Three Poems by Robert Frost – by Kaye Spencer #poetry #firestarpress #robertfrost

My August article on the Fire Star Press blog is reprinted below.

This is my fourth article in an on-going series about my favorite poems. Click on the poem’s title to read the article.

July  2020: – Invictus by William Ernest Henley
June 2020: – Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
May 2020: – My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke

This month, my poetic interests focus on three poems by Robert Frost. I have these poems committed to memory. Before I delve into these poems, I will share a bit about Frost’s life.

Robert Frost c. 1910 – Image citation below

Robert Frost was…

  • Born in San Francisco March 26, 1874
  • Moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts following father’s death in 1885
  • Won four Pulitzer prizes for Poetry – only poet to achieve this
  • Received Congressional Gold Medal in 1960 for his poetic works
  • Recited a poem at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration on January 20, 1961. He was 86. The bright sunlight interfered with his ability to read the poem he’d written just for the inauguration (Dedication), so he recited his poem “The Gift Outright” from memory.

What I find fascinating, tragic, heartbreaking…choose your descriptor…and what undoubtedly influenced his writings, are the personal challenges and difficulties that colored his life and his world perspective. You can read this information on the websites listed below in the Resources section, but this is the most detailed explanation I’ve found. (Wikipedia)

“Robert Frost’s personal life was plagued by grief and loss. In 1885 when he was 11, his father died of tuberculosis, leaving the family with just eight dollars. Frost’s mother died of cancer in 1900. In 1920, he had to commit his younger sister Jeanie to a mental hospital, where she died nine years later. Mental illness apparently ran in Frost’s family, as both he and his mother suffered from depression, and his daughter Irma was committed to a mental hospital in 1947. Frost’s wife, Elinor, also experienced bouts of depression.

Elinor and Robert Frost had six children: son Elliot (1896–1900, died of cholera); daughter Lesley Frost Ballantine (1899–1983); son Carol (1902–1940, committed suicide); daughter Irma (1903–1967); daughter Marjorie (1905–1934, died as a result of puerperal fever after childbirth); and daughter Elinor Bettina (died just one day after her birth in 1907). Only Lesley and Irma outlived their father. Frost’s wife, who had heart problems throughout her life, developed breast cancer in 1937, and died of heart failure in 1938.”

One doesn’t endure heartache and loss such as this and not have it influence your creative expression.

Robert Frost Commemorative Stamp – Citation below

On to the three poems…

Acquainted with the Night – 1927

A favorite interpretation of this poem is ‘night’ equals ‘depression’, and the narrator walking alone in the city is an indication of his depressed mental state that isolates him from everything and everyone. This certainly fits with the sorrow and grief Frost experienced.

For me, this is a poem of loneliness. The person walks the night alone, because staying home is difficult to unbearable. The person finds solace in the solitude and freedom out being outside instead of remaining inside when the walls of the house close in. It is a poem of looking for something to replace whatever the person has lost, and that loss has left a hole of loneliness inside that can’t be filled. This poem as a metaphor for loneliness resonates with me, because loneliness is an overriding and recurring theme in the stories I write.

Acquainted with the Night – 1927

A favorite interpretation of this poem is ‘night’ equals ‘depression’, and the narrator walking alone in the city is an indication of his depressed mental state that isolates him from everything and everyone. This certainly fits with the sorrow and grief Frost experienced.

For me, this is a poem of loneliness. The person walks the night alone, because staying home is difficult to unbearable. The person finds solace in the solitude and freedom out being outside instead of remaining inside when the walls of the house close in. It is a poem of looking for something to replace whatever the person has lost, and that loss has left a hole of loneliness inside that can’t be filled. This poem as a metaphor for loneliness resonates with me, because loneliness is an overriding and recurring theme in the stories I write.

Acquainted with the Night read by Ron Perlman as Vincent from Beauty and the Beast television program 1987- 1990

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening – 1922

I’ve read an interpretation that the woods represent irrational thought, irresponsible behavior , and the dark side of the personality, which is in direct contrast to the village, which represents civilization, society, responsibility, sensibility, and duty. The woods are where you lose your way, because the snow covers your tracks, and you can’t find your way back. The woods are a siren call or a death wish.

Well… I fall back on what I told my students when I taught literature. “Sometimes the dog is just a dog.” This means that not every part of a story of poem has to be analyzed or given symbolic meaning.

I see this poem as a moment in time when the narrator is so taken with the beauty of the snow falling in the woods, that time stands still. The narrator is drawn to enter the woods to experience the awe of nature. With the narrator remembering it is the darkest evening of the year, the first day of winter, which is close to Christmas, gives me a feeling of a young man returning home after being away from family for a long time, perhaps having been off to war. He grew up in this village, and he is so taken by the sight of the woods that he remembers from years before, that he is caught up in moment of inner peace that he hasn’t felt since he left home. The horse shaking his harness bells breaks the spell, which reminds him he promised to be home before Christmas and he has miles to go before he sleeps…

It’s a happy, satisfying poem for me.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening read by Peter Dickson

The Road Not Taken – c. 1915

Interpretations of this poem are all over the place from ‘following your own path’ to ‘no matter what choice you make, you’ll always regret not making a different choice’ to the sigh at the end being satisfaction or disappointment. There is a sense of crying over what might have been in many of the critical essays about this poem. Frost apparently wrote this poem with his friend, Edward Thomas, in mind, as a way to tease him about his (Thomas’) tendency to agonize over choices.

I read this poem as the narrator contemplating two choices before him (using masculine because Frost, a man, wrote the poem). The choices are ‘roads’. Roads are manmade, so his choices are not necessarily adventure related, but career/job related. It’s a poem about equal opportunities and having to choose one, and once chosen, there is no going back and no regretting.

Probably my personal experience with this colors my interpretation. I was working as a school psychologist while simultaneously taking the last few classes in the program. I had reached ‘all but internship’ stage, when I was offered the job of Director of Exceptional Student Services for 13 school districts. I was at the two roads diverging in a yellow wood. The poem fits my situation perfectly from then through the rest of my career in education and retirement and to my life right now.

I left the school psych program and accepted the director position. And that made all the difference…

The Road Not Taken read by Tom Bates

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

 

 

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Resources – Robert Frost:
Britannica.com
Biography.com
Poets.org
Prabook
Poetry Foundation
Wikipedia

  • Images:
    Young Frost: Unknown author at the source., Robert Frost, 1910s, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
  • Commemorative Stamp: US Gov, RobertFrost, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons