1. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Mountain Interval by Robert Frost

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Lemex, Nov 20, 2013.

    I have been reading the complete works of Robert Frost - between writing lesson plans and pulling my hair out. What can I say? Teaching can be stressful.

    I've been reading Frost in the authoritative Library of America collection. I understand that many older collections of Frost's poetry have been subjected to poor editing, and editors moving Frost's grammar around without thought, so paying the extra few pounds for the Library of America collection was worth buying. It is especally worth buying for the healthy amount of scholarly notes, Frost's three or four plays (that I had never even heard of before), and a large selection of Frost's prose writings. Consider this a recommendation - the book is fantastic.

    I don't want to suggest that Frost is the type of poet who went from strength to strength, especally considering the number of poems he left uncollected. While I do like most of the poems in A Boy's Will, only a few really stand out.

    North of Boston is a collection I am more ambivalent toward. Some of those poems I really like, and some I must admit I do not really care for, and they tend to be the longer poems, and the popular consensus seems to feel the same way. Most of us will have read 'Mending Wall', or at least heard of it, but who knows 'The Generations of Men' very well? These longer poems in North of Boston have been called Free Verse, but this doesn't seem right to me. There is form, it does does not appear to be so because of the nature of those poems. E.A. Poe once claimed in his 'The Poetic Principle', that a '"long poem", is simply a flat contradiction in terms'. While I have not always agreed with this, I certainly can understand the feeling that a long poem can easily 'overstay their welcome'. However, this is not as much of an issue with Frost's longer poems, as they are often given a clear point to talk around, they are dialogues between characters. In this sense they are a lot like short stories.

    So what about Mountain Interval, Frost's third published collection? Well, I like to think I'm a good critic, and can be a good judge of books, but this collection has actually had be a little depressed. I can't think of a single fault with this collection at all. It might, and I actually suspect it is, be perfect. Let that sink in.

    The poetry here is, unlike A Boys Will, which was a collection of entirely short, rhymed, very formal 19th century poems, and unlike North of Boston, which was much more experimental, with the focus being on the lengthy 'dialogue poems'. Here in Interval there is a great combination of both. 'Combination' is the important thing here, it seems, as some poems seem merely clever little observations set to a rhythm, like the poem 'A Patch of Old Snow' found near the start of the collection. others, such as 'Out, Out-' is a heartbreaking snapshot of the harshness of life in rural areas. It barely matters that even though I live around 100 years after the poem was written, and in another country altogether; the poem still is intensely tragic and frightening easy to imagine.

    There is a universality in Frost that comes out in this collection, and that is where Frost seems to continue to be relevant. This is something I find amazing about writers of Frost's era, like George Orwell, or T.S. Eliot much of their work still feels very contemporary, and modern. It is an amazing fact that Frost was closer to the Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson than we are to Frost, and yet reading through the poems in Mountain Interval you could be mistaken for not realizing this at all. Aside from maybe a few hints and references, Frost's poetry still feels new.

    However, as mentioned before, there are some references and hints to things that do place Frost in the early years of the 20th century. To a reader now quite far down the road of the 21st century this does not necessarily have to be a problem, but it can perhaps be a barrier - just like the barrier I myself feel when reading Frost, as a British person, as the occasional reference reminds me that Frost is in some ways inescapably American. Chinua Achebe in one of his essays claimed that writers should be able to speak for their own culture, and a writer trying to speak for all people everywhere is doomed to being either stale and boring, or a failure. I have a feeling Frost might have agreed.

    There are some personal highlights in this collection, for me, such poems like 'Out, Out-', 'Birches', 'An Old Man's Winter Night', and the lengthy poem 'Snow'. However, as I said before, this collection I think might be perfect. Each poem works here - both as individual poems and as a collected whole, to build Frost's poetic world that was beautiful, funny, warm, cold, light and melancholic; familiar and distant all at the same time.

    Frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way. If you can get your hands on these poems then do yourself a favor and enjoy them!
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2013
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    "Out, Out--" is amazing. It's probably the poem I remember the most because of imagery. I first read it 8 or 9 years ago, and I still remember it. There are actually many poems dealing with rural life. I remember two others, "Mowing" and "After Apple-Picking."

    He does use nature quite a bit, doesn't he? I believe the majority of his poems deal with New England in some way, so he's definitely as American as you can get. Sadly, I haven't read much Frost. I do want to read more of him, though. I also want to read more Wallace Stevens. I've heard that Stevens and Frost are the two most important American poets after Walt Whitman.
     
  3. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Yeah, his use of nature and country life was a direct reaction against the more typical Modernists likeT.S. Eliot, and specifically Ezra Pound, who Frost called a 'quasi-friend' in one of his letters. He wanted his poems to be familiar, and to him writing poetry was a form of work, just like using a scythe like 'Mowing'. It was also a frankly financial decision to write for both elitist poetry readers and the man on the street.

    In fact, 'Mowing' is about his style of poetry, and writing it, and he seems to poke fun at both William Wordsworth and the Romantic tradition, and early W.B. Yeats specifically. That makes Frost still a Modernist. In a sense, then, Frost was a Modernist, but he was approaching Modernism in a very different way from something dark and gritty, like 'Prufrock'.

    I've not read Wallace Stevens, but Walt Whitman is a poet I can really recommend! I've not read as many American poets as I'd like. Seriously, I recommend shelling out the extra few bob and buying the Library of America collection of Frost. It's one of the best purchases I've ever made. :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2013
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There's a Library of America edition going for about $11.50 on Amazon. The condition is "Like New" so I'm seriously considering it.
     

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