return to frost


A nagging question in Frost criticism in the half-century since the author’s death has been where to place him in the larger narrative of American poetry. There has been no question about the magnitude of his achievement. Realizing “the utmost of ambition,” he lodged more than a few poems “where they will be hard to get rid of.” He ranks high on the short list of great American writers. Moreover, he remains one of the few modern poets in English still read, esteemed, and quoted by all types of people from elementary school kids and chaired professors to journalists and politicians. But after Modernism, popularity itself seems suspicious—an attribute associated with Longfellow and Whittier not Pound and Stevens. Frost’s defenders—from Randall Jarrell, Lionel Trilling, and Louise Bogan in mid-century to such later champions as William Pritchard, Jay Parini, and Mark Richardson—have instinctively supported Frost’s major stature by finding ways to link his work to Modernism. In his controversial speech at Frost’s eighty-fifth birthday, Trilling praised the poet’s “ultimate radicalism” and “terrifying” view of cosmic emptiness. Viewed by some guests at the Waldorf Astoria banquet as an affront, these judgments were pure praise from the Partisan Review contributor, making the elderly poet sound like Franz Kafka or Albert Camus.

more from Dana Gioia at VQR here.