Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, USA, in 1874. He spent most of his adult life in the New England area. In his youth he did odd jobs. It was doing everyday tasks such as apple picking, mending fences, chatting with people or going for walks through the woods that Frost found much enjoyment. The time he spent in his New England farm was a source of inspiration and joy for Frost.
Robert Frost’s poetry can often be read at two levels. On the surface they are deceptively simple and contain many rustic images taken from his immediate surroundings. His works often present a moral problem or question about life in general. Frost once said, “A poem should begin in delight and end in wisdom.”
In order to project his vision Frost employs the “symbolic mode” quite successfully. This is a quality present in all his poetry. The surface meaning is obvious. The deeper meaning is almost casually suggested.
Let us consider two more of his popular poems; “Stopping by the Woods” and “The Road not Taken”. In the poem “Stopping by the Woods” the poet describes a person travelling on horseback stopping by some woods on a winter evening. The magical beauty of the scenery in front of him enraptures him. Yet, he cannot delay as he has many obligations to fulfil. This could very well be a regretful observation of how duties prevent people from doing things that would bring them real, lasting happiness.
The woods are lovely dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep
“The Road not Taken” could very well be about a walk through some woods along a path that forks halfway through.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
The poet takes one path, regretfully. He tries to console himself by saying that he might return one day and try the other path but it is clear that he doubts his own words.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on the way
I doubted if I would ever come back
At a deeper level this is a poem about making choices.
In “The Minor Bird” the constant singing of a bird angers the man. He comes out of the house and claps loudly to chase the bird away. After doing the deed he is remorseful, therefore, tries to justify the reason for his action. Failing to do so he acknowledges the errors of his ways. He confesses that the bird could not help its “key”.
The bird was not to blame for his key
Therefore he has done something wrong by chasing the bird away. By doing so he acknowledges the bird’s right to be there.
In the last stanza he goes on to say that there should be something wrong with anyone who attempts to stop a song. As a poet, frost is deeply affected by the act of the man. It is clear that Frost believed that the bird had a right to sing its song uninterrupted. The man has violated the right.
At a deeper level this is a poem about man’s intolerance. Most of us are not able to tolerate anything that is different from the usual. If something does not meet our expectations we want to change it. Sometimes we eradicate things that do not meet our criteria. A large number of fellow creatures are no more because of this human habit. This is also the root of many crimes man has committed against humanity. Apartheid in South Africa, KKK activities in the USA, Nazism are some of the more prominent examples. Various ethnic and religious conflicts too could trace their beginnings to intolerance. Every year thousands of people lose their lives, limbs and loved ones. Property is destroyed. Ties that have held communities together for centuries are shattered by a few careless words of a man devoid of tolerance. After the damage is done like the man in the poem most of us regret our carelessness and intolerance. But then the damage is done.
Like many of his poems Frost employs symbolism. The topic” The Minor Bird” is also evocative. The word ‘minor’ has a negative connotation. It stands for second-class citizens, the under-dogs and the minorities that are often deprived of so much because they were ‘minor’. These people do not meet the expectations of society. The society expects all birds to be able to sing beautifully. When one fails he is marginalized.
The man is the owner of the property. He makes it quite clear. But can the birds and beasts, those who have been there long before man, be expected to heed our artificial boundaries. Is it fair to expect so?
I have wished a bird would fly away
And not sing by my house;
To the man the bird is nothing but an unwelcome intruder, so he claps and chases the bird away.
Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more
The act of clapping the hand stands as a symbol for all the atrocities we as a race have committed against nature and other human beings.
The poet uses an uncomplicated “aa, bb, cc, dd” rhyming scheme. The plainness of the language in itself is striking. Such a basic issue such as intolerance needs no dressing up and elaboration.