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Comparing and Contrasting the Milton and Frost Poems Essay

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Updated: Sep 26th, 2021

The lines given above are from two poems: When I Consider How My Light Is Spent taken from John Milton’s sonnet on his blindness and the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. (Barnet, Cain & Burto, 2007). Milton’s question might be rhetorical; still, it is a query indicating the lurking doubts. Frost’s lines indicate almost naïve wishful thinking.

The course of both poets’ introspection happens to come fortunately to a satisfactory and almost smug conclusion. Milton’s puritanical background was so staunch that he considered God’s will above everything else. The parable of talents from the Bible alluded to in the sonnet speaks of his fears above his transgressions of the omnipotent will. The fear later vanishes at the realization of the all-loving and just God.

Frost’s line of thinking seems to exclude supernatural power. Yet, the readers of his lyric can surmise that he is weighing life’s choices available to individuals. He avers that both the roads were equally fresh and inviting. This perhaps is because of his inherently optimistic and cheerful nature. The readers may wonder what would have happened if the choice had been between two invalid coins. For life does throw up impossible situations far too often!

Both the poets come out of their doubts and fears in their individual and inimitable ways. While Milton visualizes himself as a minor cog in the wheel which has been provided with its own working space and capacity, Frost assumes that the divergent roads he was asked to choose from were equally unblemished. Having lived a life of acceptance and contentment, he again assumes he had chosen the less trodden path that “made all the difference” (Frost, 1999). It is not difficult for the readers to readily grant Frost this bit of ego-trip. After all his present character is something most humans possess.

A few more parallels

The similarities that can be identified in these two poems begin with the central theme of retrospection. Both poets seem to look back on their achievements and inabilities with the same sense of nostalgia. There is a conscious effort to bring into focus the possible reasons for achieving some considerable success in life. At the same time, there is also a glance, a significant one, to be aware of the seamier side of life.

Another noteworthy point that seems to put Frost and Milton on even keel, is the fact that there is a tone of almost self-righteous fulfillment in having accomplished something. Again, both poets immediately switch over to the other side, which might have taken away the sheen of their success.

Some more contrasting features

The puritan Milton, who studied the Bible intensely and also lived by its tenets as strictly as possible, evaluates his life according to them. There is a constant and conscious effort to draw the reader’s attention to Biblical allusions – the story of the talent and the vineyard parable. Milton first thinks of his inability to produce any great literature, which was like the sons burying their respective talents (their remuneration). However, he also, later on, gets the comforting thought that the all-loving and just God would not punish him which is expressed in the rhetorical question that this essay begins with.

Frost, on the other hand, has been the simple farmer, who had “much to say on either side” like the famous character of Addison’s Coverley Papers, Sir Roger de Coverley. (Addison & Steele, 2002). However, Frost concludes that he chose the road that was ‘less traveled by’ which ‘made all the difference’. This is indicative of his ambivalent attitude. Milton of course has the comfort of Biblical dogma that the Lord knows what is best for each human being. This is reiterated in his poem L’Allegro where harmony is found behind twisting chains and intricacies of life. (Milton, 2008).

Conclusion

The verse forms of both these poems are different – Milton has characteristically produced a grand sonnet, in iambic pentameter whereas Frost in his simple but effective style has produced a twentieth lyric. However, both poets, like all of us want to look back and arrive at a reasonably comforting thought to justify our existence. While Milton emphasizes the all-loving and just superpower, Frost talks about the available resources from which we humans have to make the best of, to live a life of contentment. The puritan poet’s presentation is a dogmatic picture whereas the farmer-poet’s paradoxical stance is to be happy with whatever is available.

References

Addison, Joseph & Steele Richard. The Sir Roger de Coverley Papers from the Spectator. University Press of the Pacific. 1974.

Barnet Sylvan, Cain, W.E. & Burto, W.E. Literature for Composition: Essays, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Longman. 2007.

Frost, Robert. Mountain Interval. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920; Bartleby.com, 1999.

Luxon, Thomas H., ed. , 2008. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Comparing and Contrasting the Milton and Frost Poems'. 26 September.

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