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 it...
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... he holds on to the romantic notion that nature reflects the human experience. Where Emerson says, "I am nothing. I see all" (1109), Frost would say, "I am nothing. I see nothing." Therefore, in "The Oven Bird," Frost reconstructs the romantic perspective of the nature image by removing the romantic ideals of immortal beauty and spirituality that are associated with the perspective, and imposing the modernist zeitgeist upon this traditionally romantic subject.
Frost, Robert. "The Oven Bird." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume D.
Ed. Nina Baym. New York, London: Norton, 2003. 1188.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume B.
Ed. Nina Baym. New York, London: Norton, 2003. 1106-1134.
"Oven-Bird." Birds of Eastern North America. 17 November 2003.
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