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The Cambridge Introduction to Robert Frost


  • Page extent: 202 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.33 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521670067)

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The Cambridge Introduction to
Robert Frost

Robert Frost is one of the most popular of American poets and remains widely read. His work is deceptively simple, but reveals its complexities upon close reading. This Introduction provides a comprehensive but intensive look at his remarkable oeuvre. The poetry is discussed in detail in relation to ancient and modern traditions as well as to Frost's particular interests in language and sound, metaphor, science, religion, and politics. Faggen looks back to the literary traditions that shape Frost's use of form and language, and forward to examine his influence on poets writing today. The recent controversies in Frost criticism and in particular in Frost biography are brought into sharp focus as they have shaped the poet's legacy and legend. The most accessible overview available, this book will be invaluable to students, readers, and admirers of Frost.

Robert Faggen is Barton Evans and H. Andrea Neves Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College.

The Cambridge Introduction to

Robert Frost


Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo, Delhi

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© Robert Faggen 2008

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2008

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data

Faggen, Robert.
The Cambridge introduction to Robert Frost / Robert Faggen.
 p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-521-85411-5 (hbk.) – ISBN 978-0-521-67006-7 (pbk.) 1. Frost, Robert, 1874–1963 – Criticism and interpretation. I. Title.
PS3511.R94Z5595 2008
811.52 – dc22      2008025531

ISBN 978-0-521-85411-5 hardback
ISBN 978-0-521-67006-7 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or
accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to
in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such
websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.


List of abbreviations
1 Life page 1
2 Contexts 13
3 Works 25
Frost’s poetics 25
   The sound of sense 26
   Poetry and metaphor 36
   Pastoral 49
“Men work together” 64
Labor and beauty 83
Women, nature, and home 92
The dialogue of home 98
Frost and the poetry of nature 109
Frost and believing-in 133
   Journeys into matter 136
   Sacrifice 149
   Belief and truth 154
   Justice, mercy, and passionate preference 158
4 Reception 162
1920s–1940s 165
1947–1963 167
Frost and the postmodern 173
Notes 175
Guide to further reading 179
Index 185


Robert Frost became an American sage. His public popularity as well as the approachability and renown of a few of his justly brilliant lyrics – “The Road Not Taken,” “Fire and Ice,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” – have obscured the immense range of his achievement and subtlety as an artist and his complexity as a thinker. This was partly Frost's own doing as he enjoyed the evasions strangely made possible by the great fame in his later years that had eluded him in his early decades. At first a shy performer, Frost became a charming reader of his own work. The sound of a poem was so important to him that he insisted on “saying” a poem, never “reading” it. Each performance could become a slightly new interpretation. He was also a masterful talker, and he cultivated a brilliant way of sounding off-handed while being incisive and profound. For many, Frost the figure of the genial farmer-poet and prophet of American individualism became one of the great acts of American literary culture; the real Frost was a far more elusive shapeshifter and trickster, a learned and trenchant intellect with a sometimes terrifyingly bleak vision of human existence.

   This Introduction will focus on Frost’s major poetry, from his earliest lyrics to the complex dramatic narratives rarely discussed but which are part of his most important work. Frost's ideas about prosody and metaphor will be considered in terms of both the poems themselves and how they developed in relation to some of the thinking of his contemporaries. His major thematic concerns – labor, democracy, home, nature, and belief – will be considered in the context of ancient poetic traditions such as the pastoral, and modern intellectual and political questions such as science, immigration, and the New Deal.

   The Frost that is still to be discovered is a consummate craftsman and maker of some of the most psychologically engaging and artistically beguiling poetry of his or any time.


For years of ongoing fruitful discussion and collaboration, I am grateful to Mark Richardson, Don Sheehy, Lisa Seale, Jonathan Barron, Tim Steele, and Paul Muldoon. The fellowship and kindness of John Lancaster, Jack Hagstrom, John Ridland, Philip Cronenwett, Lesley Francis, Peter Gilbert, and Edward Lathem have been invaluable. Connie Bartling and Tim Geaghan were of great help in completing this project. I am particularly indebted to Barton Evans, Andrea Neves, Perry Lerner, and Claremont McKenna College for their appreciation and support.

The author gratefully acknowledges the Estate of Robert Lee Frost for permission to quote from Frost’s poetry and prose.


CP The Collected Prose of Robert Frost, ed. Mark Richardson. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007.
CPPP Robert Frost: Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays, ed. Richard Poirier and Mark Richardson. New York: Library of America, 1997.
LU The Letters of Robert Frost to Louis Untermeyer. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.
I Interviews with Robert Frost, ed. Edward Connery Lathem. New York: Holt Rinehart, and Winston, 1968.
N The Notebooks of Robert Frost, ed. Robert Faggen. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007.
SL Selected Letters of Robert Frost, ed. Lawrance Thompson. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964.

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