The Wisdom of Frost Exposed in The Oven Bird
These seemingly negligible birds, symbols of the lyric voice, have intuited the Oven Bird's lesson and are the signs by which one is meant to divine Frost's acceptance of the linguistic implications of the fall from innocence. The Oven Bird, who watching "That other fall we name the fall" come to cover the world with dust, "Knows in singing not to sing." Instead, "The question that he frames in all but words / Is what to make of a diminished thing." The fall, in necessitating both birth and death, imposes a continuum of identity that compromises naming. The process toward death, begun with birth, transmutes and gradually diminishes form, thus adding to the equation - words are things before they become words and things again when they do - an element of inevitable, perpetual senescence. The birds of "A Winter Eden" say "which buds are leaf and which are bloom," but the names are always premature or too late: gold goes to green, dawn to day, everything rises and falls and is transformed. Thus the Oven Bird says, "Midsummer is to spring as one to ten," because a season - this or any other - may only be codified analogously. "Fall" takes on a series of identities: petal fall, the fall season, the first and fortunate fall, each of which bears, at the moment of articulation, the burden of a whole complex of moral, aesthetic, and literary valuations. This bird is a "midsummer and a midwood bird" that sees things at the moment of capitulation to the imperatives of fall. Loud, he predicts the inevitable, and his "language" reflects the potential meaninglessness of a world in which one is forced to define a thing by what it departs from or approaches rather than what it "is." To...
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... ice are, after all, the inextricable complementarities of one apocalyptic vision: that endlessly regenerative cycle of desire and (self) hatred that necessarily brings the productive poet to scourge his own voice as he mocks both the poetic vocation and the state to which poetry - and if poetry then all language - has come. Frost anticipates modernism's lament and, it may be said, prefigures in his dualism its dubious palliative of self-referential irony. The lyric birds and the weary speakers tell us the genuine Frostian wisdom of achieving a commonsensical accommodation with the fallen world, while inciting at another, and ineffable, level a profound disquiet.
Robert Frost and a Poetic of Appetite. Cambridge University Press. 1994
"Robert Frost" in The Columbia History of American Poetry. Ed. Jay Parini. Columbia University Press. 1997