Craig Werner's Reviews > Mountain Interval
by Robert Frost
by Robert Frost
My favorite piece in Frost's third volume of poetry, "The Oven-Bird" frames the question that echoes through almost all of his best work: "What to make of a diminished thing?" Published in 1916, MI is suffused with a sense that an "old rural America" (which Frost usually knows better than to sentimentalize) is giving way to a new order predicated on mechanization (see "The Telephone" and "Line Gang" for his worries about changes in communication technology) and war ("The Bonfire," "Range-Finding"). None of those rank with the best work in the volume, but they reflect a deep uneasiness that suffuses the masterpieces like "An Old Man's Winter Night," "Out, Out--" and "Birches," which generations of high school teachers have utterly failed to domesticate. As was the case with my reading of MI's immediate predecessor, North of Boston, the real surprises for me where the long narrative poems "In the Home Stretch" and "Snow," neither of which I remember having read before. Written in the iambic pentameter blank verse (the basic meter of about 80% of Frost's best work), they have the suggestiveness and punch of good short stories. The weaker poems in the volume are characterized by one or both of Frost's ongoing weaknesses: rhyme schemes which interfere with his vernacular rhythms without offering anything special in return; and a tendency towards avuncular philosophizing (of precisely the sort his sharper poems undercut). I'll also put in a good word for the suite "The Hill Wife" and mention that this marks the first appearance of "The Road Not Taken," which generations of high school teachers have pretty much managed to domesticate. On to New Hampshire....
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