Frost & Dickinson Playing with Poetry Robert Frost has conflicting views on Emily Dickinson. He loved her "technical irregularities," but often felt they were careless. He thought she gave up too easily and did not try hard enough to make her poetry an art form. He disliked that her meter was not always consistent and that many of her poems used near rhyme (a form of rhyme in which the sounds are almost, but not exactly alike).
Though he disliked what she did, he respected Dickinson greatly for doing it. While admiring how Dickinson played with the technical and grammatical aspects of poetry, Frost tended to follow the rules more closely. When Frost did not use rhyme, it was because he was writing in blank verse, which consists of unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter. Many of his poems were written in blank verse, including "Birches,"Mending Wall," and "Home Burial." Frost was consistent with his use of the rules, while Dickinson was not; she bent and even occasionally broke the rules wherever she felt it was necessary. Dickinson often put extra syllables into her metered poems, used slant rhyme (rhyme that is partial or imperfect), and did not follow the rules of capitalization. An example of this is in her poem "A loss of something ever felt I-" in which she used capitals to draw attention to certain words.
She also consciously omitted capitals in the title and other unexpected places. Dickinson used slant rhyme in lines 10 and 12. The slant rhyme in "A loss of something ever felt I-" is is and palaces, and uses consonance to make them rhyme. Frost occasionally used slant rhymes, as in lines 17 and 20 of "The Road Not Taken." In this poem the slant rhyme is hence and difference. In order to make this rhyme work, one must read difference as a three-syllable word, which gives the meter in that line an extra syllable. Frost did not usually put extra syllables in his poems, and did not add capital letters in the middle of his lines of poetry.
Many of Dickinson's poems do not follow any form or pattern. She wrote them in free verse with no rhymes and varying meter. Frost normally wrote in blank verse, but occasionally wrote his poems without following a preset poetic form. He did this in "A Girl's Garden, "in which he did not use set meter and rhyme as poetic forms like sonnets and ballads do. Even in writing without following the rules of a preset form, Frost still felt the need to use rhymes and a meter that were relatively constant, off by only a few syllables in each line. Dickinson also put dashes everywhere, as she did in "The Wind begun to knead the Grass," which has a dash at the end of every line.
Frost occasionally used dashes in his poems, but not anywhere near to the extent in which Dickinson used them. Frost admired Dickinson's ability to convey a complete thought or emotion using few words, and having each word relate not only to the surface meaning, but also to the latent meaning of the poem. While nearly all Dickinson's poems are less than 20 lines, with only a few going above fifty lines, Frost's poems are frequently forty to fifty lines long, with some more than a hundred lines. Frost also admired Dickinson's doggedness, the fact that she never got sidetracked. Her poems were always short, concise, and to the point, while still allowing one to understand where she was coming from. Frost managed to do this, but usually in a few more lines than it took Dickinson.
While Frost liked Dickinson's liberality, the freedom she felt to disregard the rules of poetry and grammar, he felt that she often went too far. He also loved Emily's love of playing with poems, her obvious joy at getting her thoughts and emotions down without having to fit it to a perfect form. This is evident in her poem "To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee"- To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery. The revery alone will do, If bees are few. In this poem there is no consistent meter or rhyme, but it invites you to reread it and ponder its meaning.
He felt that she wrote many of her poems intending to revise them later. Frost rarely broke conventions. He felt obligated to follow the rules of poetry and not step outside the lines. Dickinson never worried about the lines; when she wrote a poem the "meter and rhyme [had to] take care of itself" (Frost 318).
Dickinson often rearranged the order of the words in her poems to make them fit the meter. Frost did not do this because he felt that good grammar, regular structure and rhyme were important. He followed the rules of poetry closely. When he wrote a sonnet, it consisted of an octave and a sestet, with either a Petrarchan rhyme scheme or a Shakespearean rhyme scheme.
The last two lines were always couplets that gave some wisdom that could be taken on its own without needing the rest of the poem to support it. Although Frost was constantly attracted to Dickinson's poetry because of the element of play in her poems, he still strictly adhered to the rules of poetry. His poems are written in iambic pentameter, giving five beats per line. Using iambic pentameter gives his poems a flow and resonance that are pleasing to the ear.
Because of his adherence to the rules, his poems are often taken more seriously. Dickinson's playful approach to poetry and her disregard of regular structure and rhymes gave her poems a sometimes riddle-like effect. Because of this, she is often thought of in lower regard than the more serious Frost. Frost felt that Dickinson's "mischief with poetic form was an indication that she was serious about what she was saying and would bend conventions to get it said" (Keller 317). He also felt that she was having a good time trying to get it said. He loved that she was "at play" with her poems, and clearly enjoyed writing them.
Frost was envious of Dickinson's carefree energy, of how she went "right to the point and [said] what she thought and felt, "without trying to fit it to a form and rhyme. Although he was envious of how she played freely with forms and rhymes, Frost also felt that Dickinson went overboard a lot. Frost did not always like what Dickinson did, but he certainly admired her for it. He felt she was a true poet, for if a poet is "too sincere to play," that poet, in Frost's eyes, is a fraud.