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Poetic Form: Robert Frost
Although he avoids traditional verse forms and only uses rhyme erratically, Frost is not an innovator and his technique is never experimental.
In studying Robert Frost's more in-depth, I learned more about the forms he used for some of his poems. I have included some of his best-known ones and have sought out sources to confirm the forms of each.
“[Robert Frost] writes in classic metres in a way to set the teeth of all the poets of the older schools on edge; and he writes in classic metres, and uses inversions and cliches whenever he pleases, those devices so abhorred by the newest generation. He goes his own way, regardless of anyone else’s rules, and the result is a book of unusual power and sincerity.”
Reading this sonnet reveals that Frost did prefer traditional forms, but that he adapted them for his own poems and purpose. The number of lines and the rhyme scheme may be less than Shakespeare's, but that only makes it more rich as a Frost poem.
“the freshness of a poem belongs absolutely to its not having been thought out and then set to verse as the verse in turn might be set to music.”
This lyric poem is perhaps one of Frost best-loved and well-known. It may seem simple, but the nuances remain complex. According to his biography from Poetry Foundation, "Frost himself said of this poem that it is the kind he’d like to print on one page followed with 'forty pages of footnotes.'" Lyric poems possess a musical quality, but they should not be confused with music lyrics. Although, a fun exercise to do with this poem is to recite it while walking. But, be warned. You may feel yourself wanting to trot and even canter.
“Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”
At first glance, "Birches" may appear to be free verse because the lines are not rhymed. There are also lines that carry over and end in the next line. Blank verse can be difficult to identify--and to write--because it relies on iambic pentameter without a definitive rhyme scheme. Perhaps, in this case, it helps to follow the boy's example and get into the swing of it.
“Poetry begins in trivial metaphors, pretty metaphors, ‘grace’ metaphors, and goes on to the profoundest thinking that we have. Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another. ... Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.”
This is another of Frost best and loved poems. It is certainly my favorite as I have shared. It tells a story. The beauty of a narrative poem is that the readers often find themselves included in the adventure.
“One thing I care about, and wish young people could care about, is taking poetry as the first form of understanding. If poetry isn’t understanding all, the whole world, then it isn’t worth anything.”
While considering this small selection of Frost's poems, contemplate your own way of writing within these traditional forms and adapting them to fit the mood and metaphor of your poem.
Challenge: Study a lesser-known poem of Robert Frost and see if you can figure out the form he used. I spent some time reading "A Hillside Thaw" and discovered some intriguing nuances. I think this is one example of Frost's choice of a form to fit the mood and theme of the poem.