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Robert Frost, often celebrated for his pastoral themes, can still be classified as a modern poet due to his astute exploration of the challenges faced by individuals in a rapidly evolving world marked by advancements in Science and Technology. While he shared camaraderie with prominent modernist figures like Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens, Frost's poetic approach set him apart from his contemporaries.
Frost's poetry encapsulates modern elements such as capitalism, self-centeredness, ennui, isolation, dilemma, and symbolism.
Two poems that epitomize the modern essence in his work are "The Death of the Hired Man" and "Home Burial." Both these poems center around marital conflicts, highlighting the stark differences in perspectives between husbands and wives, mirroring broader societal tensions.
In "The Death of the Hired Man," Frost introduces three central characters: Warren, Mary, and Silas. Warren, the domineering husband, symbolizes capitalism, while Mary, his submissive wife, serves as a foil to him.
Silas, on the other hand, represents the plight of countless workers exploited by modern capitalist societies. Silas's tragic demise underscores the grim fate of workers who toil tirelessly but receive meager rewards and often suffer unacknowledged deaths.
Silas, in his old age, becomes a pitiable figure, alienated and homeless. His low self-esteem prevents him from seeking help from his wealthy banker brother, intensifying his isolation. Warren's accusation of Silas abandoning the farm reveals the harsh reality of exploitation in a capitalist system. Silas's departure for higher wages highlights the injustice of his meager pay, implicating Warren and representing the larger capitalist society's callousness.
"Home Burial" also delves into a modern theme: self-centeredness. The grieving wife, overwhelmed by the loss of her firstborn, cannot forgive her husband for digging and burying their child's grave. In contrast, the husband views this as a pragmatic act, accepting their son's accidental death as a part of life. This stark contrast in their perceptions reveals a profound disconnect, where the husband's self-centeredness overshadows his wife's anguish.
The husband's argument that one is ultimately alone when facing death and that friends offer only superficial condolences underscores the poem's theme of self-absorption. Frost portrays a world devoid of human empathy, where selfishness prevails over compassion, making "Home Burial" a modern domestic epic, laying bare contemporary crises.
"Mending Wall" explores the modern theme of isolation, as individuals build metaphorical walls to separate themselves from one another. Frost's metaphysical treatment of this physical and psychological isolation reflects his modern sensibility. The poem juxtaposes opposing aspects of this theme, inviting readers to draw their own conclusions about the necessity and consequences of erecting barriers in a rapidly changing world.
Frost's poems often unfold against natural landscapes – pastures, plains, mountains, rivers, woods, gardens, groves, fruits, flowers, seeds, and birds. However, his approach to nature differs significantly from that of Romantic poets, reflecting a more realistic and modern perspective.
Unlike the Romantics, Frost doesn't merely romanticize nature but acknowledges its bright and dark facets. For instance, in "Two Tramps in Mud Time," he reveals the underlying turmoil beneath nature's serene exterior, underscoring the harsh realities that coexist with its beauty.
According to Frost, the natural world is far from dreamlike; it can be harsh, unforgiving, and hostile. This contrasts sharply with the modern urban environment. Frost's pastoral technique, coupled with his exploration of human issues in the modern world, his use of symbolism and metaphysical elements, as well as his keen awareness of contemporary societal challenges, all solidify his standing as a modern poet.
Robert Frost, renowned for his pastoral poetry, emerges as a modern poet whose works are deeply embedded with modern themes and sensibilities. His exploration of capitalism, self-centeredness, isolation, and other contemporary issues, along with his nuanced treatment of nature, sets him apart as a poet who captures the complexities of a changing world. Frost's ability to bridge the pastoral and the modern makes him a unique and enduring voice in the realm of poetry.
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