A FURTHER RANGE By Robert Frost. Henry Holt & Co. $2.50
Robert Frost is said to possess an integrity all his own, one which has not yielded to the variations of present-day movements in poetry. This is true. It comes of his having a metaphysic of sorts. He believes, for instance, in an intrinsic difference between the intelligence of a man and an animal, doubting if a monkey will ever come "within a million years of an idea." He also is not exactly set against the idea of an after life. On this point he avers: "There may be little or much beyond the grave, but the strong are saying nothing until they see." Such a remark passes, as it were, for humility.
Frost also possesses a meager but very definite set of moral standards. He believes in work, thrift, in doing one's duty, in keeping one's peace, in minding one's business. "I can't help owning the great relief it would be to put these people out of their pain," he says of the city tourists who gather around the country roadside stands and infect the simple rural folk with their nervous ways of living. But he adds promptly: "I wonder how I should like you to come to me and offer to put me gently out of my pain." Such a remark passes, as it were, for charity.
Nevertheless, in the cramped world of those few certitudes which his mind allows him Robert Frost works with an unquestionable talent. His economy of expression and his ability to handle an intensely dramatic situation with a swift, apposite, home-spun phrase arouses one's admiration and exacts one's praise.
Frost is native neither to the White nor the Green Mountains, coming originally from California. But he passes for a Yankee and seems to take pleasure in being identified with the laconic, iron-shrewd characters he interprets. It is hard to believe that he chops nearly as much wood as he pretends to, or that cows, hens, and barnyards are his chief loves. He has been known to enjoy the tea life of social England and is at present a professor of poetry in a college. But this does not in the least detract from his quality as an artist. His poems are authentic because the people he treats of, while inarticulate themselves and unconscious to a great degree of their own dramatic value, are skilfully interpreted by this stranger and friend in their midst.
There is evidence in A Further Range that Robert Frost is in danger of mistaking his own powers. His Build Soil—A Political Pastoral is exceptionally bad. He is an artist, and only that, capable of reproducing in authentic accent the voice of a Vermonter in such a poem as Voice Ways.
His is not a wit, and his ten epigrams inserted in this collection are not successful. Neither is he capable of enunciating successfully an economic philosophy.