Robert Frost and “Waterfront” by Roo Borson truly do explore similar subject matter, yet in entirely distinct manners. The different approach that each author takes is apparent in their differing uses of tone, structure, imagery, language and point-of-view.
Robert Frost’s poem “Neither Out Far Nor in Deep” has a distinctive rhythm which is contained and deliberate. The rhythm of the poem seeks to emulate the rhythmic slapping sounds of the ocean water and the waves. For example, this device is apparent in all the stanzas, though in particularly the following stanza: “As long as it takes to pass/A ship keeps raising its hull;/The wetter ground like glass/Reflects a standing gull” (Frost). The lines are neat and contained and there is a strong rhyme to the end of each line, creating a staccato effect.
The opposite is the case when it comes to the poem “Waterfront” by Roo Borson. The rhythm that pervades through this poem is much less contained and much more languorous. Consider the following lines of the poem: “They only care about fish. They yell to one another down the beach / as if this were their ocean. Meanwhile, / ignorant, the smelts plod onto the nets” (Borson, 461). There is a much more plodding sensation when it comes to the way this poem is written. In this manner there really is a pervasive feeling of people lounging on the beach in juxtaposition with the fishermen working.
Another distinction between the two poems and poets is that Frost’s poem creates a more impersonal playing field, whereas Borson’s poem is more sensuous. This distinction is apparent in the opening stanza of Frost’s poem: “The people along the sand/All turn and look one way./They turn their back on the land./They look at the sea all day” (Frost). In this fashion, Frost creates very deliberate imagery of people standing with their backs to the reader: there’s a sense of anonymity, of being surrounded by strangers. In this sense, Frost creates this lack of intimacy, and an idea of the individual communing with the ocean. By turning their backs on the land, these people are more interested in what is going on with all things nautical.
Borson immediately creates a strikingly different atmosphere and vibration, fostering a sense of all things sensuous, and intimate. This is vividly created in the following opening lines: “The women’s bodies lying in the sand are curved like shells. The men can’t take their eyes off them. The seawater spangles like a drink of champagne / but the fisherman don’t see it that way” (Borson, 461). Borson develops very sensuous imagery of bodies and people: the idea of women’s bodies just lying in the sand are somewhat objectified in their comparison to seashells. At the same time, the comparison is complimentary, as the women are being connected to items which are extensions of the ocean, and in this comparison they become oceanic themselves (Borson, 461). Thus, Borson is able to sensuously and seductively blur the line between these two elements. Borson adds to this sense of languor by comparing the seawater to champagne — it creates an atmosphere of elitism and celebration, along with a sense of uproariness. Borson then juxtaposes this cavalier environment with the fishermen who are immune to this sensation, and mostly focused on their work.
On the other hand, with the Frost poem, the ocean is used more strongly as a device to create a sense of denial inherent in human behavior. Frost conveys this repeated imagery of human beings looking at the sea and thus turning their backs on land. This is very apparent in the following stanza: “the land may vary more;/
But wherever the truth may be — /The water comes ashore,/And the people look at the sea” (Frost). The sense of turning from not only the life contained on land, but the truth as well is presented. In this sense, Frost’s poem is in away a condemnation of people and of human nature.
Thus, while Frost and Borson’s poems do both explore a comparable subject matter, the different authors create different worlds in their poems, and with those worlds, very differing overall messages. Frost’s poem creates a greater sense of rhythm which mimics the rhythmic sound of the sea, but which orbits in a more anonymous, contemplative space. Borson’s poem is more strongly characterized by languor and the juxtaposition of highly distinct images.
Frost, R. (2003). Neither Out Far Nor In Deep. Retrieved from poemhunter.com: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/neither-out-far-nor-in-deep/
Geddes, G. (2001). 15 Canadian Poets x 3. Ontario: Oxford University Press.
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