysical poets, and the Harlem Renaissance poets whose work we can always trust. Robert Frost considered himself a lone wolf, because he was writing in a time when vagueness was becoming a poetic virtue in American poetry. But Frost, like Longfellow, is considered a poet of the American people. He examines our experience and celebrates our longings and our love in his many fine, distinguished poems.
Books by Linda Sue Grimes:
Singing in the Silence: Poems of Faith
Jiggery Jee's Eden Valley Stories