Dickinson and Frost

Posted: January 4th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Reviews | No Comments »

At this time in the world both Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost are world renowned poets. Dickinson, being a woman, was not able to be celebrated in the way she deserved in her lifetime. She was up against very traditional writers. Higginson, a man she entrusted her work to, was paraphrased as saying Dickinson’s writing is delicate and not strong enough to publish (The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson vi). Frost, on the other hand, seemed to reach fame almost effortlessly. He was afforded the honor of receiving the Pulitzer Prize four times. I feel that Dickinson is a much more talented and skilled writer than Frost. In his own sexism, he can be quoted saying, “She’s a woman: she’s not interested in general ideas and principles” (The Masque of Reason). Robert Frost was “honored” with a U.S. Senate Resolution twice. This affirms his sexism and allures contemplation of Frost’s patriotism. Whereas Emily Dickinson can be said to be an original free thinker of her time, I am not comfortable making the same statement about Robert Frost. Frost’s beliefs about women derive, imaginatively, from being a male in a sexist time period; it would concede that along with his patriotism, would come sexism. We are all slaves to the construction of our minds based on our society. It is this sexism, I believe, that prevented Dickinson from being realized as the true genus she was in her lifetime.
Dickinson embodied a mastermind the world had never seen before at that time. Not only was she a woman in a man’s literary world, but she also had her own unique writing style that can be compared to Robert Frost’s poetry. Their poetry conveys much more meaning than the imagery in text; a reader must employ close reading skills in order to read between the lines and capture further clues. These writers’ poems should not be read with too much literal meaning; one must look further into the deeper symbolism of their words.
These artists have the gift of beautiful, dark, vivid expression and with the use of extended metaphor as a literary device, they were able to craft a world fit to feast on. Perhaps it is the isolated nature of these poets from social interactions that releases them into the constant thread of nature. They have befriended nature. Both Frost and Dickinson lived in a rural environment and were left to turn their curiosity and amusement onto the non-human world around them to explore their own minds. They made acquaintances with nature to aid in their literary journey on the path of understanding.
Dickinson and Frost both imploy nature metaphors to convey their perception of the world. They use nature imagery and personify nature in order to articulate human psychology. They also use the nature of nature to hypothesize the nature of humans. Comparisons between humans and patterns in nature frequent both Dickinson’s and Frost’s poetry. Though nature is not inanimate, they bring more life to the natural world by incarnating the thoughtless living matter we live amongst. Everything on this earth can be implemented for expression, from the silent mountain to the more thoughtful chirping robin. These poets use nature as a backdrop mediator to implicate their meaning. Nature is everywhere, it is us, and perhaps this is why these writers have made use of the thriving, living, breathing earth in order to speak to something inside humans that we can’t help but identify with. Perhaps writing using nature imagery is an attempt to write on a universal level; in this way the poet is connected to the rest of the world without ever leaving her or his house.
Poem 668 in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson shows Dickinson’s perception of nature being the grand everything that we humans live by,
“Nature” is what we see-
The Hill- the Afternoon-
Squirrel- Eclipse- the Bumble bee-
Nay- Nature is Heaven-
Nature is what we hear-
The Bobolink- the Sea-
Thunder- the Cricket-
Nay- Nature is Harmony-
Nature is what we know-
Yet have no art to say-
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
Even the most skillful of tongues cannot convey the complicated simplicity of nature. In declaring that nature is what we see, Dickinson has said it all. “What we see” is a strong string of words because she is implying that nature is everything; for how could we even begin to fathom things we cannot see? She speaks about nature as if it is a force and everything that exists, exists within this force. Everything we see, hear, and know, is quintessentially nature. Nature is harmonizing our world and propelling our life. It is clear that Dickinson respects nature as if it were a superior power in comparison to our ability to understand it.
While Dickinson celebrates and appreciates nature itself, Frost does not speak about nature in regard to itself but manifests in his writing the psychological tendencies of humans. Dickinson relishes in nature itself while both Frost and Dickinson use nature to convey their feelings about the world. Frost shows how humans interact with nature and how human psychology can be expressed by, using nature as a metaphor,
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

In Frost’s above poem entitled “Dust of Snow,” he is showing a relationship between man and nature. Man creates his own strife and nature aids in relinquishing man’s created torment. A simple act of nature, having nothing to do with human kind, can penetrate a human mind and relieve it of tension. Frost’s poetry is less difficult to decode than Dickinson’s whose wit is challenging to even the most skilled mind. Frost also has a simpler rhyme scheme consisting of mostly hard or strict rhymes. Dickinson thrives in intelligent slant rhyme; she employs assonance and consonance in a more complicated fashion than Frost; yet they both share a lyrical nature. Dickinson often speaks in a questioning tone as if she were extricating thought from the reader and pulling the reader into provoking contemplation. Frost has a more matter of fact tone as if he is simply observing and documenting his experiences with the world.
These poets use the outer world to express their internal world which helps the reader relate to intangible thought. Even as the subject matter between Frost and Dickinson remains similar, how they relate to the subjects differ. They share in theme while not in perspective at times. Both poets stake an interest in death but write about it in dissimilar ways. They both use symbolism in relation to mortality. Frost, in his poem “Come In,” uses the call of birds to represent death calling him into the woods; woods being representative of death. Frost was not ready to join death and this could be seen as a poem encouraging subjects to live to the fullest and play a more active role in life before death decides to stop giving one the choice of life.
Dickinson has a tendency to make death seem more natural and she seems to convey death as an inescapable ease. Death is just as much a part of nature as life is to her. Dickinson seems more comfortable with death than Frost who seems reluctant to die. She perceives nature to be wise and seems to trust in its decisions regarding life and death. All nature has innate wisdom to her, from Bumble Bees to summer flowers. Dickinson uses calculating form that parallels her meaning in her poetry such as poem 712 in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. A poem may speed up or slow down to be representative of the metaphors she uses; this is pervasive in her poetry on death. Her view on life after death is somewhat ambiguous due to the fact that her opinions seem to vary throughout her work. Her writing is able to encompass contradictory opinions for the sake of exploration. In Dickinson’s poetry, death seems to want the ones who fear dying and not want those who wish for it, such as in poem 759, “But He- was left alive Because/ Of Greediness to die-”.
With life there is death and with death there is the question of an after life. Both Dickinson and Frost touch on this theme. It only seems right that they would, considering their fascination with life and death. Both poets had a Puritan background with the “fear of god” seeming to be more wholly instilled into Frost. Frost said in his poem “Once by the Pacific,” “It looked as if a night of dark intent/Was coming, and not only a night, an age./Someone had better be prepared for rage./There would be more than ocean-water broken/Before God’s last Put out the Light was spoken.” Frost, in his later years seems to separate from his beliefs about god as Dickinson trails off with age. Frost was also influenced by Thoreau which may have made him more in touch with nature as well.
Dickinson had a mixture of god and transcendentalism streaming through her writing; nature also plays a crucial role in transcendentalism. This may explain why she was more in touch with herself as an individual rather than with Frost and his allegiance to his country; transcendentalists identify with the self more as an individual. While both Frost and Dickinson were captivated by nature, it was Dickinson that immersed herself in isolation in order to discover the depths of her mind. The lifetime experiences of Dickinson and Frost set them apart in the literary realm even though they are considered to be in the same genre. Both these poets have the ability to display old themes in a new captivating way; is that not the calling of a poet? With their writing, readers obtain a sketch of the writer’s life and a projection of inward contemplation. Dickinson’s poetry displays the paradox of religion inside her. At times there is a god and at other times there seems not to be. In 377 the struggle is shown in her poetry, “To lose one’s faith- surpass/ The loss of an Estate-/ Because Estates can be/ Replenished- faith cannot-// Inherited with Life-/ Belief- but once- can be-/ Annihilate a single clause-/ And Being’s- Beggary-.” Why would Dickinson have thought faith could not be replenished if one loses it if she had not done that herself? Dickinson and Frost have so much in common; gender not being one of those things. This goes to show that a mind is a mind regardless of sex. We all think, grow, and learn from the same pool of collective past consciousness. We all must overcome the social traditions in order to find our own meaning, as these poets so beautifully have done.

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