Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Comparison between Wordsworth and Robert Frost

Mamta Dwivedi

            It has been well said that Nature is the Bible in which man may read all things. Nature serves man for commodity for beauty for language and for discipline. To the receptive man, Nature speaks at all times and in all places. The same love, attraction and delight are with these two nature poets- William Wordsworth and Robert Lee Frost.
            The points of divergence between the two nature poets who belong to two different countries and of course they have treated nature in a different manner. It is very important and should not escape the wary reader’s mind that is alert and receptive to subtleties.
            Frost capacity for nature descriptions easily invite comparison with William Wordsworth, the greatest among the Romantic poets and one among the greatest poet of all times whose fame has never undergone any relapse. Robert Frost is a poet who has been conferred upon many honours than any other American poet of the 20th century. Decades after his death, Robert Frost remains the most quoted poet in America and one of the best - loved poets in the world. There are many points of similarity despite certain very prominent differences regarding their attitude towards nature.
            Montgomery points out their basic differences in their attitude towards nature. Montgomery said that it is no spirit of nature which sends Frost rain or wind. Philip Gerber gives stress on the fact that Frost’s poetry retains its freshness even today because it does not depend upon the topic of the day but rather explores aspects of humanity that are timeless and universal Frost’s ‘Dust of Snow’ will illustrate the essential quality here :
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. 1
            The narrator, wrapped in has human concerns, is depressed but the intrusion from the innocent and even playful natural world redeems his spirit at least momentarily. In this respect Frost has been considered a nature poet like Wordsworth and has invested the rural New England at times with the ideality of the pastoral.
            It is interesting to see that Frost’s love of nature and his love is local and regional. He was a spokesman for New England and both are conscious and appreciative of the wildness in nature. But Frost refused to accept the late Romantic notion that subjects were inherent more poetic than others. Just as Wordsworth wrote about the English countryside and its people, Frost adopted rural New England as his pastoral milieus.
            According to Frost, man’s physical existence itself is a barrier which divides man from the soul or spirit of nature. While Wordsworth denied the very existence of barriers between man and nature. Wordsworth seeks to establish a harmony between man and nature through his nature poems. It would be clear with Mary Moorman comments on the opening lines of ‘Tintern Abbey’.
He gives thanks first for what the memory of landscape beauty does for the soul the affection with which in the first twenty lines, he greets once more the scenery of the Wye …. reveals the power and intensity of delight with which he seized on and retained a landscape even when he had seen it only once, for a few passing moments.2
            William Wordsworth considers man and nature as essentially adapted to each other and the mind of man naturally the mirror of the fairest and most interesting qualities of nature. He asserts the value of the imaginative life. But Frost does not idealize or glorify nature or its manifestations. His attitude towards nature is not that of exalted glorification as of romanticists but that of a realist.
            Wordsworth’s approach to nature is that of a mystic and there is something spiritual in feeling and expression about nature. It is remarkable that Frost is not a mystic. Man and Nature in Frost are two distinct entities and the two may exist together but not fuse into a single being. Frost rejects the Wordsworthian concept. No one can deny the fact that Frost is a great poet of nature but it is remarkable that he is not a nature poet in the tradition of Wordsworth and other romantic nature poets of England. His love of nature is characterized by the hard matter of fact, realism of a farmer who is intimately acquainted with the ways of nature and has no illusions.
            Frost, in the manner of the romantic poets, often speaks directly to the objects of nature. Marion Montgomery says that what is high seriousness to Wordsworth is fancy or humour in Frost. Yet Karl Shapiro disclaims Frost as an American poet at all and labels him the last of the great Britishers also. Like Wordsworth, he loves both pleasant and unpleasant aspects of the nature. Like William Wordsworth he enjoys his sensuous beauty but the main difference is that he is alive too much that is harsh, bleak and barren in Nature. He does not shut his eyes to her harshness and cruelty.
            An endeavour has been made to show that the basic difference between the two nature poet is that Robert Frost’s approach towards nature is realistic but William Wordsworth’s approach towards nature is mystic and spiritual as a nature poet. It is noteworthy that Wordsworth can extract poetry from anything in the heaven above, the earth below or the water under the earth. His eye anoints every object it encounters. He bends and broods over things, till they tell him all the mystery and beauty which are in their hearts.
            Wordsworth was a voluminous writer. In the history of English Romantics, Wordsworth has a peculiar place. He believed almost like Jean-Jacques Rousseau that the poetically and ethically attuned normal human can grow up only in the lap of nature or it is only nature that teaches him how to be human.
            To many critics, ‘Ode on Intimations of Immortality from recollections of Early Childhood’ is the acme of Wordsworth’s poetic achievements and is an intimate record of his personal philosophy or of his love of nature. Wordsworth had a vague belief in his own amorphous notion of the Platonic philosophy of immortality, transmigration and rebirth of the soul. He believed in the unity of all: man, nature and God. He was in love with nature and detested his contemporary ‘Palsaied Age’ of ‘endless imitation’. In describing his own age as ‘palsied’ Wordsworth foreshadowed Arnold’s perception of his contemporary life and this may be found in this poem. The poem is also a panegyric of childhood and this may remind one of Henry Vaughan’s enology of childhood in ‘The Retreat’.
The child is father of the Man;
And I would wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.3
            And, perhaps, these three lines express the essence of the 207 lines of the poem ‘Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ or simply ‘Immortality Ode’. It would be profitable at the present stage to analyze some of his popular poems in which nature has been presented realistically and in the context of American background of so many poems - ‘Mountain’ has been picked up for a brief analysis.
            The present poem illustrates the fact that Frost is a great nature poet of barriers. There are barriers between man and the immediate natural world. The mountain in ‘The Mountain’ symbolizes such barriers. The mountain stands there as a continual challenge to him but he never quite accepts the challenge. This simple Yankee’s attitude towards the mountain is one of complacency. He has heard that there is a fascinating brook on the top of it, “always cold in summer, warm in winter”4 but he has never troubled to climb the mountain and see it for himself and on the other side there is a traveller who is curious and inquisitively romantic wants to know all about them.
            It is remarkable that Frost is a nature poet but not like Wordsworth. Even Frost has often been called a nature poet, indeed, he depicts aspects of nature accurately. It is only because he thinks: “A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a home-sickness or a love - sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its though and the thought has found the words.”5 We often get the actual tone of the country dweller in Frost’s poems. However, Frost is not interested in nature for itself. Unlike, Wordsworth, he finds no sustaining power or source of joy and moral health in nature and on the other side, we find Wordsworth’s fortitude, self control, the stability of his mind and the common places of everyday life are unique. Like his own ‘Skylark’ he was the Home.
Type of the wise, who soar but never roam,
True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home.6
            There can be no denying the fact that Frost is a great poet of nature but he is not a nature poet in the tradition of William Wordsworth, a British nature poet and other romantic nature poets of England. His love of nature is characterized by the hard matter of fact, realism of a farmer who is intimately acquainted with the ways of nature and has no illusions.
            As regards Frost’s attitude or philosophy of nature, it is quite different from that of Wordsworth and other English romantic poets. Nature for him is not a kindly mother, watching benevolently over man, neither does she have any ‘holy plan’ of her own for the good of mankind as it is for Wordsworth. Nature, for Wordsworth, is a great teacher. We learn from Nature more than we learn from the sages. Nature is also a great healer for Wordsworth. In this respect Wordsworth disagrees with Coleridge. Coleridge says that nature cannot comfort us when we are in misery. Nature, for Wordsworth, has a ‘Holy plan’. She always thinks of the welfare of man. She is also an intermediary between Man and God. Frost’s poems show deep appreciation of natural world and sensibility about the human aspirations. His images-woods, stars, houses, brooks are usually taken from everyday life. With his down-to-earth approach to his subjects, readers found it is easy to follow the poet into deeper truths, without being burdened with pedantry. Often Frost used the rhythms and vocabulary of ordinary speech. Nature for Frost is hostile and alien and man must constantly struggle against her for survival. Nature is bleak and harsh. The bleakness of nature is constantly used to emphasize human loneliness.
            Like William Wordsworth, Robert Lee Frost is also a great nature poet of America. They love nature but their attitude towards nature is quite different in many ways. Like Wordsworth his love of nature is limited to nature in particular districts. ‘Birches’ is perhaps Frost’s most Wordsworthian poem, in which he chooses to think “Some boy’s been swinging them” 7 in the face of natural evidence to the contrary, and then identifies himself clearly with that lost youthful exercise – “So was I once myself a swinger of birches / And so I dream of going back to be.”8 Yet, the poet, realizing the consequences thoroughly dissociates himself from notions of escape- “May no fate willfully misunderstands me.” 9 He recognizes the reality of nature’s ice storm and settles for a half hearted attempt at Wordsworthian wishful thinking - “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” 10 In ‘Nothing Gold can stay’ he laments the fall of both man and nature and the consequent loss that both suffer. But unlike Wordsworth, he loves both her pleasant and unpleasant aspects. Like William Wordsworth, he enjoys her sensuous beauty. But the main difference is that Frost’s approach towards nature is realistic or he accepts nature in his poetry as a confirmed objective reality and William Wordsworth’s is mystic and spiritual as a Nature poet.
            Frost’s poetry does not usually create the picturesque landscape that Wordsworth sought. Frost is far more interested in the present encounter with nature than in recreating a sense of reverie to elude the emptiness of that present. Frost’s emphasis on a stay against confusion suggests not reverie nor the recollection of past spots of time to be illuminated by present world at the present moment on the verge of threatening chaos.
            Robert Frost is probably the best known and most loved poet of the century. Frost’s poetry is largely based on his experiences with the life and scenery of rural New England. But despite his rural origins, his poetry was highly structured with traditional metre and rhyme schemes; Frost disliked free verse. And while his subject matter was seemingly very ordinary, Frost’s emotional range in his poems is very broad, ranging from touching humour to tragedy. Much of his poetry deals with the interaction between people and nature. Frost regarded nature as beautiful but sometimes perilous. Indeed, Frost’s work represents him as a nature poet who writes most of his lyrics about the birds and flowers he loved. It is certainly easy to see this aspect of his work in the early poems like ‘To The Thawing Wind’ where he appeals to the ‘Loud Southwester’ to
Run the rattling pages o’er;
Scatter poems on the floor;
Turn the poet out of door. 11
            The line “Up ! Up ! my Friend, and quit your books”12 is very much like Wordsworth’s ‘The Tables Turned’. The vitality of the flowers, birds and wind make them superior in their own right to the realm of books and the indoors. His poetry embodies varying impressions of the nature of the cosmos and a consequent uncertainty about man’s place in it and his proper role and stance.
            But what makes Wordsworth’s poetry unique is not the fact that he combined the sense - impressions of nature with more complex ideas but the peculiar method which he developed to draw the intellectual from the visual. In fact, he has heard something in Nature speak to him in the windy darkness and he is using that experience to characterize what he has heard in the peculiar utterance of poetry. He says
the earth
And common face of Nature speak to me
Rememberable things. 13
            As regards Frost’s and Wordsoworth’s attitude towards nature, we may say that Robert Lee Frost and William Wordsworth were no doubt two hearts but  as far as their creativity goes, only one soul seemed to function between them. Obviously we find differences between the thoughts of these two poets. But it is remarkable that each one’s characteristic faculty was strengthened by assimilation of the particular qualities of their own.
1.     Potter, James L. Robert Frost Handbook. The Pennsylvania State, University Press, London, 1980, p. 81.
2.     Wordsworth, William. The Collected Poems of William Wordsworth. Wordsworth Editions Limited, London, 1995, p. 403
3.     Sarker, Sunil Kumar. A Companion to William Wordsworth vol. 1. Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 2003 p. 131.
4.     Frost, Robert. Complete poems of Robert Frost. Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995, p.47.
6.     Wordsworth, William. The Collected Poems of William Wordsworth. op. cit, p. 246.
11.  Frost, Robert. Complete poems of Robert Frost. op. cit., p. 21.
12.  Potter, James L. Robert Frost Handbook. op. cit., p. 92.
13.  Frost, Robert. Complete poems of Robert Frost. op. cit., p. 623.
Dr. Mamta Dwivedi
Lecturer, Department of English,
Swami Satyamitranand Mahavidyalaya,

Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh.