Robert Frost’s Dark Side

Ruminating on competing interpretations of Robert Frost, Joshua Rothman finds himself compelled by Joseph Brodsky’s darker, brooding portrait of the poet:

Frost, Brodsky writes, in “On Grief and Reason,” his 1994 essay for The New Yorker, “is generally regarded as the poet of the countryside, of rural settings—as a folksy, crusty, wisecracking old gentleman farmer, generally of positive disposition.” He “greatly enhanced this notion by projecting precisely this image of himself in numerous public appearance and interviews”… In reality, Brodsky writes, Frost was a dark, “terrifying” poet, as Lionel Trilling had called him. He was a poet animated by “anticipation,” by a knowledge of “what he is capable of,” by a sense “of his own negative potential.” Frost’s life contained much besides contemplative strolls through the New England countryside, but Brodsky argued that in that countryside, Frost had seen the most profound part of himself. In nature, Frost had painted his “terrifying self-portrait.”