In Robert Frost’s Visionary Gift: Mining and Minding the Wonder of Unexpected Supply, William F. Zak provides groundbreaking analysis of well over one hundred of Frost’s lyrics, considering each poem as an interrelated portion of the poet’s overarching “constellation of intention.” Beyond biography, this book offers extended, close readings of Frost’s oeuvre, building its case incrementally from deftly examined particulars.
Zak discusses how the pastoral mode Frost adopts is no depleted, homespun idiom retreating from modernism’s complexities, but a self-conscious determination to assume the prophetic mantle from his predecessors (Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Emerson, and Thoreau). Frost’s version of pastoral represents no escape from life’s stresses, but the most constructive and life-sustaining means to address life’s struggles “head on”—in both sense of that last phrase’”.
This book makes a case for Frost as America’s preeminent philosophical poet. The unfortunate effect of Frost’s early detractors’ claim that he was merely an ironic and equivocal anecdotalist has for too long relegated his work to the second tier of the modernist poetic pantheon. This study, by contrast, supports Robert Graves’ claim for Frost as the “first American poet who could be honestly reckoned a master poet by world standards.”
William F. Zak is retired professor of English at Salisbury University.
List of Abbreviations
Chapter One: The Certain Height of Frost’s Visionary Elevations
Chapter Two: The Poet on the Reach of Intellection: Toughminded Tenderheartedness
Chapter Three: The Limits of Intellection, Part Two: Techne, Methe, and Theoria vs. Sophia’s Sacred Dance of Contraries
Chapter Four: Without Prejudice to Industry: the Fatuity of Life at Hard Labor
Chapter Five: The Poet, His Public, and the Call to Responsiveness
Chapter Six: The Occluded Dynamics of Dissociation in North of Boston
Chapter Seven: Mankind’s Dual Destiny: Subject in and Subject to Nature
Chapter Eight: The Bound-less Need of Being: Versed in Country Things
In Robert Frost’s Visionary Gift: The Wonder of Unexpected Supply, William F. Zak, a notable Shakespeare scholar in his own right, locates the source of Frost’s poetic gifts in a habit of mind akin to John Keats’ idea of “Negative Capability." In this refreshingly unsystematic book, Zak celebrates Robert Frost as a “figure of the will braving alien entanglements” and skillfully demonstrates that for Frost, a state of uncertainty, rather than serving as a cause of modern spiritual malaise, instead provides the poet with endless opportunities to contemplate the deepest mysteries of life without ever resorting to the easy consolations of organized religion or ossifying philosophies. Zak argues that Frost is a poet who fashioned his career out of “a modestly mindful state of being in being, ever wondering about wonder itself.” In doing so, Zak also reminds us that Frost’s poetic technique provides all of us with an exemplary method for how we too might brave our own alien entanglements, and for this lesson, I am very grateful.