The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

November 15, 2018

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Frost, Robert
Peter J. Stanlis - 03/11/11

Frost not only refused to write propaganda, he satirized the very premises of New Deal programs. He showed contempt for Roosevelt’s “brain trust,” calling it “the guild of social planners.” He attacked New Deal egalitarianism as a violation of justice between men in favor of mass mercy for the poor. He feared that egalitarianism would result in “a homogenized society,” that compulsory benevolence would weaken and possibly destroy individual freedom. Frost clearly opposed everything and everybody that made persons rely more than was necessary upon somebody or something other than their own resources, integrity, and courage.

Frost’s conservative religious, moral, and political convictions are most evident in his poems “The Death of the Hired Man,” “A Masque of Reason,” and “A Masque of Mercy,” which explore the complex issues in what he called “the justice-mercy contradiction.” In “The Black Cottage,” Frost celebrated the ancient and recurring truths embedded in custom and tradition. He satirized the self-righteous spirit and social sensibility of modern collectivism in “A Considerable Speck.” He described the archetypal American ideological revolutionary in “A Case for Jefferson.” In “Build Soil: A Political Pastoral,” Frost not only attacked the farm policies of the New Deal, but extended poetry’s pastoral tradition into politics. “To a Thinker” is at once an ironic portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt and a philosophical probing of the genius for willful self-deception of all politicians ambitious to play God. “A Lone Striker” is a criticism of industrial regimentation and an assertion of individual freedom and integrity. “New Hampshire” and “The Lesson for Today” are reflective poems on his general philosophy. “New Hampshire” celebrates individual self-sufficiency and pride in provincial and rural life and manners. “The Lesson for Today,” in imitation of Horace, shows how the nature of man remains basically the same throughout history, so that “One age is like another for the soul,” contrary to the ideology of progress.

In all of these poems, the subjects and themes are means to Frost’s artistic ends. His poems on politics are not merely “vehicles of grievances” against the centralized state. Politics was for him simply a metaphor through which he dealt with far greater issues of culture and philosophy, such as the nature of man, the moral order of society, individual freedom and self-fulfillment, and the justice and mercy that transcend politics in the great “griefs” that afflict humanity.

Further Reading
  • Frost, Robert Lee. Selected Poems. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1938.
  • ———. Selected Poems. Edited by Hyde Cox and Edward Connery Lathem. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1949.
  • Lentricchia, Frank. Robert Frost: Modern Poetics and the Landscape of Self. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1975.
  • Lynen, John F. The Pastoral Art of Robert Frost. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1967.
  • Stanlis, Peter J. Robert Frost: The Individual and Society. Rockford, Ill.: Rockford College Press, 1973.
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