THE WITNESS TREE, by Robert Frost. Henry Holt, 91 pp. $2.00.
Robert Frost's most recent work will scarcely add to the controversy as to his place in American letters. "The Witness Tree," the author's first publication in six years, gives the impression that Frost considers his work complete and is ready to leave the rough hewn bench for the easy chair of age and reputation.
Slim as it is, the volume appears padded. The lyrics, excepting an occasional piece like "Come In" or "A Young Wretch," seem minor, and occasionally trite. Emphasizing the short line and two-syllable rhyme, poems like "A Considerable Speck" are characterized by occasional flashes of epigrammatic brilliance which, though causing a quick chortle, tend to destroy poetic unity and completeness. In extended form these epigrams frequently become rapid-fire social commentary, and here Frost seems beyond his depth. Knowing the farms and people of New England, he is lost when he strays into the maze of an international industrial society; and the bewildered fear that creeps into poems like "Triple Bronze" is scarcely masked by defiance.
To this reviewer Robert Frost has never seemed the sage for which he has so frequently been taken. His best poems, ranking with any in contemporary American literature, have been those drawn directly from knowledge of the New England scene. In lyrics like "The Colt" or narratives such as "The Death of the Hired Man" there is an unalloyed completeness of sympathy which is lacking when the author turns to broader themes. Though pleasant in its occasional lyrics, too much of this book is composed of brief epigrammatic lessons for the young. From a poet of greater intellectual stature such preachments might be of interest, but agricultural intuition alone cannot cope with the psychological problems of a mechanized society.