Saturday, December 4, 2010

Treatment of New England in Frost's Poetry

Regionalism: Defined and Explained
Regional art is an art which deals with the physical features, people, life, customs, habits, manners, traditions, language, etc., of some particular locality. However, this does not mean that regionalism is mere factual reporting or photographic reproduction. The regional artist emphasises the unique features of a particular locality, its uniqueness, the various ways in which it differs from other localities. But as in all other art, so also in regional art, there is a constant selection and ordering of material. In other words, regional art is also creative. Through proper selection and ordering of his material the artist stresses the distinctive spirit of his chosen region and shows, further, that life in its essentials is the same everywhere. The differences are used as a means of revealing similarities, from the particular and the local, the artist arises to the general and the universal. The selected region becomes a symbol of the world at large, a microcosm which reflects the great world beyond. Frost is a regional poet in this creative sense.

Frost's Regionalism: Symbolic and Creative
The particular region which he has selected for his purposes is New England and he has represented and interpreted this region, accurately and precisely, in one poem after another. Its physical features, its people, its ways and manners, its habits, traditions, customs, beliefs, and codes of conduct, appear and reappear in one poem after another. But he does not render and interpret the whole of New England. He deals only with that part of it which lies to the north of Boston. The other parts of New England such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine appear only rarely in his poems. Further, the industrial sites and fishing villages are ignored by him. There is no mention of railway train and automobiles, and factories giving out smoke and gas, or of radios or of large scale migration to the cities. As Granville-Hicks points out he is not a poet of skyscrapers, factories, machines, mechanics and truck-drivers, but of fields and brooks, and of farmers at their humble tasks. His subject is the region north of Boston and of that region also, only the rural areas and farms and villages. He takes one particular kind of locality to stand for New England as a whole, one particular kind of Yankee to stand for the essential character of the New England people. In New England, there are also Poles and French, Canadian but they are ignored by the poet. As J.F. Lynen points out, "He chooses, not simply what is real in the region, what is there, but what is to his mind the most essential, what is representative. The delimiting of rural New England is only the first step. Even within the area we still find the great mass of detail suppressed in favour of a few significant local traits. Now it should be clear that this process of representing the locality as a whole through a limited set of visual images and of portraying the culture and mentality of the region through a particular kind of character is really a mode of symbolism. What emerges from Frost's scrupulous selection is not reality itself, but a symbolic picture expressing the essence of that reality. Frost's regionalism is both symbolic and creative."
The Landscape: Scenes and Sights
It is the region which lies north of Boston which forms the background to the poems of Frost, "It is a landscape, pearly in tone, and lonely to those who do not recognise its friendliness. It is a landscape broken in outline, with views but not giant views, mountains but not too high ones, pastures, swamps, farms deserted and farms occupied." According to Malcolm Cowley, Frost is the poet "neither of the mountains nor of the woods, although he lives among both, but rather of the hill pastures, the intervals, the dooryard in autumn with the leaves swirling, the closed house shaking in the winter storms." In the same way, he is not the poet of New England in its great days, or in its late nineteenth-century decline; he is rather a poet who celebrates the diminished but prosperous and self-respecting New England of the tourist home and the antique shop. It is a region where people have lived long enough to build granite defences for themselves. Nowhere else in America can the people have as a saying, "Good fences make good neighbours". Everything that he describes is true. The broken walls, the wood pile that, "warmed the frozen swamp as best as it could", the white tailed bird whose suspicion was that of, "one who takes every thing said as personal to himself” all these, and many others, can easily be recognised by anyone who travels through this part of the country.
The New Englanders: Their Ways and Occupations
The scenery he describes, the people and their occupations which he presents and the language which he uses, are all peculiar to this selected region. The massive birches swinging in fierce winter storms is a common sight in New England and Frost has immortalised it in his famous poem The Birches Blueberries brings out the skill and vividity of New England berry-pickers. Similarly, true is Frost's picture of the tired fanner going home for rest after the day's labour of picking apples:
My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Towards heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night.
The scent of apples; I am drowsing off.
Thrift is the recognized trait of the inhabitants of New England. "Perhaps the rugged land fostered in the settlers of New England an attitude of making the most of what was available to them. Whatever the causes, the Yankees early developed the fine art of making the best of things. Thrifty and hard-working, they had little time for idle talk." The farmer in Blueberries who fed his entire family on blueberries, is thrifty, one who has put to use Shakespeare's adage, "Sweet are the uses of adversity":
He seems to be thrifty; and hasn't he need,
With the mouths of all those young Lorens to feed
? He has brought them all up on wild berries, they say
Like birds…….
They eat them the year round, and those they don't eat
They sell in the store and buy shoes for their feet.
In a similar way, the farmer in Mending Wall, who would say no more than, "Good fences make good neighbours", is not being silly or adamant, but is merely trying to make secure for himself the land he has acquired, the garden he has reared, through hard work and dedication. The swinger of birches too has the New England spirit of adjustment in him. He lives far away from the city where alone he could learn to play baseball. So he makes do with what was at hand—playing on the birches:
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again.
The idea of adjustment to situations and determination in the face of adversities is again the key-note of Mowing. Two Tramps in Mud Time illustrates the resourcefulness—the Yankee ingenuity—of the tramps in making theirs what others have a right to. In The Code, the hired man will not be taught how best he should work and drives a severe lesson into his master for having attempted to teach him. The Vanishing Red studies a situation where the farmhand is a Red Indian. It is Yankee speech that we constantly hear in Frost's poetry. He has succeeded in capturing the very tone, accent, and rhythm, idiom and phraseology, of the conversation of New Englanders. The very spirit of the place is enshrined in his pages.
The Impression of Wholeness
Frost suggests much more than he actually describes, with the result that the impression created is that a whole region has been completely described in all its facets. There is much sifting and selecting of material, yet the impression of wholeness is created, and this impression is an important aspect of Frost's regional art. Emphasising this point, John F. Lynen writes, "The region, as he depicts it, is not just a place; it is a world, coherent and complete within itself. This wholeness illustrates the difference between his art of that of lesser regional poets. At best, they portray a series of independent scenes, observed from varying angles. Frost is able to describe some particular place, a sugar orchard, a brook in the woods, or a pasture, and, at the same time, make us aware of the region as a whole stretching away on every side toward the horizon and beyond. We see only the maples, the brook, or the pasture, but we sense the presence of an entire locality inhabited by a particular breed of men who live in a certain way by certain lights." Very little in the way of factual statement is needed to accomplish this. Such short poems as Hyla Brook and Desert Places show that even within the space of a dozen lines or so he can create an image of the entire locality. Furthermore, the regional world seems exactly the same in poem after poem. The New England of Mending Wall is the same New England as we find in Birches, the New England of The Code is the New England of Stopping by Woods, Home Burial, The Star-Splitter, An Old Man's Winter Night, The Cow in Apple Tune, all exist within a single world.
Character and Environment
Another important aspect of Frost's regionalism is the fact that he shows the environment, the region, acting on the mind of his people, and determining their natures and attitudes. Thus a strong link is established between the individual mind and the land itself. He constantly associates aspects of landscape and psychological traits. Says Lynen, "The clear, frank gaze of the Yankee persona is related to the chill air of New England and his strength of mind to its rugged terrain, in the same subtle way that Michael's courage and dignity are related to the grandeur of the Lake Country mountains. Since the Yankee mind reflects the landscape, the whole sense of values which forms the centre of this mentality seems to have an organic relation to the land." In other words, Frost's regionalism is thoroughly social. It is concerned more with the rural way of life than with its scenery, more with the sense of values shared by the local society than with the intuitions of a single mind. Not that the community and the individual are opposed: the speaking voice in Frost's lyrics is certainly that of a particular person, but this person is also the spokesman for a community.
Conclusion: Frost's Universality
To conclude: Frost's regional art is creative and symbolic. He deals with a particular region and through careful selection of material its significant aspects and its spirit are brought out. The distinctive features are stressed, but this very uniqueness is made to reveal the similarities that exist between the life in that region, and human life taken as a whole. In this way the region north of Boston becomes symbolic not only of New England as a whole, but also of human life at large. Frost achieves universality by the simplest of means and raises regionalism to the level of the highest art. He explores other worlds and other levels of experience, through the rural world that he has chosen as the basis of his poetry. The greatness of his regionalism lies in the fact that he surmounts the limitations of regional art, and makes it universal in its appeal. That is why even those who are not familiar with New England love and enjoy his poetry.

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