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FROST, ROBERT [LEE]

FROST, ROBERT [LEE] (1874–1963). Though Robert Frost was not a
nautical writer, he did treat the sea as a subject in several poems. Best known
among these are “Once by the Pacific” (1926), “Neither Out Far nor in
Deep” (1934), and “Sand Dunes” (1926), and they also include “The Discovery of the Madeiras” (1949), “Does No One at All Ever Feel This Way
in the Least?” (1952), “America Is Hard to See” (1951). These poems, to
one degree or another, take iconoclastic views of famous seafarers and, most
significantly, of the sea itself, contesting or denying its often exalted, revered,
or feared properties. “America Is Hard to See” faults Christopher Columbus* for his bad navigation; “Sand Dunes” claims that despite the sea’s
sinking of ships and then transforming itself into dunes so as to destroy
habitations, human beings will only be freed thereby to think more largely,
more freely.
In “Neither Out Far nor in Deep” those on the beach all look at the sea,
turning their backs on the land on which they rest. Frost seems to imply a
critique of the tradition of looking for deep meanings in the sea, which, in
this poem, is obscure and dull. Also antitraditional is “Once by the Pacific,”
in which a sea-gazer stands on shore contemplating the approach of a violent
storm on the ironically named ocean and seems to believe in its apocalyptic
possibilities. Frost undercuts the apparent connection between the sea storm
and God’s wrath, however, by having the speaker reiterate that it “looked”
as if the storm was to be seen this way. In addition, the voice in the poem
distances itself from the meanings it has evoked by saying that “Someone”
(implicitly not the speaker) had better get ready for the putative coming
end. Both these poems undercut the notion that the sea can mean or reveal
very much to us—though many, if not most, continue to look to it for
transcendent meaning.
Frost’s poems involving the sea all speak with the voices of landlubbers.
His speakers never go to sea, though they imagine activities conducted
there. Whether he is expressing an ironic version of Teiresias’ advice to
Odysseus to put an oar on his shoulder and travel inland until the oar is
mistaken for a winnowing fan (“Does No One . . .”) or saying that a storm
from the east evokes thoughts of the antediluvian sea (“A Line-Storm Song” [1913]), where human meaning is concerned, for Robert Frost, Earth is
earth.