Freud mentions sublimation as the primary defense of poets and prose writers alike. The defense that keeps them upright in life. Even a slight dissention would result in the convenient label of denial. However, be it the poets of the Indian subcontinent with their focus on tragic matters of the heart or poets of the west, some saying of Freud come back to haunt us. While the Romantics and the Victorian poets depict the pathos of their times and lives, American poets like Robert Lee Frost also deserve more than just a mention. His life shows much of his ‘will’ to live while his work showcases sensuality packaged in pastoral simplicity.
Frost had “miles to go” in every sense. Emotional upheavals interspersed with outstanding successes shaped his life. Born to a teaching couple on March 26, 1874, he was orphaned at 11 when his gambler, drinker and authoritarian father passed away. His married life was punctuated by frequent bouts with poverty, uncertain health, financially unproductive though creatively fruitful immigrations and tragic or unnatural deaths and institutionalisations of his children. Despite such personal turmoil, his fame and triumph of 4 Pulitzer prizes during his lifetime remains unparalleled by any other American poet. He passed away on January 29, 1963.
While his mother made Shakespeare, Wordsworth and others his fodder throughout childhood, Greek and Latin held its sway during high school, which along with an interest in botany and astronomy influenced his poetry. The psychologist William James known as the father of American psychology, however, became Frost’s ‘greatest inspiration’. This may have led to the spiritual undertones in Frost’s work and the idea of ‘will’ in his life.
For many reviewers Frost’s charm lies in his simplicity. While, Edward Thomas recognized his originality, Ezra Pound felt he knew more about farm life and effectually ‘Life’ itself after reading Frost, and Jarrell described him as the “the subtlest and saddest of poets”.
Deeper analysis reveals his subliminal sensual appeal. His formulation of the “ear” being “the only true writer and reader”, made him experiment using the “sound of sense” with vernacular speech. Another aspect of sublimation perhaps? Thus, his poetry makes demands on the reader’s vigilance for cadences and dramatic effects of silence. He, like his ‘Oven Bird’ remained earthbound, singing of worldly matters, didactic and argumentative by turns. Overall, his witty treatment of issues in light verse composition gave a surface gloss to inopportune facets.
Among his best-known shorter poems are “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, “Mending Wall”, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, “Acquainted With the Night”, “The Pasture”, “Fire and Ice”, and “The Road Not Taken”.
Throughout, he astutely remained in the public eye, being feted by the literary worlds of both Boston and New York. His practice of public readings with a sprinkling of his own comments and reflections about the world served only to enhance his popularity with the masses.
Though primarily a poet, Frost was also a dramatist. When hard pressed for money he also wrote articles for poultry journals by night while working his farm by day. His letters to wife Elinor and friend Sidney Cox “Forty Years of Friendship” are in book form and served to release him after a decade from the ‘monster of egotism myth’ when his personality faced the brunt of his self-appointed biographer Thompson’s hostile pen.
Frost was prolific. Hundreds of unearthed works are still being published posthumously such as The Notebooks of Robert Frost (January 2007).
He had a “lover’s quarrel with the world” and like a lover, gave his tribute to ‘tragic America’ transformed artfully into ‘pastoral and peaceful America’.
* An abridged version of this essay has been published earlier in the box features section of Daily Dawn Newspaper, Karachi. Pakistan.
*Image courtesy: http://www.google.com.pk/imgres?imgurl=http://students.ou.edu/E/Kelly.A.Edson-1/robertfrost.jpg&imgrefurl=http://students.ou.edu/E/Kelly.A.Edson-1/project.html&usg=__kf5sCVZyyZ4SUJJgaUz4FTvqDU0=&h=258&w=258&sz=62&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=6xQsqEmogJQPgM:&tbnh=138&tbnw=159&ei=o5TSTaKdM5CksQOS3r2wCQ&prev=/search%3Fq%3Drobert%2Blee%2Bfrost%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX%26rlz%3D1T4GGHP_enPK418PK418%26biw%3D1093%26bih%3D466%26tbm%3Disch%26prmd%3Divns0%2C209&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=844&vpy=67&dur=2675&hovh=206&hovw=206&tx=150&ty=103&page=1&ndsp=13&ved=1t:429,r:12,s:0&biw=1093&bih=466