Robert Frost Poetry
Born on the day of March 26, 1874, in San Francisco, California, Robert Lee Frost was one of America’s most famous poets. Frost received four Pulitzer Prizes before he died in 1963. The first one in 1924 for New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes, then in1931 for Collected Poems, in 1937 for A Further Range, and the last on in 1943 for A Witness Tree. Married to Elinor Miriam White, who was his co-valedictorian at high school, he lived in various locations throughout his life, in San Francisco, California for the first ten years of his life, then moved to New England where he lived most of his years; he also lived in Great Britain for three years where he met Edward, T. E. Hulme and Ezra Pound. Pound would become the first American to write a review of Frost’s work; it was also in England that Frost wrote some of his best work. Robert Frost attended Dartmouth College, where he stayed for a little over a semester, and also Harvard University for two years. He was awarded honorary Litt. D. from Harvard, Bates College, Oxford, Cambridge, National University of Ireland, and Amherst College, and was also the first to be awarded an LL.D. from Dartmouth College (Gerber Chronology). In Robert Frost’s poems, the main themes usually had to do with nature such as: death, evil, creation, design, choices in life, and responsabilities. This is seen in the poems “The Road not Taken,” “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Acquainted With the Night,” “Mending Wall,” “Gathering Leaves” and “Design.”
In “The Road not Taken,” (written in 1916) Frost uses a rhyme scheme of ABAAB. He describes a traveler, the speaker in the poem, who has come to a fork in the road, both literally and metaphorically. The speaker looks down both paths to help him make the choice of which one to take. The only thing he notices between the roads is that apparently one has been less traveled than the other because “it was grassy and wanted wear.” He expresses a desire to know what is down both roads, but decides to use just one since he cannot be one traveler and walk two paths. He cheers himself with the possibility of returning one day to take the other road, but then doubts that he “should ever come back.” In the next to last line, the speaker reveals which road he has taken, “the one less traveled by;” it was the grassy, unworn one he describes in the beginning. Then in the final line of the poem, he expresses how important his decision was, that his choice “has made all the difference” in his life.
“The Road not Taken” metaphorically suggests how difficult it is to make a decision in one’s life. If by any chance you would like to go back on your decision, going back to the beginning is not always easy or an option. “The choice confronting the speaker symbolizes all of life’s choices” (Brown 2). In this poem Frost also confuses the reader by making the roads about the same, meaning that choosing is more on impulse than on reasoning. This is shown when Frost writes that the roads are worn “about the same,” and that they were both “equally lay/In leaves no step has trodden black” (Brown 1). It is implied that both roads have been traveled about the same, therefore leading to the conclusion that Frost wants to have things both ways in this poem to show the importance of the path you choose.
Much like “The Road not Taken,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (written in 1923) is also about decision making and continuing on a road. Frost uses a rhyme scheme of AABA BBCB CCDC DDDD, the third line of each of the first three stanzas predicts the predominant rhyme of the next stanza. In this poem, the narrator is traveling along a country road where he sees a wooded area. He stops and gazes at the calm, snowy scene, simply to consider and appreciate its beauty. He praises the “easy wind and downy flake” and describes the woods as “lovely, dark and deep.” By describing the woods with a combination of the words “lovely” and “dark,” Frost creates irony because how can something lovely be described as dark; darkness usally describes something evil and morose. Only his horse, who acts as if it were the speaker’s conscious, seems to have a problem with the unusual stop on the “darkest evening of the year.” This phrase tells the reader the time of year it is; Frost is refering to the longest night of the year which is the Winter solstice. The speaker then realizes he cannot delay much longer because he has “promises to keep.” This shows that he has to make a decision to actually continue on his way and goes back to the theme of making decisions in life, between an attraction toward the woods and the pull of responsibility outside of the woods. By repeating the line “And miles to go before I sleep” the speaker is not implying that it is going to be a burden, but that the ride home will be a pleasant one.
The speaker can also be contemplating the attraction to danger, the unknown, the dark mystery behind the woods. These woods act like the boundary between civilization and the wild and the only thing tying him to the society is the horse which has been domesticated. Stopping at the woods would be uncivilized because no sane person would actually stop in the middle of a snowy night to gaze at some woods. The way the speaker is attracted to these woods almost sounds as if he is talking about death, they are restful seductive, lovely, dark, and deep; like a deep sleep. This brings the reader back to thinking of nature, part of nature is dying and reproducing.
In the poem “Mending Wall” (written in 1914) Frost goes back to a description of a rural landscape where two neighbors are building a wall. In this poem Frost does not use any type of end rhymes but it still has rhythm and simplicity. The poem gives the reader two point of views, one of the speaker who does not like the wall and says “something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and the neighbor who believes “good fences make good neighbors.” A fence in a good location provides privacy and a sense of security for the homeowner. In the poem when Frost writes of the gaps in the wall, he means to tell the reader to read between what is actually written, to analyze and read between the lines. When the speaker of the poem talks about the “frozen ground swell” that is a metaphor for “frost” (Dworkin 2). This is actually ironic because the only thing that will make the ground swell is rime-frost; one thing this poem is missing is rhyme and the writer is Frost (Dworkin 3). Frost makes the speaker seem like a hypocrite; he does not like the wall, yet he is building it with his neighbor. The speaker of the poem is a man who moves in a world of freedom and understands the imaginative power within the human mind. On the other hand, the neighbor is a person who is not aware of the value of imagination, but sticks to the traditional ways of his ancestors.
In lines 1-11 Frost uses imagery to describe how the wall is degrading little by little, creating a visual image for the reader. Then in lines 13-14 the speaker says “to walk the line” and “set the wall between us,” here he uses a metaphor that refers to the building of a tangible wall that marks the boundary of the neighbors’ properties. In “Mending Wall” Frost uses imagery, metaphors, and symbols to show that the close mindedness of the neighbor saying “good fences make good neighbors” is what devides and limits the relations between the speaker and the neighbor, just as closed mindedness divides and limits us as a people. Also when Frost writes “He moves in darkness not of woods only and shades of trees” shows the ignorance shown by many and fear of overcoming the idea of breaking tradition, of how it would be like not having a fence between the two. This wall between them represents their unwillingness to change.
In contrast with “Mending Wall” whose mood is cheerful and light-hearted, “Acquainted with the Night” (written in 1922) is gloomy, dark, and cold. “This poem asks its readers to analyze the allegorical aspects of the poem” (Amano 1). It is written as a terza rima sonnet which has a rhyme scheme of ABA BCB CDC DAD AA. Some of the figurative language used by Frost in this poem is: alliteration, repetition, symbolism, imagery and metaphors. Alliteration is seen in line 7, where four words start with the letter “s.” Repetition is seen in lines 1-5, 7, and 14 where “I have” is repeated. Some of the metaphors used are: the “clock” which is a metaphor for the moon, the “saddest” lane and the “cry” are representative of sorrow, and “rain” is some of the speaker’s problems. Imagery is seen in lines 2 and 3, “I have walked out in rain — and back in rain,” and “I have outwalked the furthest city light.”
Robert provokes readers to examine death and grief expressed in the poem. The speaker of the poem talks about the things he has seen and heard as he roams through the dark streets of the city, for example, when he says that he stops to listen for the interrupted cry that comes over the houses from another street. This is just another way of saying that nobody calls for him to come home. The speaker also talks about how he “outwalked the furthest city light” as if he has been so alienated from humanity that he has been in total darkness. He is a very lonely person. The word “night” in this poem does not represent a conventional symbol, rather the darkness of the night represents the symbols, form, and structure of a poem that no other poet has explored in the past (Amano 1). An example of this is in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” when the speaker describes the dark woods. It is traditional in poetry for “night” to represent evil, darkness, and loneliness. Frost uses this to make the reader feel the loneliness the speaker is going through. Line 3 of the poem tells the reader that Frost is trying out new techniques when writing this poem, but then line 2 says that he always comes back to using the traditional poetry. Another symbol in the poem is time, shown with the “watchman,” and in line 12 and 13. Lines 12 and 13 combined with line 6 tell the reader that the speaker is not willing to explain his urge to experiment. In this poem Frost explores the unknown in writing poetry but at the same time stays within the boundaries of traditional poetry (Amano 3). This is because this poem was written at the height of the American modernist movement, and he still wrote this poem in a terza rima sonnet, which shows how he decides to use form and tradition.
In the poem “Gathering Leaves” (written in 1923) Frost writes of a person who is obsessed with “leaves.” He spends all day collecting them just to end up with nothing at the end. As he talks about picking the leaves up, he says, “I may load and unload again and again till I fill the whole shed and what have I then.” The poem is made up of quatrains in which the first and third line rhyme and the second and fourth line rhyme. Frost uses similes such as: “Spades take up leaves/No better than spoons, /And bags full of leaves/Are light as balloons.” He is using this not only to describe the leaves as being weightless and dull, but also to tell the reader that there are things in this world that are not valued as much as they should be, one of those being nature. Another simile is in lines 5-8, “I make a great noise / Of rustling all day / Like rabbit and deer / Running away.” The noise the speaker makes is being compares to that of a rabbit and deer running away.
Frost takes his time to explain how the speaker will never finish picking up the leaves being produced because, “who’s to say where/The harvest shall stop?” This implies that this poem also relates to nature and life. Life’s harvest is nature reproducing itself naturally just like we humans and every other animal and plant do. We as humans reproduce by having babies but the greatest satisfaction comes from watching the babies (our harvest) grow up. In lines 13-16 when Robert says “I may load and unload/again and again/till I fill the whole shed, /and what have I then.” In this passage it really shows his futile efforts to obtain something significant. He also talks about when he tries to pick up the leaves, and they just fall right through his arms and back to the ground. This could represent when you actually try to depend on the leaves they fall through and you are left high and dry (Robson 5).
In the poem “Design,” (written in 1936) Frost considers human attempts to see order in the universe, and the human failures at perceiving the order that is actually present in nature. “Design” is a strict Petrarchan sonnet. It has iambic pentameter and a very limited rhyme scheme, ABBAABBA ACAACC, in which there are only three different rhymes (Marcus 152). The speaker of the poem tells of a white spider holding a dead moth on a white specimen of a normally blue flower. The whiteness and fatness of the spider imitate the innocence of a baby (Marcus 152). The characters of the poem are described as cheerful, but this becomes true only if looked from the perspective of a witch or something evil for which catastrophe and despair are normal things. Frost uses the simile “Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth” to suggest that the spider, flower, and moth are “assorted characters” that have been selected and put together for the purposes of creating something else. This raises the question of: What is evil? Isn’t evil just a perception or a different way to view things? What might be good for me can also be viewed as bad by a different person. Frost wants his audience to question the idea that life and death are predestined. The argument Frost creates is that if there is a design then, there has to be a designer, and since the example of design given is so terrifying and unjust, then there might be a chance that the designer is equally evil. According to the Bible and its teachings, the creator and designer of all living things is God who is thought of as the ultimate good in our world. This creates irony in the poem and in what Frost is implying. But also at he very end Frost says that design might also be inexistent for small things, which would raise the question of design for larger beings, or anything at all, since supposedly the designer governs all. Throughout most of the poem he sets the readers up for an easy but horrible answer, but then in the end by using the word “if” he makes the reader doubt the answer to the “designer.”
Amano, Kyoko. “Frost’s Acquainted with the Night.” The Explicator 65.1 (Fall 2006): 39(4). General OneFile. Gale. Miami-Dade County Public High Schools. 27 Sept. 2007
Brown, Dan. “Frost’s ‘Road’ & ‘Woods’ redux.(Robert Frost).” New Criterion 25.8 (April 2007): 11(4). General OneFile. Gale. Miami-Dade County Public High Schools. 27 Sept. 2007
Dworkin, Craig. “Critical Essay on ‘Mending Wall.’” Poetry for Students, Vol. 5, Gale, 1999. General OneFile. Gale. Miami-Dade County Public High Schools. 27 Sept. 2007
Gerber, Philip L., ed. Critical Essays on Robert Frost. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982.
Marcus, Mordecai. The Poems of Robert Frost: An Explanation. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co. 1991.
Robson, W.W. “The Achievement of Robert Frost.” DISCovering Authors. Online ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center – Gold. Gale. Miami-Dade County Public High Schools. 27 Sept. 2007