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Robert Frost's The Oven Bird Essay

1712 words - 7 pages

Robert Frost's The Oven Bird

In his 1916 poem "The Oven Bird" (Baym, Vol. D 1188), Robert Frost chooses a title that presents a single, natural image of a particular species of bird. The title not only identifies this "mid-summer and...mid-wood" bird as the "singer everyone has heard" in the first line, it also establishes the "nature image" as a main theme in the poem. The bird's song presents images of "solid tree trunks," "flowers," and "pear and cherry bloom," while imposing its individual voice on the landscape. This motif is a defining characteristic of many romantic writers, including the transcendental writers of the nineteenth century American Romantic period. In his little book Nature, Emerson writes, "I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty....In the tranquil landscape...man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature....Nature always wears the colors of the spirit" (Baym, Vol. B 1108, 1109). Emerson endows nature with everlasting life, beauty, and passion. Therefore, he feels that he (and everyone else) can realize and experience the beauty of human existence by immersing himself in the landscape. And, like the oven bird, he imposes himself on the landscape through his individual essence (in Emerson's case his spirit).

Despite the initial parallels with the Emersonian persona, the bird's song takes life and beauty away from the natural images that it describes, denying the immortal quality of nature. In "The Oven Bird," several natural images, traditionally symbolizing strength and beauty, construct a romantic landscape. But, these images are individually deconstructed, leaving the natural scene as a whole barren and hollow. Frost crafts a poem that is dependant on nature for both its subject and its themes, while also defying the traditional romantic perception of nature and thereby redefining the characteristics of the nature image and delineating his own capacity as a modernist nature poet.

Frost specifically chooses the oven bird as his singer to establish a connection between the poet and the bird. During the nesting season, the oven bird inhabits Eastern-North America, including the New England countryside with which Frost is associated. His choice of a specific species is also important because of the more general correlation he creates between the song of a bird and the verse of a poet. By separating the singer in his poem from the many other types of songbirds, he gives the oven bird in the poem a unique voice with which to frame his song. Frost uses the unique song as a metaphor for his own poetry in order to separate himself from the romantic notions associated with other writers of nature poetry, while also distinguishing his own modernist views on nature.

Frost also uses the form of the poem to establish himself as a nature poet. He encloses the subject of nature inside the traditional sonnet form, connecting himself to one of the foremost nature poets, Wordsworth. While he uses the same form and...

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