Due to the popular misperception of Robert Frost (1874–1963) as a “court” or “presidential” poet, critics have largely failed to acknowledge his lifelong preoccupation with the notion of treason as sometimes a commendable act. As a result, we do not understand adequately the intellectual roots of his ambivalent adherence to the poetic form and of his special kind of irony.
By analyzing his numerous remarks on treason and some of the many books he read on political traitors, one can develop a whole typology of loyalists and renegades crowding his imagination. These types mark out Frost’s field of reflection on the question of excessive belonging to both the state and the poem. The essay reconstructs the poet’s understanding of the political and psychological profiles of Aaron Burr, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Benedict Arnold, and Shakespeare’s Brutus. If Frost was disgusted with the shallowness of Burr and the overly rigid loyalism of Lee, he was also entirely taken with the various modes of disloyalty or betrayal exemplified by the other three figures. These five profiles shed light on some of the more difficult motifs of his imagination and, most importantly, on his tonal reserve, as is shown on the example of his poem “The Pasture.”