Robert Frost: Transformed The Shakespearean Sonnet And Made It His Own
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A multitude of nineteenth century American writers have aimed to master the art of the sonnet and achieve the staying power and meaning associated with the Shakespearean sonnet. One writer who was able to accomplish this feat was Robert Frost. However, in the case of poetry today, the definition of a true sonnet lies in the eyes of the beholder, for Robert Frost engaged great flexibility in the writing of his sonnets and stretched the form of Shakespearean sonnets new limits creating a unique style and form of his own. The following will display to what length Robert Frost deviates from the form of the Shakespearean sonnet in his poem “The Oven Bird”:

THERE is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
The structure of the Shakespearean sonnet is traditionally comprised of 3 quatrains and a couplet with the rhyme scheme being abab cdcd efef gg. In doing this Shakespeare utilized a deliberate pattern and symmetry in the lines that he wrote. Conversely, Robert Frost is much more liberal in his idea of “pattern.” A quick look at the rhyme scheme of “The Oven Bird” does leave the reader with the feeling that the rhyme scheme is sporadic in nature but analysis of the lines structurally and syntactically indicates a refined structure and linkage between all of his lines. He opens his poem with couplet aa followed by an unexpected bcb. These two sections are linked through medial rhyme and by the fact that aab are apart of one sentence while the cb lines that follow are a sentence themselves. The next three lines are dcd and are linked to the lines that precede them through rhyme and are also linked to the two lines that come directly after, couplet ee, by syntax. Furthermore, the couplets aa and ee both serve the purpose of introducing the reader to two concepts of the poem. These concepts are the introduction of the bird in aa and the introduction of what could be interpreted as two illustrious

failures of humanity in ee. The reference to “fall” in line 9 could represent the greatest of all falls, the fall from paradise and line 10 references the continuing fall of humanity as it technologically destroys the world it lives on. In addition, the last four lines fgfg are two sentences on their own and are only linked to the rest of the sonnet through theme and context. In spite of this, these sentences in lines 11-14 can be seen as two ending couplets. This suggests that line 11 and 12 serve as the starting of Frosts main point whereby 13 and 14 serve to make the point complete. As a result, although the lines of Shakespeares sonnets and Frosts sonnets can both be said to have unanimity, the way by which each went about to create meter, rhyme and meaning were exceedingly dissimilar. Moreover, the specific use of plain language on the part of Frost, very much unlike Shakespeares use of intricate proper English that was customary for his time, adds to the meter and the ease to which “The Oven Bird” is read.

The precision of Shakespeares meter is due to the fact that in his sonnets he consciously maneuvered his words to form a line of ten syllables, five of them stressed and five of them unstressed, which means that the majority of his sonnets are in perfect iambic pentameter. Only some variations of iambic pentameter in his sonnets exist but it is mostly due to difference of opinion. Robert Frost opted not to restrain his poems to being in perfect iambic pentameter. Nonetheless, several of his lines contain ten syllables but the words that he chooses to stress and unstress are left solely up to the uniqueness of his imagination. First of all, Frost makes the syllable count in lines 4 and 7 irregular accentuating the “ers” in the words “flowers” and “showers.” This simple addition of a syllable could be used by Frost to focus the reader on the theme of failure and mistakes

by humans that he is trying to convey throughout the poem. The only other example of line irregularity can be seen in the closing couplet. Here the lines can either be scanned as two iambs and two anapests or as two iambs, a pyrrhic and another two iambs. Either way, the scansion would indicate that the lines have only four stressed syllables. Like the context of the couplet, the lines themselves are also diminished.

The structure alone is not what sets Frost apart from the example of Shakespearean sonnets, the meaning infused in the context of “The Oven Bird” acutely displays areas of thought Shakespeare would

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Shakespearean Sonnet And Robert Frost. (April 3, 2021). Retrieved from