The Hidden Depths in Robert Frost.

Author:Suarez, Ernest

Robert Frost: The Poet as Philosopher, by Peter J. Stanlis. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2007. 350 pp. $28 cloth. $18 paper.

Peter J. Stanlis contends that Robert Frost's dualistic, "unsystematic philosophical view of reality" is the "foremost single element that scholars and literary critics need to consider in any study of his life and thought, including the themes of his poetry" (1). This assertion is, arguably, an overstatement, but, as for many Frost scholars, Stanlis's bet noir is Frost's official biographer, Lawrance Thompson, who "should have understood Frost well from all the sources available to him," but whose account of Frost represents an "almost inverse ratio between the facts of Frost's life, poetry, and talk and Thompson's understanding of them" (9). Thompson, and other "critics whose beliefs are centered in an optimistic monism," failed to "comprehend Frost's dualism," and often interpreted the bard's life and art through the lens of "abnormal psychology," resulting in "character assassination" and "severe misinterpretation of his work" (11). Stanlis wants to correct these alleged distortions. It is unlikely that his study will have a significant influence on biographical studies of Frost, which will continue to focus on actions and human relationships, but it will have a noteworthy impact on examinations of his poetry, which is the fundamental reason readers are interested in Frost.

Over a long and accomplished career, Peter J. Stanlis has often worked at the intersection of literature, philosophy, and political philosophy, and this emphasis is evident in Robert Frost: The Poet as Philosopher, a study that explores Frost's relationship to developments in the sciences, the humanities, and politics from the age of Charles Darwin to the time of John F. Kennedy's presidency. Stanlis met Frost at the Bread Loaf Summer School in 1939, and maintained a friendship with him until the poet died in 1963. As Timothy Steele points out in the book's introduction, unlike other major poets--Yeats, Stevens, Pound, Williams, Eliot--Frost wrote scant criticism and engaged in little "formal self-commentary" (i), making systematic study of his thought difficult. Stanlis makes up for this limitation by relying on "records of private talks with the poet, interviews, and comments made by Frost during his poetry readings," a tactic with potential pitfalls, but which works surprisingly well. Stanlis claims that from "around 1913 until Robert Frost's death in January 1963, almost everyone who knew him personally agreed that he was among the most brilliant, provocative, learned, and original conversationalists of the twentieth century" (xi). The list of Frost's interlocutors is impressive, and includes John...

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