Reading Nation and the Poetry of Robert Frost

Thumbnail Image
Issue Date
Sovak, Anthony Theodore
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
Robert Frost once said, I want to be a poet for all sorts and kinds Such an aim reflects, in part, Frost's embrace of Emerson's view of the poet, . the poet is representative. He stands among partial men for the complete man, and apprises us not of his wealth, but of the commonwealth The national overtones implicit in the term commonwealth resonate with Frost's attempts to make poetry analogous to nation for each individual in what was and is a very diverse nation. One of Frost's biggest challenges in getting both professors and farmers to read and identify with his poetry was to create euphonious space for contrary voices in his poems. Frost continued the project that Whitman began of attempting to create through poetry an accurate reflection of national ideology that each individual as well as the multitude can identify with. When Whitman writes that The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem , he goes further than any American poet previously had to make poetry itself the political space of nation building. My dissertation, Reading Nation and the Poetry of Robert Frost, examines how Robert Frost's poetry embodies and extends both Emerson's and Whitman's idea. Following Emerson's imperative Frost, like Whitman, wrestles with the conflict that arises from attempting to create in poetry a space where national communal identity can be formed while honoring the distinct individuality of particular readers. This very tension lies at the core of what is considered unique and precious in American national ideology. And while both poets have written poems that anticipate the acts of interpretation by future readers, Frost's poems work to demonstrate how the labor of reading is nearly synonymous with the labor of writing. My dissertation shows how in the process of reading his poems we come to moments of crisis where interpretation and metaphor fail. I argue that these moments of crisis are designed to cause the reader to confront his/her own limitations and, by implication, mortality. In lieu of a structured faith, Frost offers salvation in the form of inducting the reader into a larger poetical conversation, which is also inherently an entry into the political realm. By instantiating the nation as imagined community of readers/writers, Frost's poems can be considered political in the deepest sense.