Robert Frost had it tough growing up and during his adulthood it did not get any easier. Frost wrote poetry relating to his rather challenging life experiences because he used it as a coping mechanism. Fear and anxiety were common images in his writing which is why his poetry explicitly depicts his true inner self.
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He vented out his anger through writing and this made his works appeal passionately to his readers. This influenced his writing and was a means of escape. He was not mentally ill as some people argue. Frost “knew himself”, that is why he was able to control his fears and balance the tension between the inner and outer self-forces.
The “knowing” and not “knowing himself” are statements of disagreement with the world. In Sheehy’s article, Lawrence Thompson notes that the ultimate problem of Frost biographer is to see if the biographer can be enough of a psychologist to get far enough back into the formative years of Robert Frost and to try to realize and clarify what forces were functioning, back there, to produce the curious forms of fixation which Robert Frost had to fight with of all through his life (Sheehy 393).
This challenge of having to delve into Frost’s background from a psychological perspective to explain whether or not he “knew himself” works to justify the view that he was not mentally ill.
Lisa Hinrichsen agreed with Thompson in accepting the idea of frost neurotic behavior. She includes a psychological analysis of Sigmund Freud in her article (Hinrichsen 42). Based on Freud’s psychoanalytic approach to fear and anxiety, the latter is used in Frost’s poetry in conjunction with conditions created in his poetry that reflect anxiety irrespective of any objective, while fear is fundamentally focused toward an object.
The Freudian theory helps us understand Frost more from a psychological standpoint. Hinrichsen develops her argument referring to Freud who gives anxiety to be associated with a “disruptive, uncontrollable character” and explains that it generates a feeling of “uncomfortable helplessness.” (Hinrichsen 48).
Hinrichsen claims that the anxiety of Frost’s poetry could be formed with the presence of conscious and unconscious fears. “Many of Frost’s poems are clearly self-consciously controlled spaced filled with boundaries, walls, doors, and frames that define spatial confines and carefully scaled scenes” (Hinrichsen 48). That Frost was more focused on expressing himself in relation to his experiences rather than making a blunt reference to remote life issues is clearly depicted in his works, as illustrated by Hinriechsen.
Frost constantly sets restrictions for himself in his poetry. Mental illness, which ran so commonly in this poet’s family, may become a serious reason for these fears. Enduring so much loss and suffering for years, Frost could be afraid to become mad himself and sets boundaries for his own emotions and imagination; though, this attempt to guard his inners self could be quite an insensible effort.
Frost’s plan was to put fear in his mind. His inner and outer forces are used here in the sense of “Tree at my Window.” In this poem, Frost illustrates two distinctive forms of self, which influence his being. He employs the imagery of the tree as the outer, and the speaker the inner.
While Hinrichsen and Eben Bass share the same ideas on inner and outer forces, Hinrichsen argues that the fear Frost has comes from anxiety within the poet. She expounds that the voice of fretfulness talks as a form of motion or flight in his poems. Bass focuses on fear, which comes from an outside object, just like the main image in Frost’s poems.
He explains nature’s risk and how it creates fear in the poems’ speakers. Both nature and feeling are associated with what Eben Bass refers to as the “outer,” which can be a physical thing, for example the desert in “Desert Places”, birches in “Birches” and window in the “Tree at My Window” which are normally used as physical or figurative obstacles between outer and inner; between fear and safety.
The “outer” is attributed to vulnerability, nature and improbability as opposed to the “inner” which is characterized by tranquility and peace. He claims that Frost’s poesy is characterized by competition stuck between the inner and the outer, but Frost was able to control this tension and cope with the stress creating a balance between his inner and outer forces.
Bass did not mention in his argument about Frost being neurotic. To Bass, Frost “knew himself” to a point that made him able to control his fear and create a balance between his inner and outer forces. This self- knowledge by Frost attests to the sincerity of his fears and anxiety and to the reality of similar feelings to the average reader whose poetry appeals to, teaches and admonishes.
Some fears are normal and positive to each other and everyone has some fears sometimes, stated Mary Reufle in her article “On Fear.” She describes the fear as normal and positive thing to each one, especially the poet. Reufle sees fear as an advantage to the poet.
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According to Eben (34), if one bends over their page and does not suddenly tremble with fear and throw away their pen, then their writing would have little value. In a sense, you have to have some level of fear and tension in order to engage the reader.
In Sheehy’s article, she quotes Lawrence Thompson who talks about the same idea that Bass talks about in the balance between inner and outer self that Frost has.
Thompson says, “I do not see any reason for even bothering to use the word neurotic. “The boundary line between the healthy individual and the neurotic individual is too constantly fluctuating” said Thompson, “we all cross that line into the neurotic realms, quite often. The only question is whether we are able to get back and recognize where we’ve been” (Sheehy 394). Frost was able to control his fear and use it as a strength through expression.
Thompson thus dispels the claim that Frost was of ill mental health, and in so doing, justifies the consciousness with which Frost expressed his inner state of being, which appeals equally to his readers inner beings as a requirement for the accurate interpretation, and subsequently, the success of his poetry. Thompson’s assertion that being healthy and being neurotic could be a state of health of all humans further nullifies the neurotic claim against Frost.
Does Frost “know himself”? Is it still a big question? Horney says, “It is a question of knowing ourselves well enough to recognize as aberration as such.” Horney in her introduction had emphasized the significance of self-knowledge in the process of outgrowing a childhood obsession with self and moving toward a healthy self-realization.
Thompson, at this point, is still uncertain about how well Frost “knew himself,” whether his deceptions were truly self-deceptive to the extent that Frost could not recognize the actual from the idealized. Even as his conviction about Frost’s neurosis grew and his will to diagnose strengthened, however, Thompson remained reluctant to adopt the term “neurotic. Robert Frost “knew this is how he needed to write in order to cope.
Even if Frost was neurotic or not, anxious or not, he still “knew himself”. Frost was not weak or lost which gives us the idea that there is a connection between his inner and outer self; Frost was not only able to leave this connection between the two forces, but also he kept the tension neutral between the two forces.
Frost knew that false control strengthens the wall of separation so he tried hard to eliminate this wall by contacting deeper and vaster faculties to activate him even while the wall was still present. Beside that, Frost was not able to let his inner control his outer, but he was able to keep the balance between the two forces.
Socrates once said, “May I have beauty in my inward soul, and may the outer and the inner be as one.” Frost was not able to make his outer and inner as one, but he was clever enough to use his ability of controlling his fear and balancing the tension between the inner and outer forces to benefit the reader and himself.
Bass, Eben. “Frost’s Poetry of Fear.” American Literature 43.4 (1972): 603. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Freud, Sigmund. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis; Trans. by G. Stanley Hall. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920; Bartleby.com, 2010.
Hinrichsen, Lisa. “A Defensive Eye: Anxiety, Fear and Form In The Poetry Of Robert Frost.” Journal of Modern Literature 31.3 (2008): 44-57. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Ruefle, Mary. “On Fear.” Poetry 200.3 (2012): 275-290. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Sheehy, Donald G. “The Poet As Neurotic: The Official Biography Of Robert Frost.” American Literature 58.3 (1986): 393. Academic Search Complete. Web.