Fire and Ice (But Mostly Ice): The Poetry of Robert Frost
“Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Road Not Taken” still hover near the top of any list of America’s best-loved poems. Frost’s hard-eyed New England practicality, craggy jaw, snow white hair, and the singularly apt surname to go with them represent in many people’s minds everything an American poet should be—none of those twee, beret-wearing types for us!--It doesn’t hurt his continuing popularity that he worked in forms as solid and stolid as New Hampshire granite.
It’s just that all of that is a skewed picture of the man. He was born in San Francisco for gosh sake—SAN FRANCISCO!, was educated at Dartmouth and Harvard, and hung out in boho London with Ezra Pound and Robert Graves. Yes, that Ezra Pound. Despite his rhymes, his iambs and his dactyls, he was every bit the Modernist Gertrude Stein and T.S. Eliot were, and he was every bit as responsible as they for dragging American poetry out of the moon/June swoon it had fallen into once Longfellow and Whitcomb Riley had had their way with her, and that only the energetic, all-encompassing presence of Walt Whitman could rescue from permanent exile in the suburbs and a life spent collecting S&H Green Stamps and inventing imaginative ways to use lime jello.
The handful of Frost's poems that are perpetually anthologized, the poems that people remember him most for, are not representative of his body of work. Those benign, top-tier Hallmark things are not what Frost is about. Yes, he is a poet of placid (if chilly) landscapes, but his landscapes are peopled, and the people he gives voice to are not always friendly, nor harmless, nor sane. To read Frost carefully is to know isolation in all of its forms. Some of the loneliest people you'll ever encounter on the page are conversing with one another in blank verse within his poems. Those woods the speaker stops by on that endless snowy evening, when seen from Frost's more customary angle, are terrifying, in an existential sense at least, and the fact that Frost can communicate that terror without ever raising his voice, let alone a bloody ax is a testament to his artistry.
Books by Robert Frost
Birches / illustrated by Ed Young
Collected Poems, Prose and Plays /
Collected Prose of Robert Frost / Mark Richardson, ed.
Conversations with Robert Frost: The Bread Loaf Period / Peter J. Stanlis
Early Poems / Robert Faggen, ed.
The Notebooks of Robert Frost / Robert Faggen, ed.
The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged / Edward Connery Lathem, ed.
The Poetry of Robert Frost [Audiocassette] /
Robert Frost Speaking on Campus: Excerpts from his Talks, 1949-1962 / Edward Connery Lathem, ed.
Selected Poems / Photography by Charles Ziga
A Swinger of Birches: Poems of Robert Frost for Young People / Peter Koeppen, illust.