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All of these hard-edge qualities demonstrated a modern, if not quite Modernist, sensibility. Frost’s commitment to narrative verse (as well as to rhyme and meter) linked him instead to the slightly older Edwin Arlington Robinson.At the same time, however, critics have said little about Frost’s use of the narrative mode itself—surely the book’s most notable feature—probably because it made him seem like a retrograde figure, a poet glancing backward at tradition rather than advancing boldly with his younger contemporaries such as Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and T. Together they have seemed the two major transitional figures in American poetry between traditional and Modernist aesthetics.In his controversial speech at Frost’s eighty-fifth birthday, Trilling praised the poet’s “ultimate radicalism” and “terrifying” view of cosmic emptiness.
But after Modernism, popularity itself seems suspicious—an attribute associated with Longfellow and Whittier not Pound and Stevens.
Frost’s defenders—from Randall Jarrell, Lionel Trilling, and Louise Bogan in mid-century to such later champions as William Pritchard, Jay Parini, and Mark Richardson—have instinctively supported Frost’s major stature by finding ways to link his work to Modernism.
In both cases the decision complicated their literary legacies.
A careful examination of Frost’s narrative work, however, not only demonstrates precisely what he has been habitually denied—a record of bold innovation and originality; it also provides the strongest case for his Modernist identity.
Frost may have been recognized as the greater poet—broader in range, more modern in style and outlook.
Essay Robert Frost Nature
He may have commanded more pages in the anthologies and more sustained critical attention than the perennially neglected Robinson, but inevitably Frost still remained on the far side of the great Modernist fissure.
Until his early fifties, narrative was his expansive mode of choice.
(After 1930, the poet shifted to verse drama and verse epistle—what Jarrell dismissed not altogether unfairly as his “Yankee Editorialist side.”) In Frost’s first (1930), the narrative verse from the four collections runs 153 mostly full pages versus only ninety-three mostly half-full pages of lyric and discursive verse.
They have explored Frost’s stark regional subject matter and his dignified portrayal of the rural poor.
Critics have understood the author’s decisive break with soft and sentimental Georgian romanticism.