Robert Frost is most well known for his poems ‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.’ Both of these poems have messages that can be compared to actions taken in the first World War. In ‘The Road Not Taken’ The idea of making decisions and how they could affect the rest of your life and the lives of others is seen throughout the entire poem. In war, choices can determine who the victor and who the loser are. Choices make up what nations are and what they stand for. Frost expresses the importance of choices all throughout his poems.
Robert Frost was born on March 26th, 1874 to a journalist named William Prescott Frost Jr. Frost’s father died in 1885 which caused their family to move to Lawrence Massachusetts where he attended high school and graduated top of his class along with his future wife Eleanor White. Frost started to take an interest in poetry when he attended Dartmouth college. His first publication was in 1894 to ‘The Independent. ‘ They published his poem titled ‘My butterfly.’ However, Frost later left Dartmouth and in 1885 he married Eleanor. Together they had six children of which two died. Life then became harder and Frost and Eleanor tried to support their family by teaching and farming. This did not go very well and in 1912 Frost took his family to England to pursue his writing career. When he was there, a critic named Ezra Pound enjoyed Frost’s work very much and gave him a good review. However, this victory was short-lived due to the start of World War I which prompted Frost to leave England back to New Hampshire and start his teaching career at Amherst college. Frost went on to publish many works and gained many accolades. He received over 40 honorary degrees, the congressional gold medal, four Pulitzer prizes, and he also spoke at JFK’s inauguration. Frost later died in Boston at age 89 on January 29th, 1963. One of his final quotes was, ‘I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.'(Frost 5) Frost loved the world, but he didn’t always agree with everything it did.
Frost lived through World War I and World War II, however the time period that he wrote the poems listed above are closer in time to World War I. Much of what Frost said in these two poems can be related back to WWI.
‘The Road Not Taken’ relates heavily with the war. For example, in the first two lines a comparison can be drawn. ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both'(Frost 3) This line expresses the feeling that in war there are often leaders and soldiers that come at a crossroads for what decision to be made. It also illustrates the fact that not every decision can be followed through. This continues to the next point about coming to a consensus. ‘And be one traveler, long I stood'(Frost 3) Often many leaders argue about what course of action is the wisest. In this line coming to a consensus about which path to take correlates with the matter of agreement in times of war. But what about after the decision has been made? The fact is many soldiers and leaders who have made decisions and not succeeded have regretted it for years to come. This point is illustrated when frost says ‘I shall be telling this with a sigh.'(Frost 3) In the first World War, many soldiers did actions that they were not proud of, and to their dismay it gave them much regret and sadness for years hence. One of the most prevalent points in this poem is that some decisions may pay off well in the end. ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.'(Frost 3) This was true in World War I as well because the most risky decisions ended up paying off the most in the end.
‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ also had a couple lines that could be compared to World War I. One line in particular being The darkest evening of the year.'(Frost 2) This line expresses the point that war is a dark and dangerous time for anyone. In World War I. One example of this is that over eight and a half million soldiers died in this war. This is not even accounting for the countless others who died. A second line in this poem that illustrates the tough times that war brings is ‘And miles to go before I sleep.’ (Frost 2) If there was one word to describe war besides violent it would be long. Many wars are fought with much bloodshed but one of the most demoralizing things to a soldier is the sheer length of a war. As this line demonstrates a soldier has a long way to go before he has a chance to sleep.
Many of Robert Frost’s words in these poems can be interpreted to be illustrations of The decisions of war and their ramifications and also the demoralizing length the war can be. Some of his personal sayings can also be interpreted to be related to World War I. For instance, Frost says ‘In these three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.’ (Frost 1) Frost knows as well as any common soldier that no matter how hard a battle is or how challenging times may be, life will always go on. Frost, in this line, may not have just been talking about physical life but also the spiritual, expressing the feeling that if one dies, their life will continue in heaven. This point is later illustrated in another quote that Frost is famous for. “Even the bravest that are slain shall not dissemble their surprise on waking to find valor reign even as on earth, in paradise.”(Frost 1) He believes that even if one is killed, this will not take away the reward which will be granted to them because of their bravery and honor. The reward he is referring to is an afterlife in heaven. Frost believed much of what made a person great was their bravery and their boldness. This can also be applied to the first World War. Frost says ‘Freedom lies in being bold’ (Frost 1) without the ability to be bold in the face of trial and tribulation one might find themselves without success. This pushes the point that Frost believes that in being bold one will find themselves obtaining their freedom from tyranny and corruption. In World War I many of those not bold enough to protect themselves took over. The last point is the frost believed that, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.” (Frost 1) What he means is that countries who know each other’s boundaries as well as protect their own are able to ally themselves with others and protect them and often become good friends.
Frost however, was not without his fair share of criticism. Many said that he dwelled too much on the past and not as much on the present and future of American society. These criticisms were seen in his lack of references in his poems and works of modern topics such as industrialization or common modern objects like cars or radios. Frost was not one to be overly fond, as stated before, with the present or future. He enjoyed the past, he found it to be nostalgic. This was also something that he was criticized for as well as his overly conservative views. some of these critics may have been missing the point though. Many Frost’s poems were able to be flexible to fit the times. He could have been writing about the past, the present, and the future all at the same time. He does this in poems like ‘The Road Not Taken’ where life-changing decisions can be interpreted as wartime decisions.
One of the largest criticisms though, was the fact that many of Frost’s critics believed that he was not a romantic poet. A romantic poet can be defined as ‘a poet who embraces the natural world in poetic form.'(Liebman 7) people such as Lawrence Thompson believed that frost either tried to modify romanticism or neglected altogether. Frost’s critics would call romanticism ‘metaphysically naive, morally irresponsible, and epistemologically repressive.'(Liebman 7) His critics don’t consider Frost a romantic and don’t even have a high opinion of romanticism either. However, even though they don’t admit that he is a romantic poet, they are at the very least willing to admit that he grew up in the romantic tradition. The reason for the amount of criticism that he gets on romanticism is that his letters and essays often contradict his anti-romantic statements. One critic named Britney said that ‘to analyze The interpersonal, play epiphanies of Robert Frost, one must look at both the subjective and objective aspects.'(Bidney 4) He is saying that to judge these works of Robert Frost one must look at it subjectively and objectively, they must look at it through fact and through opinion.
Though Frost dealt with Criticism, he kept pushing forward in his ability to write and inspire others. Frost may have dwelt in the past, and had conservative values, as well as being nostalgic. But this did not affect the quality in which he wrote. His works inspired many to do what they thought was impossible. For some this would mean joining the war effort. This would mean sacrificing much for that which they loved most. Frost may not have been a romantic poet, however this does not make him any less of a classic poet. A poet that many still read to this day.
Robert Frost was undoubtedly one of the most famous poets of his time. He was also one of the most successful and award-winning. Through trials such as the death of his father, leaving England because of World War I, and the death of two of his children, Frost emerged victorious over all of his shortcomings. One of his achievements that wasn’t even in his own lifetime was that after he died, and Amherst college made the Robert Frost library, JFK gave a keynote saying’where power corrupts poetry cleanses.'(JFK 5) Frost was a timeless voice that many Americans rallied around and still do to this day. The main reason this is, is that he was very universal in the way he wrote so that he could reach everyone in some way. One way in particular that these poems had touched people are the commonalities between World War I and his poems: ‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.’ In conclusion, a large portion of what is written in ‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is reflective of World War I and the many decisions and hardships of it. These many decisions and hardships in the war are also reflective of the decisions and hardships in Frost’s own life. But Frost in the end, as said before, emerged victorious, and has a legacy that will stretch for generations to come.