North of Boston, Robert Frost's second book of verse and arguably his greatest, brought him suddenly into national prominence in 1915. Though completed and first published in England in 1914, the book was rooted in the decade, 1900-1910, that Frost spent in Derry, New Hampshire, where he witnessed the decline of its traditional farming culture. In presenting this "drama of disappearance," twelve of the book's fifteen principal poems are literally dramatic, composed mainly of direct dialogue. Among them are three of Frost's most famous lyrics, each featuring a signature task of New England life and underlining the book's tribute to a fading culture. Collectively, the poems bring the diction and tones of a New England vernacular within a traditional metric frame, making "music," as Frost boasted, "from the sound of sense" and poetry of "a language absolutely unliterary." Such adaptations of ordinary language and experience to blank verse drama made Frost a founder of American modernism and North of Boston one of its monuments. Exploring Frost's complex connection to his poetic characters, this study provides new readings of the individual poems and a new look at North of Boston's development. To a degree no other study has done, it addresses the book's design as an artistic whole while placing it in the context of Frost's unfolding career.
David Sanders —
David Sanders is Professor Emeritus of English at St. John Fisher College, Rochester, New York.
Sanders, David. A divided poet: Robert Frost, North of Boston, and the drama of disappearance. Camden House, 2011. 162p bibl index afp; ISBN 9781571134998. Reviewed in 2012jan CHOICE.
Over the years, critics have observed a tension between Frost as a public, commercial writer and as a writer who invoked populist themes. Earlier studies of Frost tended to confuse the poet's work with his image as a simple, rural figure, and consequently saw the poetry as fairly light. Later commentary uncovered darkly romantic themes in Frost's seemingly straightforward lyrics. Sanders's approach fits somewhere in the middle. Looking in particular at Frost's North of Boston, he argues that the poet was caught between a sentimental attachment to a dying pastoral world and his own exploitation of this world to further his career. Pursuing this theory, Sanders reads lines heretofore seen as evoking capitulation to the cold morbidity of nature as dramatizations of an identity crisis. The argument is lucid and clearly worthwhile, even if some of the readings seem to apply biography to poetry in an excessively literal or direct manner. Should Frost's treatment of simple country folk be subject to more tests of sincerity than Wordsworth's pastoral fancies, for example "Michael"? Quite possibly they should.
Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. -- R. K. Mookerjee, Eugene Lang College, The New School for the Liberal Arts