Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Frost's symbols define and explain each other". Elucidate with suitable illustrations.

Symbols are essentially words which are not merely connotative but also evocative and emotive. In addition to their meaning, they also call up or evoke before the mind's eye, a host of associations connected with them, and are also rich in emotional significance. For example, the word 'lily' merely connotes a 'flower' but it also evokes images of beauty and innocence. It also carries with it the emotional overtone of pity resulting from suffering or oppression. In this way, through symbols a writer can express much more than by the use of ordinary words; symbols make the language rich and expressive. Concepts which by their very nature are inexpressible can be conveyed in this way. Thus a symbol can be used to convey, "pure sensations", or the poet's apprehension of transcendental, mystery.

Frost's poetry is easy and simple, but this apparent simplicity of his poetry is deceptive and misleading. In reality, he is a very complex and intricate poet, and this complexity arises from his extensive use of symbols. As he himself tells us in his article The Figure a Poem Makes, "he is by intention a symbolist who takes his symbols from the public domains". It is by the use of symbols that Frost enriches the texture of his verse and full significance and deeper meaning of particular situations and events. It thus becomes possible to read his poems at different levels. On the surface there might be merely a plain and simple narration or description, and the poem may be enjoyed as such. But a careful reading reveals the hidden and deeper meaning. When interpreted symbolically the scope widens, and the full implications of what Frost says are brought about.
Warren Austin uses the term "natural symbolism" to describe Frost's symbols, for they are all drawn from the ordinary, commonplace objects and phenomenon of nature, and from the common everyday events and situations of human life. Such symbols have been used by all poets through the ages, because they come to the mind naturally and spontaneously. Frost's symbols are simple because they are drawn from the simplest sources, but they are also complex, for they express more than one concept, at one and the same time.
In Departmental he reflects on modern organisationalism through the symbol of ant Jerry's death and burial. The formality and solemnity in handling the dead ant Jerry is a reflection on the impersonal commerce of life in the contemporary world. This indictment of the modern man obliquely suggests the humanism of Frost. In The Road Not Taken, a man takes one of the two roads in a wood. This is a symbolic reference to the universal problem of choice: every human being has to take a choice at every step in life and must suffer the consequences of having made that choice. The man in this poem takes the road "less travelled by" and reflects that later on he might say: "and that has made all the difference".
Woods in Frost's poems represents the bewildering charm and profundity of life and the world. In The Road Not Taken woods have a relevance to both bafflement and life. In Birches it is indirectly mentioned that many a time life looks like a pathless wood. In Two Tramps in Mud Time also woods refer to bafflement and life. Darkness is also a common symbol in the poems of Frost. In Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, the dark woods refer to the profundity and incomprehensibility of life and the world. In Design darkness is used as a very effective symbol of the dark or gloomy and horrible universal pattern as opposed to the supposed benevolent pattern. In Minding Wall darkness is used to suggest both external darkness and darkness within man:
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shape of trees.”
In Mowing the scythe is spoken of as if it were a living creature and is thus personified. This anthropomorphic treatment of the scythe is acceptable, because we feel sure of the writer's strong feeling about the scythe. If the fact-as-dream be interpreted to represent the act of mowing as means to an end as well as an end in itself it could serve to symbolise not only a process of being but also a process of becoming, within the farmer-poet's life. This poem well illustrates Frost's use of image, metaphor, and symbol. In After Apple-Picking, the concrete experience of apple-picking is communicated firmly and realistically, but the poem invites a metaphorical and symbolic extension. The task of apple-picking is any task; it is life itself. The drowsiness which the speaker feels after the completion of the task is associated with the cycle of the seasons. Death might be considered to be something eminently natural, a sense of fulfilment with a great deal of honest weariness and a sense of something well-done, even though a few apples have remained un-picked.
Fire and Ice impresses us by its bold metaphors. The value of the poem consists in the care with which Frost develops these metaphors. By the linking of desire of fire and hate to ice, human emotions are transformed into vast, impersonal forces. In terms of imagery alone the poem is extremely rich. Fire symbolises passion, while ice symbolises cold hatred, and both are capable of destroying the world. The underlying symbolic meaning is that the intensity of man's passions, the very things which make him human, create the inhuman forces of disaster. The metaphors are made powerful by the harsh, tight-lipped manner in which the lines are spoken.
Neither Out Far Nor In Deep shows the deepest tact and restraint in its symbolism. The ocean symbolises the endless query of man. Here the folk stand on the shore and wonder, though they can see neither out far nor in deep.
In The Grind-Stone, a trivial incident is developed into a symbol of serious issues. The poem not only explores the nature of man's work, but through the speaker it dramatises the complex of human feelings toward the experience of working. The Mountain too has a symbolic significance. The man living at the foot of the mountain symbolises the uninquisitive, unadventurous, and unambitious spirit, while the traveller symbolises the opposite temperament.
However, a brief analysis of one of his more prominent lyric would suffice to bring out the characteristic feature of Frost's symbolistic technique—
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening has an equally rich texture and admits of several interpretations. On the surface, it is no more than a simple anecdote relating how the poet pauses one evening along a country road to watch the snowfall in the woods: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep", and as he gazes into the soft, silent whiteness, he is tempted to stay on and on, allowing his mind to lose itself in the enchanted grove. "His consciousness seems on the verge of freeing itself from ordinary life, as if it were about to dissolve in the shadowy blank, but his mind holds back from this." He remembers that his journey has a purpose. He has promises to keep and many miles to go before he can yield to the dream-like release which the woods seem to offer.
Says Lynen "this is the core of the poem, a moving personal experience exquisitely rendered. Yet in reconsidering it one cannot quite shake off the feeling that a good deal more is intended. The poem is not just a record of something that once happened to the poet; it points outward from the moment described toward far broader areas of experience. It expresses the conflict which everyone has felt, between the demands of practical life, with its obligations to others, and the poignant desire to escape into a land of reverie, where consciousness is dimmed and the senses are made independent of necessity". There is no overt symbolism in the poem, and yet the reader finds his vision directed in such a way that he sees the poet's purely personal experience as an image of experiences common to all. The wide scope of the meaning becomes obvious in the final lines, which state the conflict in a simple, realistic way; the poet will have to fulfil certain duties, before he can go to bed; but the "promises", the "sleep", and the "miles to go" widen to include more important aspects of his life and, further elements of every man's life. "Sleep here is, of course, the well earned reward at the end of day's work, but reaching out beyond this, as indeed the whole poem transcends its rural setting, the idea of sleep merges with the final sleep, death itself. It stands in contrast to the snowy woods, whose temptation is to an irresponsible indulgence ending in the loss of consciousness; it is normal death, the release at the end of a life in which man has kept his promises and travelled the whole distance through human experience. As Lynen writes, "Frost's symbols define and explain each other". For example, the woods, the poet enjoys looking upon, are opposed to the promises he must keep and it thus becomes clear that they represent a kind of irresponsibility. Again, since the poet will allow himself to sleep only after he has kept his promises, sleep becomes a deserved reward in contrast to the unearned pleasure of looking at the woods. The wood in Frost's poetry is an ever-recurring complex symbol. It symbolises perilous or sensuous enjoyment, the darkness of ignorance, as well as the dark inner self of man.
An Old Man’s Winter Night provides another good illustration of Frost's symbolistic technique. The poem is one of his finest. It depicts an old man alone in his farmhouse on a winter night. First he is standing alone in a cracking room unable to see out of the windows, unable to remember why he has come there. The imagery emphasizes the very narrow limits of his thought. He could not see beyond the frosted panes because of the lamp in his hand. The light, imagery symbolises consciousness, which in the old man's case is fading out in a weak, lonely and purposeless old age—
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew not what
A quiet light, and then not even that.
The poem is not just a portrait of old age, but a definition of death itself. One might conclude that order and meaning in the external world depend upon the organizing power of the mind, and this is one important aspect of the symbolism in the poem. But the total meaning is more complex than this, for Frost also implies that there is a similar organizing power in nature. When the old man can no longer "keep" his house, farm and countryside, these are kept by the moon. "There are two kinds of order, the human and the natural; when the first fails, the second saves the world from chaos". Furthermore, if the moon can assume the powers of the mind, there must be an essential affinity between the two kinds of order. "The poem may emphasize the pathos of old age and the horror of death, but it also implies a faith that though death always seems to threaten universal annihilation, order, meaning, and, therefore life itself, cannot really be destroyed." Further, the moon symbolises not the thoughts of the day, active and practical, but those of reflection at night. It is primarily a symbol of the imagination, that special power by which the o!d man, if he were able, would "keep" his countryside. Thus the moon is an important symbol in the poem. It, "symbolizes the organizing power which dies for the individual when his consciousness fades but which cannot itself die, because, though it controls and exists within the physical, it is a principle." The portrait of the old man alone on a winter night symbolizes not only age and death, but any situation in which man's ability to keep watch upon his world seems about to fail.
To conclude, Frost's symbolistic method of communication is essentially suggestive, oblique and indirect and his symbolic poems reveal layers within layers of meaning on a careful reading.

People who read this post also read :


Post a Comment

Please leave your comments!