FROST: A Literary Life Reconsidered by William H. Pritchard

FROST: A Literary Life Reconsidered

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A sensible reappraisal. Pritchard, a professor of English at Amherst (where Frost taught intermittently for many years), is not vying with the scope or detail of Lawrence Thompson's two-volume biography (1965-70). But Thompson saw Frost as a cold, cunning self-promoter, and Pritchard wants to soften that judgment. While acknowledging Frost's intense competitiveness and occasional ruthlessness, he quotes persuasively from his correspondence to demonstrate Frost's considerable humanity: his affectionate encouragement of his would-be poet son, Carol (who nonetheless committed suicide), his heartbreak over the deaths of his daughter Marjorie and his wife Elinor, his extraordinarily candid friendship with Louis Untermeyer. On the critical side, Pritchard aims at something less than the grand thematic surveys of Frost by Reuben Brower and Richard Poirier. Instead he does a rather straight-forward volume-by-volume explication of the poems, stressing the complexity, playfulness, and ambivalence of a style that ""kept back as much as it gave away."" Pritchard faults both the popular image of Frost as our ""goodest greyest"" poet (reading ""Birches"" as a masterpiece and missing the ironies of ""The Road Not Taken"") and overwrought academic interpretations, like Randall Jarrell's discovery of Shakespearean depths in ""Neither Out Far Nor In Deep,"" or Lionel Trilling's saluting Frost as a ""tragic poet"" with a vision of the universe as ""terrifying."" Against critics who rate all of Frost's work after North of Boston (1914) as a falling-off, Pritchard argues that Mountain Interval (1916), New Hampshire (1923), and A Witness Tree (1942) mark an evolution from a narrative and dramatic mode to a lyrical one, and even occasionally to ""light"" verse. Pritchard freely admits that much of Frost's later poetry is minor stuff, that Frost was a compulsive seeker of praise and honors, that he was an unreflecting racist--but sees him as a great artist withal. Solid, careful, convincing--building from Pritchard's Frost portrait in Lives of the Modern Poets (1980).

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press