Saturday, December 4, 2010

Write an essay on the pastoral art of Robert Frost.

Pastoral poetry flourished most vigorously in the age of Theocritus and Virgil among the ancients, and during the Renaissance in modern times. But with the passing of time pastoral poetry in England lost its naturalness and simplicity, and became artificial and conventional. The unhappy shepherd, the fair shepherdess, the wandering flock, the daisies and violets, the dance on the village green, the flowery wreath, and the oaten pipe, all came to be regarded as the essential part of the pastoral, and were used by one poet after another, as the conventional decor of their poems.

However, Frost's poetry is entirely free from such conventional and artificial elements. He has succeeded in capturing the simplicity and naturalness of the earliest Greek masters of this form. The greatness of Frost as a pastoral poet has been universally recognised. The bulk of his poetry deals with rural life. One has simply to glance through Frost's Collected Poems to form an idea of the importance of rural life in the poetry of Frost.
Frost makes his New England, the locale of his pastorals, a distinct place and renders truthful but personal observation of pastoral scenes. It is this rural world which provides him not only with the setting but also with the objects, the incidents, the events, and the characters he writes about. His personages are all New Englanders and his poetry is a record of their characters and habits, as well as of the various aspects of their life and activity, their beliefs, ideals, traditions, and codes of conduct. In After Apple-Picking, we get a true and interesting picture of the tired farmer 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 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.
The very title of his poems, Mowing, After Apple-Picking, The Pasture, Mending Wall, Two Tramps in Mud Time are characteristically rural. He presents rural objects, like the buzz saw in 'Out, Out’:
"The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood"
He draws a realistic picture of the sound and working of the buzz saw:—
"And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load."
Frost keeps to the rural setting in his pastoral poems. In Two Tramps in Mud Time he explains mud time in a rural setting:
"In every wheelrut's now a brook
In every print of a hoof a pond."
Frost presents rural characters and errands in his pastoral poems. The woodchopper and the tramps in Two Tramps in Mud Time, the boy-swinger in Birches, the rural traveller in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, and farmers in Mending Wall all are rural characters. The rural events mentioned by Frost involve the elementary problems of existence. Mowing and After Apple-Picking refer to the work-a-day life of the rural folk. The physical activity of mowing is mentioned at the beginning of the poem of the same name:
"There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground."
The poem ends with the results of the mowing:
"My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make."
Mending Wall apparently refers to repairing the wall between two farms. Gaps may be created in the wall by the frozen-ground-swell spilling the boulders or by the hunters in chase of their prey. By repairing the wall the farmer is attaining security for himself. But he merely says that, "Good fences make good neighbours". In Birches there is the reference to swinging as a pastoral pastime. The persona in Two Tramps in Mud Time refers distinctly to the pastoral hobby of cutting wood.
"Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block"
In his treatment of the pastoral, Frost shows a classicists devotion to farm and a realist's interest in experience. He does not idealise the rustic and his life rather he presents him as he is with all his instincts and impulses, jealousies, loves and hatreds, with all the sordid details of the life he leads. Except for the brief period of his stay in England, Frost was himself a farmer all his life, from early boyhood down to his ripe old age. Poetry was his vocation, but fanning was his avocation. He combined the two, and this gave him an intimate knowledge of the life of the farmer, and hence arises the veracity and truthfulness of his depictions of rural life. His people are always busy with some solid-work, whether it is apple-picking, mowing, or mending walls. In After Apple Picking, the man who falls asleep, after picking apples, dreams of nothing but apples. His dream is nothing fantastic, it is expressive of his pre-occupation with the concerns of real life. In Mowing, the scythe voices the poet's own realism when it whispers, "The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows." One must work, one must do one's duty, one must keep one's promises, for it is only in such work that real happiness is to be found. Momentarily he might be lost in dreams, the lovely woods may enchant him for a while (Stopping by woods on a Snowy Evening) but the charm is soon broken, and he remembers:
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
However, Frost never forgets for long the "wearisome condition of humanity", the hardness and bitterness of rural life, as well as of life elsewhere. Misery, disillusionment and frustration, and emotional isolation are facts, and the poet does not shut his eyes to these unpleasant aspects of life. His rural world is not a conventional Arcadia, or a dreamworld, into which one may escape for a time from the sorrow and suffering of life. Rather, this rural world is a microcosm of the macrocosm, a symbol and representation of life at large, with its joys and pleasures, but also with its heart-aches, fever and fret and weariness. It is a world in which hired-men neglected and isolated, 'come home', to die, and in which the death of a tender child leads to quarrels and alienations between husbands and wives. It is a world in which man lives in a hostile environment and suffers and struggles against heavy odds. He may occasionally forget the hard reality, and fly into a realm of fancy, but such flights are only momentary, and the poet is soon back to earth. Earth is the proper place for him, for love, as well as for work. And it is this realism which imparts such universal significance and appeal to the poet's treatment of life in New England countryside. Frost's poetry appeals even to those who are not familiar with New England, are not interested in New Englanders, only because it deals truthfully with hard facts, facts which are common to life in all ages and countries.
Frost's pastoral art is unique. He uses the pastoral tradition, but invents his own method. This uniqueness of his pastoral art arises from his ability to write of rural life from the point of view of an actual New England farmer. He does not write from a superior plane, as one who is above and beyond, but as one who shares the life of the rustic, his thought processes, and his ways of looking at things. This adoption of the rustic point of view enables him not only to portray rustic life as it really is in itself, but also to contrast it with the life beyond the urban life, the complex life lived in the city. The earlier writers of the pastoral constantly stressed the parallelisms and contrasts between the simple and innocent life in the countryside, and the more sophisticated and artificial life of the court. Such parallelisms and contrasts are also provided by Frost by juxtaposing the simple country life, and the complex, artificial life in the city, so that the one serves as a commentary on the other. Thus in The Pasture, the poet establishes a comparison between the pasture and the outside world. The reader is to admire the pasture as a world better than his own because it is more natural, more neatly organised, and more meaningful, but he is also aware that it is a plane of existence inferior in many respects to that on which he lives. "The contrast between the country and the town which we have noted in pastoral poetry is clearly the essential element in the design of this poem. It is not that country life is superior to city life, but that each life has its own values and distinctive features. In Birches, we are told that town has its baseball, but as the boy in the countryside is too far from the city to learn baseball, he plays alone riding the birches, "down over and over again".
The simplicity of Frost's poem may be a reflection of the simplicity of rural life. But it is deceptive. It is only apparent. In reality, Frost's poems of rural life are highly suggestive and symbolic. A careful reading reveals layers within layers of meaning and significance, and many other levels of being are constantly suggested. For example, Stopping by Woods is apparently simple but in reality it is highly suggestive and symbolic. It suggests the idea that man must sacrifice his desire for pleasure and rest to his duty and work in life. Similarly, Mending Wall pictures an incident from rural life, but in reality it is highly suggestive. The wall symbolises all kind of barriers which divide man from man. Racial prejudices, conflicts between nations, religious and economic quarrels, are all suggested in this way. Thus does the poet suggest values and ideals which lie much beyond the rural life, and which characterise life on different and higher planes. The Onset, An Old Man's Winter Night, Out, Out, etc. all deal with incidents and characters taken from rural life, but these events and characters are invested with a rich symbolic significance. The rural world holds the centre of his attention, but it is made to imply and suggest much more.
In short we can say that Frost's universality arises from his study of the essentials of the human predicament as seen in a rural setting.

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Anonymous said...

thanks :-}

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