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Nature in 20th century Poetry

Updated on August 19, 2013


The presence of nature appears in almost all of Robert’s frost poetry. At one point, each character within Robert Frost’s poem has an interaction with nature. These interactions can lead the character or persona and the reader to gain a deeper understanding of human nature or gain new self knowledge. By exploring nature, the persona to learn about themselves; even though nature will always remain indifferent to human nature and does not actively play a role in teaching the persona new insight. Nature always remains mysterious in Frost’s poetry.

In Robert’s “The Mending Wall” we have two neighbors separated by a stone wall which both begin to repair after the winter has ended. The speaker begins to question the reason why a wall is needed. He states that there are no cows that need to be contained and “There where it is we do not need the wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across.” There are only trees where they live, and neither tree will move to other’s side. The speaker doesn’t in putting up a wall, just to put up a wall. But his neighbor will not be convinced otherwise, repeating the same phrase over and over “Good Fences make good neighbors.”

In this poem, Nature plays a role indifferent to humans. Even though the two neighbors keep placing the wall every year, nature continues to play its course and does not care if it damages the wall every time winter comes. The fact that these two neighbors’ persist on placing the wall does not stop nature itself. The speak even suggests, that there might be “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,/That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it/And spills the upper boulders in the sun,/And makes gaps even two can pass abreast” (Frost 1-4.) The speaker does not state who or what exactly does not love a wall, but that it simply exists. The way the ground swell and spills the upper boulders in the sun almost suggest that nature itself doesn’t want the wall. The speaker also states “What I was walling in or walling out/And to whom I was likely to give offence” (Frost 33-34,) meaning that nature can take offense because it is not up to man to interfere or dictate the boundaries of nature.

Nature also plays a similar role in “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” where the speaker is stopping by some woods on a snowy evening. The speaker can’t help but stop to take in the scenery and the tranquility which only nature can provide. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep” (Frost 14,) they entice the speaker into staying longer despite the responsibilities he or she has. Once again, Frost’s presents the woods as mysterious and passive. These woods are “dark,” yet they are also “lovely.” The woods are not wild or presented as dangerous, but rather as a sanctuary away from the village where the owner is. Any “sensible” person would be at the village where there is civilization and structure. In the woods, there is nothing of that; it simply exists within “darkness.” It’s mysterious and seductive, filled with peace. It’s a tranquility that tempts the speaker who is tired from the journey and wishes to sleep, but he states “I have promises to keep, and miles before I sleep” (Frost 15.) Despite the temptation, the speaker is brought back to his senses and acknowledges the fact that he can not stay any longer, for there is still a longer journey ahead. In the end, they will be able to get some rest and slumber in peace. Overall, nature plays a passive role, indifferent to its visitor. The speakers, gains anew sense of tranquility away from “civilization” but Nature has not played an active role in this.

On the same note, we also have William’s“Spring and All” which represents the cycle of life through nature. The poem begins with a dark cold winter and transitions to spring and then on to summer. The poem allows the reader to perceive and imagine how the world changes slowly from one environment to another. Nature is presented as almost lifeless in the dead of winter “with dead, brown leaves under them/ leafless vines-/ lifeless in appearance” (Williams 13-15.) This type of imagery presents a broody atmosphere that’s filled with despair and passivity. But everything only appears dead, as the poem transitions into winter, we see that nature has only gone to slumber and is slowly coming to be awakened or reborn. “But now the stark dignity of entrance- Still, the profound change/ has come upon them: rooted they/ grip down and begin to awake” (Williams 24-28.) Nature is presented as a life cycle that continues on and on, unaffected, unchanging to anything else. It is indifferent to everything else; the speaker has no connection to the nature it simply observes this cycle. The speaker can not change nature’s doing as the neighbor’s can’t stop nature in the “Mending Wall.”

In “The Red Wheelbarrow” we see a peaceful relationship between nature and a manmade object. The red wheelbarrow is presented to the reader as neglected and unused object, left out in nature on it’s on. Even though “so much depends” on it, it still left abandoned. In other words, even though it’s serves a purpose in the human world, we do not hold it to value. It has been neglected so long that it has become part of nature itself. “Glazed with rainwater,” nature has made it clean once again and chickens hang out with the wheelbarrow. This shows that even though the wheelbarrow was made by humans, it can still live a harmonious life with nature. In a way, the wheelbarrow is a reflection of the human world. Meaning nature can live harmoniously with humans but humans are the ones that cause the destruction of that relationship.


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