Philosophies in West-Running Brook and Meditation 17
No matter the elaborate chicanery afforded its disclosure or evasion, the subject of death relentlessly permeates the minds of men. Death and its cyclical, definitive nature connects all humans to one another. Robert Frost in "West-Running Brook" and John Donne in "Meditation 17" provoke a universal reexamination of the relationship between life and death. While both authors metaphorically represent this relationship, the former assumes a pessimistic approach by negating any correlation between the two, whereas the latter, voicing man’s dependence on G-d, optimistically surmises the crossover a restoration of our natural haven.
Frost utilizes "West-Running Brook" as a catalyst towards an insightful philosophy comparing human existence to a west-running brook. The westward direction of the brook informs the reader of the poem’s focus on death due to the inherent archetypal associations between death and the sunset, which occurs in the west. "Running" and a stylistically choppy sentence structure convey the poet’s belief in the rapid and ephemeral pace of life. Repetition of the phrase "runs away" ("it runs away, it seriously sadly runs away") serves as a constant reminder of this transient aspect of life while adding an element of despair and loneliness. "The Frostian consciousness normally resides in the time-space continuum, and finds it extremely difficult to move behind or beyond…while remaining drenched in skepticism(Hart 442)." "What all this comes to is a detachment which in its cultural context is a poetry of isolationism(Traschen 63)." Frost’s isolation accosts the reader who cannot help but to sympathize and possibly empathize with his situation. Frost’s initial command, to "get back to the beginning of beginnings," and the reference to the opinions of "some" draw the reader into his world. "To read Frost’s great poetry is to share in the pursuit of a profound vision of human life(Kemp 235)." Frost enables a common transition from previous held beliefs to, if possible, a more skeptical view about the purpose of life.
Frost selects "brook" as a metaphor for existence throughout the poem in order to justify life’s continuos flow "between us, over us, and with us" as well as to imply nature’s eternal cycle. "Metaphorical indirection gives way to explicit generalizations(Ogilvie 73)." Once again, Frost facilitates the reader’s comprehension of his philosophy and, ironically, sense of belonging through the use of "us" by what Elaine Barry refers to as "the ideas presented through the richer and subtler techniques of metaphor…[that] are less abstract and moralistic [and] are more human and practical(108)." He establishes life and death as a common denominator for society as he emphasizes repeatedly "its flow" all around "us" which seemingly veers away from an isolationist’s view. Frost feels existence "is time, strength, tone, light, life, and love," words which...