The Modern Period (c.1914-1945), also known as the “age of anxiety,” introduced new themes, structures, styles, and perspectives that distinguished it from the Victorian era (c.1832-1901). At this time in history, the first World War caused disillusionment which ultimately led to new forms of expression in the realm of literature. Themes of isolation and alienation from society emerged as Modern poets searched for identity and the reason for man’s existence in a harsh world. Poets began to break away from traditional rules choosing to write in free verse, rejecting other traditional classical styles. The speakers in Modern literature are often perceived as struggling with self-identity exposing new thoughts about humans’ position in the world. Poets rejected the past because they believed that traditional society was based on conformity and control over human emotions. The use of metaphors, religious allusions, symbolism, and vivid imagery emerged from the Modern Period to create new, fresh pieces which tried to do as Pound commanded: to make it new.
Frost is a writer who did what most could not: bridge the Victorian Age and the Modernist Period. Frost used traditional forms, but he used modern themes in his poems. Amy Lowell praised Frost’s style as writing in “classic metres, and uses inversions and clichés whenever he pleases, those devices so abhorred by the newest generation. He goes his own way, regardless of anyone else’s rules, and the result is a book of unusual power and sincerity” (“Robert Frost”). Frost’s poems appear simple but are actually deep and complex in their use of metaphors. A reoccurring theme in Frost’s poems is nature and its connection to the human world. Frost uses nature as the main focus in his works instead of a simple background. His detailed word choice and use of metaphors describe nature vividly, but it also analyzes man’s purpose in the universe revealing one’s struggles in the context of the natural world. As a result, the idea of the self is represented as conflicted, alone and alienated.
Robert Frost, son of William Prescott Frost Jr. and Isabelle Moodie, was born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco. Frost’s father, William, died of tuberculosis in 1885. Isabelle and her two children, Robert and Jeanie, moved to Salem Depot, New Hampshire where Isabelle become a teacher in the neighborhood school. Frost, an accomplished student, attended Lawrence High School in 1888. He first displayed his skill in poetry by publishing many articles in the Lawrence High School Bulletin where he also worked as an editor. Frost meet Elinor Miriam White, his co-valedictorian, in high school, and they eventually married in 1895. His most famous poems were written while living on the farm in Derry where Frost farmed chickens and taught to support his family. Elinor bore six children. However, four died during Frost’s lifetime causing his wife and himself to undergo deep depression. Frost experienced rejection from literary magazines for several years. But at the end of his lifetime, he was awarded four Pulitzer Prizes, the Loines Prize for poetry, the Mark Twain Medal, the Huntington Hartford Foundation Award, and he was part of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration ceremony. On January 29, 1963, Frost died at the age of eighty-nine.
Robert Frost is one of the most impressive twentieth-century poets whose reputation and achievements eclipse his shortcomings (Doreski). During Frost’s time at the Derry Farm, he wrote many well-known poems that depict pastoral scenes and connect the human experience to nature. These poems stimulate deep philosophical thought as Frost explores the relationship between the human world and the natural world. Common messages present in his poems reveal struggles in everyday life, drawing from his inspirations from the natural world in New England. In Frost’s poems “The Sound of the Trees,” “Birches,” and “After Apple-Picking,” nature is used as a central figure to connect with human existence.
In “The Sound of Trees,” Frost stresses the importance of staying put or moving on in life through the use of sound imagery created by personifying trees. Trees have deep roots providing stability and have crowns that sway with the wind representing movement. Trees symbolize wisdom, and the speaker listens to the trees to learn the lessons which they bear. The speaker questions the area in which they live by asking: “Why do we wish to bear / Forever the noise of these? / More than another noise” (Frost 1-3). Frost introduces the theme of rural life versus urban life. The rural life allows Frost to explore the relationship between human existence and nature. On the other hand, the city life inadequately provides the simplicity and clarity needed to generate philosophical content. The sound of the trees allows the speaker to “lose all measure of pace,” revealing that the trees act as a distraction to mask the sound of the city (Frost 7). The natural world also appears to provide comfort and a place to escape hardships in this world. By using the theme of nature and rural life, Frost’s speaker is able to relate with the stability and movement, seen in trees, providing insight on how to live.
Frost’s purpose in writing “The Sound of Trees” reveals the imprudence of missing opportunities in life. Unlike the natural world, mankind has the ability to make decisions. Frost’s speaker notices that the trees “talks of going / But never gets away” comparing trees to individuals who talk about leaving or going on adventures but never get around to doing it (Frost 10-11). Frost uses the cliché that life is short; therefore, make the most of the journey. The speaker warns humans that similar to all trees: “it grows wiser and older” (Frost 13) until one day “it means to stay” (Frost 14). Because all mankind grows old, there is a point in time where it becomes challenging to do things once done as an adolescent. The speaker advises to “set forth for somewhere” (Frost 19) and “make the reckless choice” (Frost 20) emphasizing the significance to chase dreams and do things now before it is too late. The importance of movement is illustrated in “the white clouds,” (Frost 23) and the idea that individuals become wise through experience is also revealed. However, there also comes a time to settle down. The ideas of love, truth, and beauty are all instances where it is worth to stay put and postpone future plans. Frost’s speaker uses the personification of trees to reveal the importance of living in the moment in order to embrace life and become wise through human experiences but to also enjoy the simplicity of staying rooted.
The inevitability of growing old is present in Frost’s poem, “Birches,” and the theme of escaping from reality emerges. The speaker depicts the birch trees as bent “left and right / Across the lines of straighter darker trees” comparing the trees to individuals’ lives (Frost 1-2). For instance, Frost’s speaker uses vivid imagery to describe the trees as “dragged to the withered bracken by the load, / And they seem not to break,” revealing that mankind undergoes many hardships that alter and distort one’s life (Frost 14-15). Therefore, it is a natural part of life to experience suffering. Frost’s speaker begins the poem with a straightforward and imaginative depiction of “some boy’s been swinging them” to specify the reason for the bent birch trees (Frost 3). The boy swinging from the trees, emphasizing the playfulness of boyhood, is not what damages the trees. Rather, the speaker disregards the “Truth” that the ice-storms caused this distortion to carry out his creative mind and imagination (Frost 21). In addition, the significance of the natural world is developed when the speaker reveals the boy as primarily growing up in nature: “Some boy too far from town to learn baseball, / Whose only play was what he found himself” (Frost 26-27). Because the boy was secluded from urban life, he resorts to the birch trees for adventure. The natural world provides the boy with a means to escape his isolation. The speaker begins to personally connect with the boy shifting from a detached view to a subjective view.
A shift in point of views occurs: “So was I once myself a swinger of birches / And so I dream of going back to be” (Frost 41-42). This reflective poem focuses on the speaker’s desire to return to his youthful days, but this longing contradicts the reality of adulthood. Manhood comes with responsibility. Frost’s speaker compares life’s journey to a pathless trail in the woods: “And life is too much like a pathless wood / . . . / Broken across it, and one eye is weeping” (Frost 44, 46). Through this comparison, life is perceived as painful and damaging, revealing the fact that it is inevitable to experience hardship while growing old. As a result, the speaker wishes “to get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over,” emphasizing his desire to return to youth and its carefree moments (Frost 48-49). By declaring “Earth’s the right place for love,” the significance of emotions and the human experience is introduced (Frost 52). Although the speaker wishes to escape the responsibilities on Earth, he realizes the importance of living through such suffering and emotions. Individuals are perceived as complete through adventure found in boyhood and emotions, such as love, discovered through adulthood. Frost’s utilization of trees as metaphors portrays a simple account “of a boyhood experience” (Barron).
Similar to “The Sound of Trees” and “Birches,” “After Apple-Picking” analyzes the connection between mankind and nature through the depiction of agrarian scenes. The speaker’s keen observation of the natural world is evident through the illustrations such as “the scent of apples,” (Frost 8) “world of hoary grass,” (Frost 12) and “bruised or spiked with stubble” (Frost 34). The speaker is described as exhausted from a long day harvesting apples, and he immediately references “My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree / Toward heaven still” portraying the difficulty in finding balance in life and implying life’s uncertainty (Frost 1-2). The ladder also alludes to Jacob’s ladder – a connection between heaven and earth, and the use of “Apples” alludes to the Garden of Eden (Frost 5). These biblical allusions signify God’s involvement in the speaker’s harvest. Because of mankind’s sinful nature, Adam and all offspring were condemned by God where “man will not cease to labor even in rest” (Montiero). As a result, it is evident that the speaker’s labor of harvesting apples is present in his dreams: “I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight” (Frost 9). In addition, Frost’s speaker mentions that his apple-picking is not complete: “there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill,” creating a tone of abeyance (Frost 3). Because the speaker’s barrel is not full, it represents the man’s unfulfilled life. On the other hand, the speaker tends to touch on the idea of success. His work ethic exposes the apple-picker as a hard worker wanting to continue finishing his harvest: “I keep hearing from the cellar bin /…/ load on load of apples coming in” (Frost 24, 26). However, he chooses to rest – in terms of sleep or perhaps death – as the speaker is overtired. “After Apple-Picking” exposes the harsh balance between hard work that produces a plentiful harvest and comfort, caused from relaxation. It is difficult to be physically rested while also reaping the benefits of success. Therefore, one must choose comfort with little success or exhaustion with abundant success.
Furthermore, the conclusion of “After Apple-Picking” is vague in terms of what kind of sleep is overtaking the apple-picker. Frost’s speaker implies “some human sleep” (Frost 42) or a “Long sleep” (Frost 41) alluding to death or perhaps hibernation similar to the woodchuck. If the speaker’s sleep resembles that of nature, it will be that of cyclical movement, like that of changing seasons. He will remain in dormancy and wake renewed similar to hibernating animals. On the other hand, human sleep is dominated by dreams, like that of apple-picking, so one may not wake refreshed compared to a deep slumber. The speaker ends the poem unclear; therefore, once the apple-picker awakes, he will know what type of sleep he arises from.
Robert Frost’s inspiration from his personal experience of growing up on a farm surrounded by New England rural life is present in several pieces of his work. He connects the theme of nature to the importance of human experiences – chasing dreams, settling down, escaping reality, experiencing emotions, and the reality of growing old. Although Frost uses simple diction, the use of extended metaphors generates “guidebooks for the spirit of individualism” (Faggen). Throughout these three poems, the natural world is a central character used to expose life lessons. For example, in “The Sound of Trees,” Frost portrays a message of escaping hard times and the importance of chasing opportunities before it is too late. Frost’s desire to return to his youth and escape the realities of adulthood also emerges from “Birches.” As Frost wrote in a letter to Robert P. Tristram Coffin, he expressed this idea by stating: “Poetry is that by which we live forever and ever unjaded. Poetry is that by which the world is never old” (Parini 537). This implies that he wrote poems to get away from life’s struggles and to stay young. In addition, Frost’s legacy lives on as his poetry continues to be read and studied.
In conclusion, Frost is an accomplished poet well-known in the English language. Although he explores the relationship between mankind and nature, his work delves into more themes such as death, communication, and more that generate deep philosophical questions about life. For instance, one may ask if life is all about achieving success or enjoying the simplicity of existence through the reading of “After Apple-Picking.” Frost’s use of trees in these three poems emphasize wisdom and life. In the end, Frost accomplishes a “perfect fusion of pastoral and poetic labor” to expose important life lessons (Meyers). Robert Frost revolutionized poetry with his use of sharp, vivid imagery of the natural world. His credibility is strengthened by the fact that he experienced hardships in his life, yet he pushed through to achieve success and leave a large footprint on American literature. His wisdom and advice on human existence, seen in his poetry, is depicted through the theme of nature.