Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 14

Cocozziello 1

Jenna Cocozziello
Dr. Evans
April 26 2015
I shall stop fighting and escape: An Analysis of Anxiety in the Works of Robert Frost and
Elinor Wylie

In Lacanian psychoanalysis theory, the French term jouissance means a pleasure that is
excessive, and which leads to a sense of being overwhelmed or disgusted, yet simultaneously
fascinated by a specific incident. The concept of anxiety and identity in psychoanalysis is
strongly mirrored to the concept of anxiety and identity in poetry, especially in the works of
Robert Frost and Elinor Wylie. This is important because both poets translate loss, injury, fear,
and anxiety into rhythm, manipulation of figures of literature, and ultimately poetry, which
controls the degree to which anxiety can be elaborated, transformed, and understood.
Many of Robert Frosts poems are clear, self-conscious controlled spaces for the
negotiation of anxiety, and are filled with objects such as boundaries, walls, doors, and frames
that demarcate spatial limits (Hinrichsen). In The Wood-Pile, the careful stepping through the
snow-Out walking in-in the opening of the poem serves to emphasize the balance between
order and disorder. The phrase also juxtaposes externality and internality, but is hidden behind
the playful wording of the phrase. This tension is elaborated in the relationship between lines 1
and 2 (Crowley). The first line address itself to a continuous, uniform action in the external
landscape, and the second line is concerned with the existence between the mind and reality. The
speaker has a tremendous amount of emotional uneasiness and distaste in the lines Too much

Cocozziello 2
alike to mark or name a place by / So as to say for certain I was here / Or somewhere else: I was
just far from home (Frost), and the speaker is feeling distressed being surrounded by uniformity.
This emotional anxiety is broken upon seeing a small bird gliding through the trees, and then the
speaker sees a wood-pile and instantly forgets the bird. The bird, his lone companion, was driven
off by a fear that the speaker now sees Carry him off the way I might have gone, / Without so
much as wishing him good-night (Frost). There is an underlying existential crisis of the poem in
some phrases that highlight the order, disorder, presence, and absence, such as I was here and I
might have gone. On another level of its structure, beneath the relaxed surface of the language,
the poem progresses by a systematical series of oppositions, ambiguities, and contrarieties that
might be called Hawthornian (Crowley). "In order to know where we are," Frost has noted, "we
must know opposites." The only stability is that the pile of wood has consolations to offer the
speaker that are against any kind of threat of formlessness and absence of order. It was a cord of
maple, cut and split / And piledand measured, four by four by eight shows the moment of
perception of clarity and completeness instead of a world of disorder. The neatness of the pile is
very linear and expresses clarity rather than being unsure of the world. Energy, form, and
wholeness become one in this counting act of perception, and so the courage and fear have
changed in the speaker into love and meditative forgetfulness. The woodpile is completely
singular, just like the small bird. It is an elaborate and complex symbol of identity and individual
form, as well as solidity and permanency. As soon as the speaker notices this, as well as the
shape and form of the woodpile, he is compelled to notice what is not there: And not another
like it could I see (Frost). While celebrating the magnificence of the linear woodpile, Frost uses

Cocozziello 3
the perception of language to point to a sad sense of how things diminish over time. The
condition of lostness and homelessness is not finally overcome, and in the end the speaker is still
more aware of tensions than of unities: chaos over order. There is a small triumph in knowing
that homelessness has been transformed and now defined as intelligence and love in the process
of growing awareness that the woodpile has come to be. The poem diminishes the distance
between mind and reality through talking about the fear of the forbidding and inscrutable frozen
swamp. Counterbalancing the gradual emergence of clarity and shape in the landscape is the
gradually emerging personality of the speaker: at every stage of the poem, we know the speaker
only to that extent which the speaker himself has come to know and understand the landscape
The Wood-Pile can be compared to Elinor Wylies Wild Peaches and the emotional
anxiety of inheritance, errancy, and escape to confront impulses. Its dramatized anxieties held at
a mild ironic distance strike a modernist note, while its lyricism and traditional prosody would
seem to date it well before those harrowed, unstable years between World War I and the
experimental fertility of the Roaring Twenties (Kimball). Wild peaches themselves are peaches
that have fallen and have been abandoned, much like the human desire to escape from fear and
emotional anxieties. At the beginning of the poem, the lines When the world turns completely
upside down / You say well emigrate to the Eastern Shore / Aboard a river-boat from Baltimore
show the idea of the speaker with a companion relocating somewhere that is deliberate and
romantic. The poem takes an unfortunate turn, and in alluding to Odysseuss adventures, the idea
of moving from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore will be riddled with problems, no matter how
noble the adventure may be. After all, it is his lotus-eating ancestor leading them into the

Cocozziello 4
wilderness, not her ancestors; so at the first sign of dread, her anxiety was mixed with her
devotion. The romantic idea of the couples arrival on a river-boat from Baltimore to live
among the wild peaches is contrasted with the ambiguous upheaval that spurred the lovers desire
to flee. As the poem continues to spill its bounty of sunshine, fruit, and wild game, while hints of
death and violence color the pastoral daydream (Kimball). The rhythm of sound remains,
however the language begins to become darker. In phrases such squirrels in their silver dir will
fall / Like falling leaves, like fruit, before your shot, and well trample bright persimmons,
while you kill / Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvasback, the transition from order to
chaos is strongly realized. Wylies sun is brilliant yet severe, and it burns from copper into
brass, which forestalls a frost, that does not let the winter take hold, but its still foreboding in
the future. The vulnerability of the couple is shown by their inability to farm properly, and their
romantic idea of escape is betrayed. Wylie reiterates that peaches grow wild and pigs can live in
clover, so were reminded that the speaker and her partner are not practiced farmers but huntergatherers amid this untended growth, where strawberries go begging and plums are ripe for
plucking by blackbirds as well as humans (Kimball). The speaker believes she is free, though
uneasy, in this land of wild peaches that shes thought of, but she hasnt even gotten there yet.
She completely visualized her idea of traveling into the wilderness, but the scene is just a
synthesis of Wylies own imagination and memory. The last of the three sonnets of Wild
Peaches lays bare the apprehension of the speaker: Down to the Puritan marrow of my bones /
Theres something in this richness that I hate. Until this moment, the speaker placed herself

Cocozziello 5
entirely in the background, being completely passive to her partners actions and the leisure of
the seasons. The concept of chaos and order, being an observer of the world around the speaker
rather than of her own thoughts and feelings, and her declarations mirror chaos with her terseness
and inability to articulate how she feels about her partner. The emotional distance is shown in her
connection to the aesthetic over spiritual terms in the phrase I love the look, austere,
immaculate, / Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones. The longing for a certain something
struggles to confront and transcend Wylies inheritance in a rapidly changing landscape.
Unlike The Wood-Pile, Frosts poem The Fear fails to find an object or image to
ground anxiety in. The opening scene of the poem, showing a couple in their country home, is
dramatically cinematic in speaking of eerie images, how light evilly refracts and plays off
objects, distorted shadows, and terror within the house. For Frost, anxiety often gathers force by
being mapped onto home and by becoming fixed and entrapped within domestic forms
(Hinrichsen). Here, anxiety is a problem of vision: the couple is seen, but unable to see the
interloper approaching. Also, the individual visions do not coincide, since the wife sees a face in
the darkness, her husband sees nothing, so the lack of conforming visions sets other anxieties off,
and makes the wife press on about her suspicion. In voicing anxiety, The Fear gives tension by
resisting imperatives (Put it away. / / Whats the hurry?), and theres lingering, elliptical
speech that never gets finished or resolved. There is also the language of obligation (should)
and prohibition (mustnt), just like the differences between order and chaos. This dialogic
format of the poem itself creates the effect that the poem is at odds with itself, and articulates
conflicting drives and the fear to face the interloper. This allows anxiety to manifest: And nows

Cocozziello 6
the time to have it out with him / While we know definitely where he is. / Let him get off and
hell be everywhere / Around us, looking out of trees and bushes / Till I shan't dare to set a foot
outdoors (Frost). It is doubly disjointed since the wife argues with her husband as well as calling
out to the interloper, who just repeats the word nothing when asked questions. While the simple
response of nothing should have been reassurance that the threat of rape, bodily harm, robbery,
or death should have dissipated the wifes anxiety, it instead heightened her anxiety. She is
petrified from the anxiety, and Frosts use of the verb looked attests to some excess need or
desire that the actual interloper cannot fulfill, suggesting that the objects the woman has found
for her anxiety arent sufficiently frightening, so her anxiety has nowhere to go (Hinrichsen). The
poem concludes with the image of the wifes stiffened body, which suggests that anxiety falls
between the as if and what actually is: because her anxiety found something, but not something
visible to fear or to ground fear in, so it swelled and froze the woman. The freezing of her body
is the paralyzing force of the excess of anxiety. At the end of the poem, the anxiety spills over:
the lantern swings out of control and shines light upon the woman before going out, so it is seen
that the real source of the anxiety was misapprehended and also unrecognized. Even though the
wife argued with her husband, the anxiety was in the home rather than in their relationship, and
so the loneliness of the country home is echoed in the emotional distance between the couple and
the difficulties they have in communicating.
Elinor Wylies Escape speaks of the anxiety of what the world will become, and her
concept of identity within the world. After being in three stressful and unsuccessful marriages,
Wylie was well accustomed to having to literally escape unfavorable circumstances. Her poem

Cocozziello 7
Escape embraces both ideas of fight and flight, since she herself plans on giving up fighting
and escaping, and the rest of the world has to fight for her. Wylie fell in and out of love several
times in her life, so escaping into a small house that she will build for herself would shield her
against the scandal of marriage.
When foxes eat the last gold grape,
And the last white antelope is killed,
I shall stop fighting and escape
Into a little house I'll build. (Wylie)
In building a fantastical world to surround herself in, the social anxiety she dealt with daily was
gone, but her concept of identity became skewed further. The first stanza of the poem describes a
world that becomes fruitless, much like her failed marriages. Foxes, who are usually deceiving
and sly, eat the last grape, which is described as golden to show how precious the fruit was. The
white antelope is seen as docile and innocent, so the act of killing it shows how the world is
ending. The speaker decides to stop fighting and escape into her own small house, which can be
seen as anxiety itself. Because everything around her is falling apart, the speaker is anxious to
stop fighting and escape so that she could live a sheltered life on her own, free from any fear or
But first I'll shrink to fairy size,
With a whisper no one understands,
Making blind moons of all your eyes,
And muddy roads of all your hands. (Wylie)
In the speakers efforts to escape, she must become small enough so that no one will ever see her,
and the people around her would forget who she truly was. This is where Wylies skewed concept

Cocozziello 8
of identity comes in. She feels that no one understands her and that she is above them, but at the
same time she longs for love and for someone to truly understand her. In Making blind moons of
all your eyes, / And muddy roads of all your hands., Wylie is further pushing herself away from
the rest of the human population and isolating herself so that she doesnt have to deal with their
anxiety. In changing her own identity, the speakers anxiety remains with the people she left
And you may grope for me in vain
In hollows under the mangrove root,
Or where, in apple-scented rain,
The silver wasp-nests hang like fruit. (Wylie)
In the search for her identity and the effort to escape anxiety, the speaker is condescending
toward the rest of the outside world by saying that even though theyll long for her return, she
wont come back. The last three lines of the stanza are very natural, and unlike the first two lines
where nature was being killed off. These last three lines show a rebirth of nature, and thus the
loss of anxiety and the gain of a new identity.
The relationship between anxiety and writing is most prevalent in Robert Frosts poem,
A Considerable Speck, which begins with a poet writing at his desk until his focus breaks when
a mite walks across the page. Even though the poem begins in a light-hearted, joking manner
(This was no dust speck by my breathing blown, / But unmistakably a living mite / With
inclinations it could call its own. (Frost)), the poem takes a disturbing and serious turn that
releases thoughts and anxieties that have been pent-up in the speaker and released in the fact that

Cocozziello 9
a mite is crawling across his paper. The word beneath in the first line sets up a crisis of survival
of the fittest and levels of hierarchy and difference in living things. While the mite could have
inclinations of its own, its unable to do much besides meander across the page. As the poem
progresses and as the mite falters back and forth across the page, we see the animating force
(must) of personification attribute to the mite its own contemplative considering (Hinrichsen),
which gives the poet anxiety. The poet feels strongly connected with the mite in that the mite is
self-conscious, and is able to posses some form of intelligence, fear, and desperation. Ultimately,
the mite parallels the man far too closely, which triggers the poets anxiety of identity even more,
and he has a reassertion of hierarchical difference in the lines It faltered: I could see it hesitate; /
Then in the middle of the open sheet / Cower down in desperation to accept / Whatever I
accorded it of fate, thus showing that the poet is more powerful. The mite again becomes an
item, which echoes the poets anxiety, and the empty line before the last two couplets brings
awareness to the fact that the fate of the mite has been delayed or obstructed. The word mind
plays off of the sound of mine, which shows that the poet is aware of his own self-projection,
but also re-reading the last line as mine instead of mind (how glad I am to find / On a sheet
the least display of min[e] shows the narcissistic pleasure of self-projection. The difference
between revelation and concealment mirrors back to the difference between chaos and order in
that the poet can recognize himself and the anxiety within him, but that no one can change him
or dismantle his thoughts.
The swelling narcissism of Frosts poet in A Considerable Speck can be compared to
Elinor Wylies man in Cold Blooded Creatures. The egotistical man believes that he is the only

Cocozziello 10
person who has the ability to feel for the Earth, but doesn't care for any of the animals or nature
around him. The poem describes an anxiety that Wylie feels for the Earth because of the fact that
so many humans leave nature in a destroyed state without caring.
Of the intolerable load
Which on all living creatures lies,
Nor stoops to pity in the toad
The speechless sorrow of its eyes.

He asks no questions of the snake,

Nor plumbs the phosphorescent gloom
Where lidless fishes, broad awake,
Swim staring at a night-mare doom. (Wylie)
The second and third stanzas bring out this deepening care for nature on Wylies behalf. The
silent animals can only sit and stare at the terror that man causes every day, yet the animals
somehow know that with each destructive move, their ultimate fate is drawing nearer and nearer.
The night-mare doom that the poor fish stare at is death itself, and even though all the animals
in this poem are unable to make a sound, their inner anxiety shows through the descriptive
emptiness they posses in their eyes: the toad has speechless sorrow in its eyes, the fish swim
staring and are lidless. Wylie also knows of the animals inability to change what man is doing
to nature, so its ironic that the physically cold-blooded animals are not the cold blooded
creatures that the title of the poem speaks of. In this case, humans are the cold blooded creatures

Cocozziello 11
in that they do not care about the Earth and will narcissistically identify that they do care in the
face of others.
The poetic jouissance of anxiety and identity in the works of Robert Frost and Elinor
Wylie are shown primarily through the poems The Wood-Pile, Wild Peaches, The Fear,
Escape, A Considerable Speck, and Cold Blooded Creatures. Each poem has a derivation of
anxiety, fear, turmoil, crisis, or loss that group them into a psychoanalytical genre of poetry that
uses rhythm and rhyme to put words to feelings that are, more often than not, very hard to
comprehend. By putting these complex feelings to words, metaphorical phrases, ironic situations,
and paralleled imagism, the depth of feeling is understood and appreciated. While Frost and
Wylie had different approaches as to how they identified with anxiety, both poets poured their
personal anxiety into their works and translated it into something beautiful that can be
understood by many people on a multitude of levels, and at the same time helped to wipe the
anxiety out of their minds.

Cocozziello 12

Crowley, J. Donald. On The Wood-Pile. The Modern American Poetry Site. The Department
of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1973. Web. 17 Apr. 2015. http://

"Elinor Wylie". Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopdia Britannica Online.

Encyclopdia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015

Frost, Robert. A Considerable Speck. PoemHunter. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.


Frost, Robert. The Fear. PoemHunter. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.


Cocozziello 13
Frost, Robert. The Wood-Pile PoemHunter. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.

Hinrichsen, Lisa. A Defensive Eye: Anxiety, Fear, and Form in the Poetry of Robert Frost.
Journal of Modern Literature 31.3 (Spring, 2008) : pp. 44-57. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.

Johnston, Adrian, "Jacques Lacan", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014
Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Web. 17 Apr. 2015.

Kimball, Caitlin. Wild Peaches by Elinor Wylie: Poem Guide. Poetry Foundation. Poetry
Magazine, n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.


Wylie, Elinor. Cold Blooded Creatures." PoemHunter. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2015. 4

Wylie, Elinor. "Escape." PoemHunter. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.


Wylie, Elinor. Wild Peaches. PoemHunter. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.


Cocozziello 14