Symbolic Nature of Frost’s Poetry

Subject: Literature
Pages: 3
Words: 840
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College

In his poems, Robert Frost gives universal meaning to the modest local episodes and scenes. The central idea of the insolubility of life conflicts leads to the embodiment of the idea of the absurdity of earthly existence (Axelrod and Gerer 2). This essentially modernist idea is implemented in several Frost’s works, for example, in the poems “The Road not Taken,” “Mending Wall,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and “After Apple-Picking.” The specific elements of modernism in his poetry include individualism, accent on sensations, studies of the unconscious, a tendency towards abstraction and pessimism, and a focus on the inner world of the individual (Allen 17). Robert Frost pays special attention to symbolism as one of the main elements of modernist poetry.

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The heroes of Frost’s poetry remain alone with nature, as a mythological and symbolic entity, and make their decisions, as in “The Road not Taken.” The hero chose an untouched path, and this was the decisive moment in his life: “I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference” (Frost 131). The road symbolizes the choice, and the hero comes up with excuses for the future to affirm his responsibility. The poem turns into a story about complex psychological maneuvering between the past, the future, and the present, or even about self-deception (Jumino 23). This poetry is not about that untouched path that the hero chose, but about the one that he did not follow. This road is paradoxically absent, but the whole poem is permeated with the memory of it. This brings the reader back to the image of a person who regrets not making a choice. Thus, “The Road not Taken” is about the complexity of the relationship with oneself, which characterizes this poetry as symbolic and modernist, focusing on the inner world of the individual.

Frost uses the symbol of forest in his poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which is an example of modernist poetry. The hero must choose either to stay in the woods, being charmed by the beauty and serenity of nature, or go on his ride. The main motive of this poetic sketch about the beauty of a winter forest is indicated in the first line of the last stanza, where a dark winter forest appears as a symbol of non-existence, sooner or later attracting all living creatures (Jumino 26). The forest is simultaneously correlated with the inner world of the hero, with those sides of it that are not accessible to other people. Despite all the hypnotic power of ruinous beauty, the hero says that he has obligations to fulfill: “But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep” (Frost 275). In these lines, Frost declares his life principles: to live as long as you can benefit people, and not succumb to the temptation of leaving this world. The intrusion of dreams, visions, shadows, and reflections on the transience of life into reality is characteristic of the modernist consciousness (Jumino 25). The signals of chaos, the presence of a border between nature and man, conscious and unconscious in the human soul are visible in this poetry.

Frost’s symbolic poetry is ambiguous and open to interpretation, for example, in the poem “Mending Wall,” the process of building a fence has several metaphorical meanings. One of the farmers does not consider it necessary to build a wall where pines grow, but the other stubbornly repeats: “Good fences make good neighbors” (Frost 48). The poet presents such modernist ideas as a sense of detachment, loss, and loneliness when a person is separated from nature or society. Besides, the wall personifies human stupidity on the example of a hero’s neighbor: “Like an old-stone savage armed” (Frost 48). The symbol of the fence has the meaning of various barriers that divide people and cultures.

Frost’s symbolic implication is sometimes implemented with the help of indirect references or cues. “After Apple-Picking” is the poem in which the process of gathering apples has a hidden meaning, an allusion to the sinful nature of the human soul (Frost 88). The apple is a fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, a symbol of temptation, and ancestral sin. With the help of the poet’s symbols, the hero’s thoughts and actions acquire additional philosophical meaning (Allen 28). The poem is focused on showing the inner world of the hero through symbols and a certain state of mind in a particular situation.

Although Frost distanced himself from high modernism, he is closely associated with this poetic era. He uses the signs of the symbolism of modernist poetry to disclose the philosophical essence of his works. He creates his pastoral world, full of symbols and marked with beautiful, but at the same time impenetrable nature. Woods, walls, apples, and roads have a deep symbolic meaning that shows an emotional component of human nature. The poet operates with earthly images, which are revealed as dual symbols of the hero’s state of mind and the philosophical problem.

Works Cited

Allen, Edward. Modernist Invention. Cambridge University Press, 2020.

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Axelrod, Steven Gould, and Natalie Gerber. “The Complementarity of Frost and Stevens.” Wallace Stevens Journal, vol. 41, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-3.

Frost, Robert. The Collected Poems of Robert Frost. Chartwell Books, 2016.

Jumino, Jumino. “Human Existence as Individual Creature Based on Robert Frost’s Poems “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Road Not Taken” Through Stylistic View.” Culturalistics: Journal of Cultural, Literary, and Linguistic Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, 2019, pp. 22-28.