Robert Frost (L) and William Wordsworth (R)Syed Naquib Muslim Robert Frost is often designated by students and critics as the American poetical parallel of William Wordsworth, the forerunner of the Romantic Movement in England. It is widely believed that Wordsworth exerted profound influence on Frost in writing his poems, especially those on nature. In philosophy and style, Frost and Wordsworth appear both similar and dissimilar. Both Wordsworth and Frost wrote in the ordinary language of ordinary people.
Frost’s poetry, to use his own words, “begins in delight and ends in wisdom”, whereas Wordsworth’s poetry “begins in delight and ends in delight. ” Frost’s wisdom is best reflected in the immortal line in Mending Wall: “Good fences make good neighbors. ” In Byron’s view, Wordsworth is “dull, over-mild and flat like a sauce into which the cook had forgotten to shake pepper. ” Unlike Wordsworth, Frost is less egotistical and he maintains what Eliot terms as ‘artistic detachment. ” Except in elegies, Frost does not always involve himself in the subject matter of his poetry.
Both poets consciously avoided the rhetorical extravaganza of William Shakespeare and grandiloquence of John Milton. Frost was able to capture the natural tone of human conversation. His poem, A Boy’s Will, captures the reader’s attention not only for the theme but also for plainness of expression. Ideas, emotions and feelings are expressed in ordinary speeches. The same is true of Wordsworth. My views about Frost are a bit different. Frost is deceptively plain whereas Wordsworth is genuinely simple.
Frost’s poetry contains plain words but complex thoughts whereas Wordsworth’s poetry has plain words and plain thoughts. Wordsworth is plain both in manner and matter. He is never pretentious, covert and deceptive. Both Wordsworth and Frost are democratic in style as they speak “to men in the tongue all men know because they are men. ” Wordsworth is more comparable to Whitman than Frost. In Frost, plainness is present but it is a deceptive plainness. In deceptive simplicity, Frost reveals the complexities of rural life in the garb of plain words.
Many of his monosyllabic words were difficult to comprehend as these were charged with symbolic meanings. The body of his poetry wears an ordinary garment but beneath it remain messages that need one to introspect for clear understanding. Frost uses symbols taken from nature to express the intended meanings or messages. For Wordsworth, poetry is the outcome of personal spiritual or mystical experience experience is the antecedent and poems are the consequent. In fact, experience causes expression, and expression becomes a spontaneous outburst.
For Frost, poetry begins consciously and it ends unconsciously. In Wordsworth’s poetry, nature is supreme, where humans and nature forge an intimate communion; humans and nature are never found hostile to each other. In Frost, rural people are supreme and nature has been made subordinate to humans. It is hard to describe Frost as the poet of nature, if we determine Wordsworth as the standard. Frost himself admits: “We have had nature poetry for a hundred years. ” He is interested in locating the relations between nature and humans. It is true that both poets sought to find solace and delight in nature.
The poem Birches offers the best example of how the poet blends observation and imagination, fact and fancy, feeling and wisdom. Like the poetry of Thomas Hardy, the subjects of Frost’s poetry are local or regional. Their poetry springs from specific areas. The subjects of Wordsworth’s poetry are universal, and are true of all people of the world. Frost wrote about ordinary people farmers and workers were the subjects of his poems. Woods, flowers, birches, weeds, birds and trees showed up frequently in his poems. The rural landscape and wildlife form the content of his poetry.
Because of his unfeigned interest in and love for rural people, Frost emerged ultimately as a national bard and a poetic sage of America. Frost is an environmentalist, and Wordsworth is a pantheist. In New Hampshire, Frost declares: “The more the sensibilist I am The more I seem to want my mountains wild. ” Both Wordsworth and Frost are optimistic in their attitude to life. As Jonathan Swift had all complaints against humankind, Frost had all the complaints against nature. But still he would seek recourse to nature, when he becomes weary of urban life. In Birches, he says: “Earth’s the right place for love, I don’t know where it’s likely to go better. “
Poetry, to Frost, was a record of personal experience. To Wordsworth, it was “the image of man and nature. Its object is truth, not individual and local but general and operative; not standing external testimony but carried alive into the heart by passion. ” Thus Wordsworth’s poetry is a direct revelation of reality, an authentic version of human phenomena. To Wordsworth, nature was the source of learning, ideas, power and values; nature was the fountain of inspiration and solace in times of mental agony. Nature appears to him as his ‘guardian, nurse’ and teacher.
In times of despair and suffering, nature acts as the spring of moral strength and confidence for psychic survival. In nature Wordsworth feels “a presence that disturbs” him with “the joys of elevated thoughts. ” To Frost, nature is unfriendly, malevolent and malignant; it creates barriers to the smooth fulfillment of human and social obligations. From this perspective, Frost is comparable to Thomas Hardy and W. B. Yeats. Nature is a menace and discomfort. Although, to Frost, the woods are “lovely, dark and deep,” humans should not stay there for long, as they have duties elsewhere, they “have miles to go” before they sleep.
In the poem Come In, Frost promises: “But no, I was out for stars: I would not come in. ” To Frost, there are barriers between humans and nature, between humans and humans, and between the creator and Creation. Yet he does not cease to work; he rather tries to adjust himself with the barriers created by nature. Like Wordsworth, Frost could not feel in nature “. . . a sense of something far more deeply interfused. ” Amid nature and even with a human companion, Wordsworth was ever solitary; he could create solitude in the midst of a multitude.
Wordsworth is the poet of thought and meditation whereas Frost is one of activity, work, obligation and duty. Frost was pragmatic, worldly and anti-Romantic.. Wordsworth was a transcendentalist, romantic and mystic. Unlike Wordsworth, Frost keeps himself confined within earthly region, with mundane phenomena; he is not willing to transcend the boundary of this earth. Frost goes to rural areas to drink of the delight of nature and also withdraws from nature to respond to the call of duty social, familial, official. As he says: “But it was no reason I had to go because they had to go.”
Frost is always in favour of ceaseless mobility, of activity and action. To him suffering is action, action suffering. Love between man and woman is present in Wordsworth but it seems to be missing in Frost. In Frost’s poetry, “words have become deeds. ” To him, life is duty; every human being has to fulfill the duties or obligations assigned to him or her by God or by fellow-humans. In his poems Mending Wall and The Road Not Taken, he shows that although he takes recourse to nature for delight or pleasure, he at once withdraws himself from nature and returns to the place of work.
In New Hampshire he says: “I’d hate to be a run-away from nature. ” The poet is not willing to depart from the world so soon because he has more duties to fulfill. It is not justified to leave this earth early without meeting the obligations to society, to country, and to the earth. Wordsworth has taught us how to be friendly to nature and how to obtain solace from it in times of psychic crisis, and Frost has taught us how to engage in ceaseless work and also to seek transitory relief by being away into wildlife and communicating with the innocent unacknowledged rural people.