Exercise Two: Modeling Robert Frost

It is really no wonder that a couple of generations of poets have come to consider Robert Frost the premier American poet of the 20th Century. His poetry seems to scream "America" in its outward simplicity of language accompanied, often, by a work ethic of craft to be admired. Frost stuck to form while many of his contemporaries were experimenting, creating new schools of poetry like the Imagists, the Modernists, and, later, the Harlem Renaissance, the New York School, and the Beats.

For this exercise, we will consider two of Frost's most famous poems and work at both his form and his attention toward creating a universal theme for his poems. But before we get started, Frost has a host of poems that you simply must read to get a handle on his voice, his landscape, and his overall scope (not to mention knowing these poems will just make you a better person):
  1. The Road Not Taken
  2. The Gift Outright
  3. Home Burial
  4. Christmas Trees
  5. "Out, out - "
  6. Mending Wall
  7. After Apple-Picking
  8. Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening
The first poem we will work with is one most people now know from the movie The Outsiders:

Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Step One
We have to first recognize and plot out Frost's form by scanning the lines. Here he is using rhyming couplets, each with an iambic trimeter, so these are very, very tight lines. His rhyme scheme is aabbccdd, so each couplet is a unique rhyme. Now that we know this, we know that we are going to have to have four rhymes and we have to construct the very short trimeter (three foot) lines.

Step Two
We have to decide on our "bigger picture" or the moral. Frost's poems strive towards using a small moment to speak of something much bigger; it is easier to choose the big idea first and then think of a small moment that might take you into the direction of the big idea.

For example, Frost's big idea here is about how quickly the good times fade. Perhaps the idea of fading made him think of color fading and, we can imagine, the jump from color to leaves (for a guy who grew up on the East Coast where leaves actually change color... unlike here in California) was only logical.

Step Three
Try the rhyming couplets a few times, and then try to mix up the rhyme scheme. Our second Frost poem for this exercise is a demonstration of how Frost takes his lessons from form but creates an entirely new rhyming pattern and form...

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost

A     Some say the world will end in fire,
B     Some say in ice.
A     From what I’ve tasted of desire
A     I hold with those who favor fire.
B     But if it had to perish twice,
C     I think I know enough of hate
B     To say that for destruction ice
C     Is also great
B     And would suffice. 
Not only has Frost created a new rhyme scheme, but he is also "breaking" the rules by creating a stanza that has an odd number of lines and a mix of feet per line. However, he is still using form - meter and rhyme - and he is still making his universal point.

Step Four
Like Frost, you'll take your cue from form, but you'll break off on your own - create a unique rhyme pattern and mix up your foot counts in your lines. Your poem can be as many stanzas as you like, but you should at least shoot for one stanza of at least ten lines (but why not eleven? or thirteen?)

To write like Frost, it is important for you to take the everyday and ordinary and elevate it - every detail literally can mean the world to Frost... as it should to every poet (that's your platitude for the day!).