Monday, December 2, 2013

Puritan Elements in Robert Frost's Poetry

Though Frost was at no time a firm member of any Christian sect, he was significantly influenced by puritanism. Robert Frost’s poetry, which is based on the land of pilgrims fathers, is inspired by puritanism. During the early seventeenth century a band of puritans immigrated to the New England;America from Europe. During the 1630s and 1640s the puritans built a strong stance in the New England. Apart from the setting, the puritan beliefs also form the themes of most of Frost’s poems. One of the central beliefs of puritanism is the labour or hard work. Puritans do not believe in the distinction between gentleman and laymen or landlords and slaves. To them nobody is gentleman as Adam delved the ground  and Eve span the wheels. This hard workong nature is a characteristic of Frost’s poems. Moreover, like all puritan literature, Frost’s poems are also simple and unornamented. He also uses symbols in his writings like a typical puritan writer. 

Robert Lee Frost,the folk philosopher,is the most cherished nature poet of  New England,the puritan land. He writes about the objects ,the incidents ,the events and the characters of New England. But Frost treats all these elemts of nature differently from the English romantics. He takes the familiar objects as the subjet matters of his poetry but makes them highly suggestive and symbolic to represent some universal wisdom.Thus,though he is forever linked to the stone-pocked hills and woods of New England, he treated some thems that have universal appeal.

Puritan life style

Frost uses New England as a recurring setting throughout his work. New England is a place where the European puritan immigrants settled. When they came, most of them opted for Adam’s profession-cultivation. Thus, most of them became farmers. Frost closely observed the life of the farmers of New England and depicted their life in his poetry.  Frost found inspiration in his day-to-day experiences, basing “Mending Wall,” for instance, on a fence near his farm in Derry, New Hampshire, and “The Oven Bird” (1920) on birds indigenous to the nearby woods.

Solitary travelers appear frequently in Frost’s poems, and their attitudes toward their journeys and their surroundings highlight poetic and historical themes, including the figure of the wanderer and the changing social landscape of New England. The solitary traveler simultaneously exists as an observer of the landscape. Found in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” (1923), “Into My Own,” “Acquainted with the Night,” and “The Road Not Taken” (1920), among other poems, the solitary traveler demonstrates the historical and regional context of Frost’s poetry.

Puritan belief of hard work

Labor functions as a tool for self-analysis and discovery in Frost’s poetry. The puritans came to New England and turned the uninhabitable and uncultivable land into the habitable and cultivable land through their hard work. It is their labour which helped them survive in that hostile environment.  Frost praises labour or hard working mentality in his poetry.  Frost’s speakers work, labor, and act—mending fences, as in “Mending Wall”; harvesting fruit, as in “After Apple-Picking”; or cutting hay, as in “Mowing” (1915). Even children work, although the hard labor of the little boy in “Out, Out—” (1920) leads to his death. The boy’s death implies that while work was necessary for adults, children should be exempted from difficult labor until they have attained the required maturity with which to handle both the physical and the mental stress that goes along with rural life. Frost implies that a connection with the earth and with one’s self can only be achieved by actively communing with the natural world through work.

Puritanic Style

One of the key elements of the puritan writing is its plainness and simplicity. Like their life style, their writing is also not ornamented , but simple and colloquial. Most striking about these lyrics and narrative dialogues is their language: seemingly colloquial, homely, unpoetical yet a sensitive literary idiom. More successfully than any other American poet, Frost has fulfilled Wordsworth’s aim of using common speech heightened by passion. In his diction there is none of the humorous condescension of Lowell’s Yankee dialect; it is never assumed in a Frost poem that either the poet or the reader is superior to the speaker. This is a democratic attitude. Frost may be regarded as one of the stylists of the colloquial.
A friend once told Frost that the tone of his verse was too much like talk. But fortunately Frost did not change his style. It was just this tone that he had been trying to get into his verse. He said that Emerson had already set forth the theory he was trying to put into practice.


Puritans tried to interpret everything symbolically. A simple event like falling of a leaf or appearing of a meteor in the sky was interpreted symbolicaaly by the puritans. Symbols also abound in Frost’s poems.  ’’Mending Wall” presents to us the ideas of barriers between people, communication, friendship and the sense of security people gain from barriers.

The poem called `The Mountain” has a symbolic signifiance. On that surface, the poem tells the story of a man living at the foot of a mountain, who has never climbed to the top either to see the great view from there or to see the brook that flows there, or merely for the shake of climbing. But, on a deeper scrutiny, we find that this man symboisesthe uninquisitive, unadventurous, unambitious spirit.

The setting of "The Road Not Taken" is the symbolism of the poem, because it communicates the idea and message. Our lives are like roads, with splitting paths representing the different choices that we must make. Robert Frost depicted the two paths that he had come across as being two separate ways because he understood that he would probably never come back to see what was down the path he did not choose, “Yet knowing how the way leads on to way/ I doubted if I should ever come back”. 

There is a famous poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. On the surface, it is a poem about a traveler who feels tempted to go into the woods which are “lovely, dark and deep” and to stay there in order to enjoy their strange beauty and charm, but who is not able to carry out his wish on account of the realization that he has promises to keep and miles to go. But the poem has a deeper, symbolic significance. The words “promises”, “miles”, and “sleep” have deeper meanings. “Promises” and “miles to go” imply duties and responsibilities. “Sleep” symbolizes death. There are the promises which he has made to himself and to others, or which others have made on his behalf. And there are the miles he must travel through other kinds of experience before he yields to that final and inevitable commitment-death.

In the poem ’Fire and Ice”, fire symbolizes the heat of passion while ice represents the cold hate. The extremes of both passion and hate have the power to destroy and annihilate the world.

Thus, Robert Frost was inspired by puritan objects and themes in his poetry.  New England or more strictly speaking that part of it which lies north of Boston ,provides the rural context within which Frost’s most characteristic poems presented. 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. But Frost treats all these elements of nature differently from the English romantics. He takes the familiar objects as the subject matters of his poetry but makes them highly suggestive and symbolic to represent some universal wisdom.Thus,though he is forever linked to the stone-pocked hills and woods of New England, he treated some thems that have universal appeal.