In his early poem “The Rhodora,” Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “If eyes were meant for seeing, than beauty is its own excuse for being.” If one were to ask the speaker in Robert Frost’s “The Most of It” how he feels about Emerson’s quote, there would probably be two different responses. The man in the poem would disagree with Emerson, because he does not recognize the beauty of nature surrounding him. He sees the “tree-hidden cliff” and “boulder-broken beach,” but does not think that their beauty is enough of a response (4-5). He feels alienated, and does not realize that “counter-love, original response” comes in forms other than human replies (8). The poem’s speaker, however, has a different definition of what constitutes an “original response” from nature. He is not searching for the supernatural return of a loved one, or a higher intelligence in the natural world. The speaker’s mind recognizes the response as “its own excuse for being,” or simply the most that nature could give the man. Therefore, the speaker continues learning and making the most out of what he can see and understand. He celebrates nature’s physical and spiritual assets, while the oblivious man in the poem lives a life of solitude. The speaker emphasizes that if the man in the poem could fully accept and appreciate nature’s ambiguity, he would be able to recognize nature’s response for what it is and make the most of it. “The Most of It” is a narrative poem written in succinct rhyming quatrains of iambic pentameter. The present tense emphasizes the man’s desires: he “wants not its own love back in copy speech,” but “original response” (7-8). However, the introduction of the response is described in the past tense. The water “splashed,” and it (the response) “stumbled through the rocks” (12; 19). The plosive alliteration of the “boulder-broken beach” emphasizes the harshness of the environment, which seems undomesticated and quite solitary with its “tree-hidden cliff across the lake” (4-5). Although “The Most of It” is not (nor is it supposed to be) separated by stanzas, punctuation divides it into three parts. Periods occur at the end of lines 4, 8, and 20. The first four lines of the poem focus on the man’s extreme solitude. He thinks he is the universe’s sole inhabitant. The setting is primitive, and the man is the poem’s only reference to humanity. The speaker’s wording choices provide clues regarding the man’s solitude: his use of the word “wake” in line 2 (“For all the voice in answer he could wake”) hints at the death of the man’s physical or spiritual companion. Human beings have both physical and spiritual longings; perhaps the man is searching for a physical companion or a form of higher intelligence that can respond to him.Lines 5-8 focus on the man’s desire to end his isolation. He “cr[ies] out on life,” asking for a response that is not “its own love back in copy speech” to ease his loneliness (6-7). However, the man hears only his own voice in response. This “mocking echo of his own” is used to enhance the intensity of the man’s loneliness (3). Death is also implied in the fifth line (“Some morning from the boulder-broken beach”). Someone listening to the poem read aloud would be unable to distinguish between the words “morning” and “mourning.” If the second definition were to be used, the result (“Some mourning from the boulder-broken beach He would cry out on life”) would present an image of the man walking along a rocky beach, struggling with grief over the loss of his friend.The final section of the poem’s three-part division is devoted to nature’s response. Lines 9-20 comprise a single, remarkably long sentence that the speaker uses to describe the response’s appearance. The speaker starts line 10 with the words “Unless it was…” – a crucial moment in the poem. Although the man in the poem is unable to recognize a response, the speaker identifies “it” as ambiguous nature’s reply. This response is the “embodiment” that the man can hear as it “crashed in the cliff’s talus” (10-11). However, Frost teases his readers and does not have the speaker identify the “embodiment” until line 16, when the response metaphorically appears “as a great buck.” From lines 9-18, every three lines start with the word “And.” Because of this grammatical pattern, the speaker creates a list of descriptions that allow the reader to visualize the response. “And then in the far distant water splashed,” and the response emerges (15). However, the speaker takes the pattern a step further when he uses “And” to start lines 19 and 20. It is as if the speaker is desperately listing one detailed description after another in an attempt to get the man to appreciate nature for what it is, instead of faulting it for what it is not. Tactile imagery such as “crumpled,” “stumbled,” and “forced” is used to give the response perceptible qualities (17; 19-20) that the speaker tries to get the man to notice.The response is more than just “a great buck” (16). It “landed pouring like a waterfall,” thus creating an image of water dripping and cascading from the buck (18). The vision of the great buck as it “stumbled through the rocks with horny tread, and forced the underbrush” speaks to the authority of the human mind to distinguish it as nature and nothing else (19). The man in the poem cannot recognize that nature is responding to him because it is not giving him the answer that he is looking for. The conclusion of the poem is grim: “that was all” (20). Like nature’s response, the last four words of the poem are ambiguous, although infused with an element of tragedy. The man in the poem searched for his “counter-love” response, but was unable to recognize it when it was right in front of him (8). The poem’s ending brings his complete isolation to the forefront, and leaves the reader feeling a great deal of sympathy towards him. Conversely, those final four words symbolize the ambiguity and remoteness of nature. The speaker recognizes the grim reality of nature, but at the same time admires the response for what it is.
The poem “Mending Wall” by the prominent American poet Robert Frost has often been viewed as one of his favorite pieces of verse. The basic context of this poem concerns the construction of a stone wall between two neighbors and their individual houses, yet with closer examination into the meaning behind “Mending Wall,” several scenarios can be found which center around “a special paradigm regarding the boundaries between reality and the subjective viewpoint” (Montiero 134) which may reflect the poet’s personal history, due to his love of nature and his desire to share his inner poetical beauty with the world.Out of all the poems written by Frost, “Mending Wall” best illustrates his poetic manner and his intentions as a storyteller. “Mending Wall,” among other things, appears to be built around the tone of mischief which creates an oral barrier between the neighbors. Yet this mischief is defensively countered by the weaker neighbor, for “he reaches into the past for support and comes up with his father’s proverb–“Good fences make good neighbors” ( Kearns 176).The two neighbors in “Mending Wall” seem to be concerned with nothing more than territory, but in reality the argument is much more philosophical in nature, i.e. the wall serves as a boundary between divergent outlooks on life, such as clashes based on conservatism vs. liberalism, urbanism vs. agrarianism and religious dogma set against secular humanism. The context of “Mending Wall” suggest that one neighbor is dominant over the other as shown in the line “I let my neighbor know beyond a hill,” which illustrates that “the passive neighbor has been informed that he is like a serf in some Medieval society” (Van Egmond 56). Another symbol that suggest a form of non-dominance on the part of the neighbor is the way “beyond a hill” is applied, “a mark of distance which foretells a lack of communication” (Montiero 174).However, as is the case with many poems by Frost, “Mending Wall” can also be viewed as the antithesis of political allegory, being that the narrator is not some broad-minded liberal and that the neighbor is not a submissive secondary. As Frank Lentricchia points out, “Mending Wall” “has nothing to do with one-world political ideals. . . good or bad neighbor policies” (251). Thus, this poem distinguishes between two very different types of persons–one who sees mending as an escape from the rituals of everyday life and a source for imaginative explorations, and another who is trapped by the traditions of his forebearers and old New England societal structures.Several key lines in “Mending Wall” help to illuminate the true character of the narrator as to his views on his neighbor. “I see him there/Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top/In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed,” an indication that “the dominant neighbor wishes to be permanently separated from his secondary self” (Kearns 217), yet it also presents the idea of primitivism as in the separation of Cro Magnon man from his “neighbor” the Neanderthal, the thick-browed savage from ancient Europe who preferred the wilds of the forest over the domesticity of a sheltered society.In addition, the narrator says that his neighbor “moves in darkness as it seems to me/Not of woods only and the shade of trees” which suggests that the poet no longer sees any plausible reason for repairing the “Mending Wall” year after year and has now retrograded into the psychology of human darkness. As Van Egmond so eloquently puts it, this is evidence that “even on New England farms in the twentieth century, the ways of the savage (the “old-stone savage armed”) continues no matter how transformed the society of Robert Frost” (148).Within the text of “Mending Wall,” there are several references to the cycle of the seasons as symbols of change and repetition, such as “spring mending-time,” “frozen ground-swell” and “spring is the mischief in me.” According to George Montiero, this theme of seasonality refers to “an ancient ritual predating the Romans. . . an annual reaffirming of boundaries” (169) which can be understood as a metaphor for the rebuilding of the wall, due to the ever-changing environment brought about by wind, rain and snow.Yet throughout “Mending Wall,” several underlying themes aside from that associated with the seasons can be found within the narrative, namely sarcasm, superstition and mystery. The narrator/farmer puts forth several sarcastic references about his “conservative” neighbor, such as “My apple tree will never get across/And eat the cones under his pines” which indicates that the wall itself is redundant and stands as a symbol of something far more complicated than a mere boundary marker. This sarcasm is replicated when the narrator/farmer states that walls are only necessary as a barrier to keep the farm animals from straying, yet neither neighbor apparently owns farm animals.The theme of superstition is best represented by the narrator/farmer, for he states that “We have to use a spell to make them (the stones) balance” which conjures up images of witchcraft, especially since Frost spent his early years not too distant from Salem, Massachusetts, the site of the famous Salem witch trials in the seventeenth century.As to the mysterious elements of “Mending Wall,” the “conservative” neighbor/farmer speaks few words and constantly reiterates his belief that “Good fences make good neighbors.” It seems as if he is letting the narrator/farmer know that isolation and distance is what he desires. Thus, the wall “keeps the neighbors on friendly terms by limiting their interactions that makes it possible for the conservative farmer to keep to himself” (Lentricchia 247).In conclusion, four specific lines from “Mending Wall” announces the true symbolic meaning of the stone wall–“I let my neighbor know beyond the hill/And on a day we meet to walk the line/And set the wall between us once again/We keep the wall between us as we go.” After all, why does Frost use the term “mending” to describe this structure? What exactly does it “mend”? Obviously, the wall serves as a physical boundary between the two properties of the neighbors, but in reality the wall is a metaphorical paradigm that defines the societal differences between the narrator/farmer and his neighbor “beyond the hill”–one is primitive/pastoral, the other modern/urban. Yet the wall also serves to “mend” the natural landscape, for when viewed from a high elevation, it would appear as a “scar” zigzagging across the terrain as if the land itself had being “mended.”BibliographyKearns, Katherine. Robert Frost and the Poetics of Appetite. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1994.Lentricchia, Frank. Robert Frost: Modern Poetics and the Landscape of Self. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1975.Montiero, George. Robert Frost and the New England Renaissance. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988.Van Egmond, Peter. Robert Frost: A Reference Guide 1974-1990. Boston: G.K. Hall, Inc., 1991.
Robert Frost is generally considered to be the premier American poet of his generation. He is identified almost exclusively with New England, for most of his poetry attempts to capture the essence of rural life in the New England states. He describes the new wilderness and the people of the region with great insight and wisdom. Frost is also praised for his use of New Englanders’ dialogue and native wit. Frost has been described as quaint and old-fashioned (Cox 4), a true Yankee poet. However, critics such as Malcolm Cowley maintain that Frost should not be considered exclusively an American poet. Frost was virtually unknown before his three-year stay in England. This sojourn had a great influence on Frost’s career, making him a sensation among literary circles abroad and ensuring his success in America (Cowley 3).Frost’s early life was unremarkable. He was born in San Francisco in 1874. At the age of ten, he moved to New England, which remained his true home for the rest of his life. He married Elinor, a high school classmate, and they had four children. Although Frost wrote poems, few were published. The Frost family settled down on a small farm in Derry, New Hampshire, where Robert taught in a local school. Although his chances of a promotion looked promising, Frost was not satisfied with the direction of his life. He wanted to write, and in 1912 he decided to abandon his teaching career for poetry.Frost had a late beginning as a serious poet. At the age of 38 he was going nowhere as a poet, and he was forced to re-evaluate his life. He sent material to several magazines, only to have them rejected. One journal, to Frost’s consternation, had held a poem unpublished for three years (Weintraub 301). He realized that he needed to leave Derry if he wanted to make a living as a writer, and he found he had the means to do so. His grandfather’s will left him with an annuity of $800, nearly the amount of Frost’s yearly teaching salary. The Frost household, if it budgeted carefully, could attempt a move, at least on a temporary basis. The Frosts debated over a suitable location. Robert considered joining a friend in Vancouver, but Elinor preferred England. Robert is said to have flipped a coin for the final decision; the coin chose England (Thompson 388-390).England turned out to be the logical choice. For many Americans aspiring to the arts, London was an excellent location. The area had “a sentimental allure, a psychic value, a professional practicality” (Weintraub 4). Frost could draw inspiration from the English surroundings, and he had a better chance at turning a profit abroad. London publishers often took risks on newcomers with potential. Until Frost could establish himself, he could manage to support his family without making great personal sacrifices. The cost of living in London was relatively low, and Frost’s small income could be stretched out over several years (Weintraub 301). Although he regretted leaving New Hampshire, Frost wanted to sever his old ties and experience new things. Frost later wrote, ” ‘I had no letters of introduction; I knew not one soul in England. But I felt compelled to lose myself among strangers, to write poetry without further scandal to friends or family'” (qtd in Gerber 26).Frost’s first house in England, “The Bungalow,” was located in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Frost spent much time exploring the pastoral outskirts of the area. He found the English countryside to be quite different than the familiar surroundings of New Hampshire. Frost delighted in noticing those differences, and some of his poetry reflects his response to his new home, most notably “In England”:Alone in rain I sat todayOn top of a gate beside the way,And a bird came near with muted bill,And a watery breeze kept blowing chillFrom over the hill behind me…For the breeze was a watery English breezeAlways fresh from one of the seas,And the country life the English leadIn beechen wood and clover meadIs never far from sailing.The Bungalow’s most important contribution to Frost’s life was the reawakening of his interest in his earlier writings. Frost had taken a trunk of his old poems to his new house, and one night he decided to review them. At first he had no purpose in mind for the manuscripts, and “he was not sure he was doing more than playing a game” (Thompson 396). However, as Frost reread the poems, he began to see the possibility that certain grouped lyrics suggested the thoughts of a youth struggling to find his own direction (Thompson 396-397). The result was Frost’s first volume of poetry, collected under the title of A Boy’s Will. The book contained a sequence of 32 poems traversing the seasons and the moods from despair and withdrawal to aspiration. Frost wanted to establish certain relationships for the reader, so he placed a brief gloss under each title on the table of contents pages (Weintraub 303). Frost finally felt that he could launch his career in earnest when he beheld the final product.Since Frost’s home was only 21 miles away from London by train, he visited the city often. At this early point, however, he had no literary contacts. Not knowing where to take his volume for publishing, Frost approached his only friend in London, a policeman columnist. This friend led Frost to the offices of David Nutt, a small publisher. Frost learned upon arriving that David Nutt had passed away, but Nutt’s widow offered to look at the manuscript. She accepted the volume. In his next visit to London, Frost agreed to the terms of his contract with the Nutt firm. Nutt was given the first option to publish Frost’s next four books of poetry. Frost was encouraged by the long-term commitment; his future finally appeared more definite (Weintraub 304).Frost’s trips to London allowed him to meet several influential people. In America, he had seldom met others who considered poetry a serious vocation; but in London he was surrounded by them (Weintraub 230). At Harold Munro’s Poetry Bookshop, Frost first chanced upon British poet F.S. Flint. Flint was impressed with A Boy’s Will and encouraged Frost to arrange a meeting with Ezra Pound. Pound, also an American, had become the leader of a group of poets known as Imagistes. Pound was known to have an eye for poetic expression, and he enjoyed introducing young poets to the literary world. Like Flint, Pound was pleased with A Boy’s Will, and he promised to publish a favorable review of the volume in Harriet Munro’s Poetry magazine (Thompson 410-411).Pound lived up to his promise, and his review praised Frost for his simple, plain style. Pound wrote that Frost “‘has the good sense to speak naturally and to paint… the thing as he sees it… [H]e is without sham and without affectation'” (qtd in Gerber 28). The review proceeded to denounce the American editors who had neglected Frost and repeated some statements Frost had related to Pound at their first meeting, including some things that Frost had exaggerated and did not expect – or wish – to see in print. Frost appreciated Pound’s review, although he complained to a friend that Pound had overdone it (Weintraub 306-308).The other early reviews of A Boy’s Will were much less favorable. The book had been published on April 1, 1913, and the first notices followed quickly. On April 5, the Athenaeum published a guarded review, in effect stating that Frost’s poems were nice but nothing extraordinary. Later that week the Times Literary Supplement approved of Frost’s individuality but criticized his poems’ obscure endings, especially singling out the last stanza of “The Trial by Existence” (Thompson 414-415). Frost was naturally disappointed.Frost’s luck changed, however. In September 1913, three new reviews of A Boy’s Will were published, and one of these appeared in the Chicago Dial. These made up for the previous unfavorable reviews by praising Frost for his combination of observation, emotion, and the element of surprise. The latest critics also wrote about the simplicity and charm of the poems, which in their opinions surpassed most contemporary poetry (Thompson 425-426). Frost began to rise out of his obscurity in both England and America.The positive reviews were a great relief to Frost, who had begun to compile a new volume. After he learned of the acceptance of his first manuscript in 1912, he had started to write dramatic narratives and dialogues. Most of these were studies in character, written in blank verse (Thompson 428). Others were meditative lyrics, inspired by a longing for his farm in Derry. Among the latter are examples of Frost’s best writings: “Mending Wall”, “Swinging Branches”, and “After Apple-Picking” (Thompson 432-433).Frost had never intended to live in England for more than a few years, and the title of his second book clearly demonstrates his intentions of returning to America. Frost believed that North of Boston had potential for success back home (Weintraub 315). His reputation as a poet depended upon critical opinion regarding his latest volume; this was the turning point when his career would be made or broken. Fortunately, Frost made some important friends before the book was published. His new acquaintances recognized the quality of Frost’s poetry and did everything within their capacity to introduce the public to North of Boston.Frost needed a new circle of friends at the time, for he was becoming gradually alienated from the Imagistes. Pound had reviewed Frost with fairness and enthusiasm, but the personal relationship between the two men was strained. Much of the trouble lay in Pound’s haste to speak of Frost’s poetry before anyone else and in Pound’s attention toward certain younger poets. Frost felt alternately harassed and ignored. He also resisted Pound’s attempts to mold him into an Imagiste, for Frost was trying to cultivate his own unique style. Frost resented Pound’s bullying and realized that a lasting friendship was impossible under the circumstances (Weintraub 311).Frost eventually turned up on Wilson Gibson’s doorstop with manuscripts of poems he intended to publish in North of Boston. Gibson liked them, and he introduced Frost to his friend Lascelles Abercrombie, a Georgian poet. Gibson and Abercrombie persuaded Frost to look for a cottage in Gloucestershire, where Abercrombie lived “under thatch” as Frost had dreamed of doing (Thompson 439-440). Frost agreed to join Abercrombie as soon as he could sublease his house. Frost had trouble finding a lessee throughout the fall and winter, but this additional stay in Beaconsfield and London proved fortunate (Weintraub 317). In February 1913, Frost met and befriended a man named Edward Thomas. Thomas was unknown as a poet but was considered a superior hack writer and poetry critic. Before meeting Frost, Thomas believed his life was going nowhere. Frost managed to pull Thomas out of his depression and encouraged him to write poetry. In following Frost’s advice, Thomas soon became modestly successful as a poet. Thomas was often a guest in the Frosts’ house, and the two men remained the best of friends throughout Frost’s stay in England (Sergeant 107).Not long after his introduction to Thomas, Frost bought “Little Iddens,” a homely cottage in Herefordshire. Compared to The Bungalow, Little Iddens seemed like a “fairyland house” (Thompson 447). The cottage was primitive, but the idyllic scenery and Frost’s friendships compensated for the austerities (Weintraub 319). The cottage was surrounded by orchards and sloping meadows, a lovely place in which to take long walks with Thomas and to gather ideas for future poems.Reviews of North of Boston appeared throughout the summer of 1914, and they were consistent in their praise. Of course, Frost’s friends had much to do with the early notices. Thomas wrote the first London notice for the English Review. Abercrombie reviewed the book in The Nation, while Gibson’s review in The Bookman called North of Boston the “‘most challenging book of verse that has been published for some time'” (qtd in Weintraub 321). Pound, who was not noticeably upset by Frost’s rejection, made his own favorable comments in Poetry. Most importantly, American critics agreed with the British reviews. On both sides of the Atlantic, Frost was praised for his lyrical simplicity, his “sound of sense” (Thompson 457).North of Boston won over one important American reader, Mrs. Florence Holt of New York. She convinced her husband to contact Mrs. Nutt and discuss publicity rights. After some hard bargaining, the Henry Holt firm became Frost’s American publisher for the rest of his life. Frost’s American foothold was secure (Weintraub 322).The timing of Frost’s success was critical. England had become involved in World War I, and Frost had major concerns about staying. On August 20, 1914, he wrote to a friend, “‘The war is an ill wind to me. It ends for the time being the thought of publishing any more books. Our game is up… So we may be coming home…'” (qtd in Sergeant 139). Frost realized he could not remain in England much longer if he wanted to continue as a career poet. He and his family were invited to stay with the Abercrombies until Frost could earn enough to pay for the risky voyage back to the United States. The winter months at “The Gallows” were pleasant. There, Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken,” which seems to describe the impulse that had led him to England:I should be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.To earn money for his return trip, Frost sold several poems to Monro for Poetry and Drama, including “The Smile,” “Putting in the Seed,” and “The Cow in Apple Time.” Another poem, “The Sound of Trees,” was written at The Gallows and contained a reference to Abercrombie’s elm trees. England had been good for Frost’s writing, and he had a stack of masterful new verse to take home and publish in America. His growing income and reputation signaled that the time had come to leave and further his career in the States (Weintraub 361-362).Despite his success, Frost returned to New England in 1915 with a few doubts about his abilities. Much of his reputation was built upon poems he had written nearly a decade before A Boy’s Will. He feared that at the age of 41 he had exhausted his creative powers (Thompson 476). His experiences abroad also left him with a lingering sense of disloyalty to his native country. Frost wanted to be known as an American poet, not as a “devoted American Europeanist” like Ezra Pound (Poirer 94). Fortunately, Frost’s concerns were overblown. Philip Gerber wrote, “When he returned from England, he was forty years old, mature, and fully formed as a writer” (69). Frost found that he was as well known as any other poet in America. His third book, Mountain Interval, which had been written in England, appeared the next year to great acclaim (Weintraub 363). He wrote several more volumes of poetry and supplemented his income with public lectures and readings. Long before his death in 1963, Frost had become an American legend.Frost’s sojourn in England was primarily responsible for his great success in America. He met – mostly by chance – the very people who had the ability to help him launch his career. He learned the art of literary politics and discovered how to orchestrate his reviews to project a favorable image (Weintraub 322-323). He found the time and the perfect atmosphere in which to concentrate fully on poetry. However, Frost developed his fresh, unique style by rejecting the new techniques and forms used in English circles. In his own words he “‘never saw New England as clearly as when he was in Old England'” (qtd in Sergeant 116). Frost’s years in England strengthened his commitment to America, and “that has made all the difference” in American poetry.Works CitedCowley, Malcolm. “The Case Against Mr. Frost.” Robert Frost: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. James M. Cox. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962. 36-45.Cox, James M. Introduction. Robert Frost: A Collection of Critical Essays2E Ed. James M. Cox.Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962. 1-15.Gerber, Philip L. Robert Frost. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1966.Poirer, Richard. Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.Sergeant, Elizabeth Shepley. Robert Frost: The Trial by Existence. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960.Thompson, Lawrence. Robert Frost: The Early Years, 1874-1915. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966.Weintraub, Stanley. The London Yankees. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.
Many of Robert Frost’s poems explore the splendor of the outdoors. In poems such as “A Prayer in Spring” and “To the Thawing Wind,” the speakers show appreciation of nature’s beauty surrounding them. However, “A Servant to Servants” is a contrast to the typical Frostian nature poem. The poem’s speaker, the wife of a hard-working farmer, no longer takes pleasure in her beautiful surroundings. She feels trapped in a life that, to her, seems meaningless, under appreciated by her husband and the hired hands she cooks for. She explains her monotonous daily routine and subtly reveals her desperation. The speaker knows she is falling victim to the insanity that runs in her family, but although she perceives what is happening, she is unable to change her situation.Frost wrote “A Servant to Servants” using iambic pentameter, although he varies the meter, such as in line 20, “Like a deep piece of some old running river.” This, aided by his frequent use of enjambed lines, makes the poem sound more conversational, rather than following a rigid meter. He includes colloquialisms in the woman’s speech so that the reader hears a realistic farm woman. There is no apparent rhyme scheme, also adding to the conversational flavor of the dramatic monologue. A rhyme in a serious poem like “A Servant to Servants” would run the risk of de-emphasizing the poem’s content while calling more attention to the rhyme. This is evident in “Blueberries”, where Frost writes rhymed couplets throughout the poem and cannot help but create a lighter tone. At the start of “A Servant to Servants,” the speaker is conversing with a man who has been camping on her land. She reveals her happiness that he is there and mentions that she had meant to visit him. “I promised myself to get down some day / And see the way you lived / With a houseful of hungry men to feed / I guess you’d find” (3-6) Although she wanted to see how her guest was living, she is trapped by the routine of her endless cooking duties. She didn’t take the initiative to visit him, which reveals that she does not see the possibility of change in her monotonous life. Even a disruption in her schedule for a quick visit was impossible.Then the speaker explains that she no longer feels emotion and has trouble expressing herself, foreshadowing the inevitability of her fate. “I can’t express my feelings any more,” she says. “It’s got so I don’t even know for sure / Whether I am glad, sorry, or anything.” (7, 11-12) She goes on to describe the lake outside her window as an example. It’s evidently a beautiful thing to look at, but she no longer enjoys it. Perhaps the lake represents the freedom that exists in naturea freedom the speaker cannot have in her role as an under-appreciated wife and cook. She has to “make [her]self repeat out loud / The advantages it has.” (18-19) This refers back to her statement that because she doesn’t feel emotion, she has to tell herself “how I ought to feel.” (14) She wants to conform to her role, but although she knows what she “should” think and what she “should” feel, she cannot think or feel these things. The lake, just like her life, has lost its beauty.Then, she asks the man how he had heard of their land. Frost does not write the camper’s responses in the poem, unlike conversational poems such as “The Generations of Men” or “The Fear.” There is no need to break up the woman’s monologue with insignificant words of an outsider. “A Servant to Servants” focuses entirely on the speaker’s rambling speech to the camper, who merely provides the audience she needs. Interrupting her stream of consciousness would only disrupt the poem’s flow. However, the woman repeats the man’s answer, making it known that he heard of her land in a fern book. “In a book about ferns? Listen to that! / You let things more like feathers regulate / Your going and coming,” she says, amazed at her guest’s whimsical behavior. (35-7) Again, nature represents freedom. The speaker wishes that she could come and go as she pleased, living in the simplicity of nature, but she is chained to her daily routine.The speaker then reveals some characteristics of her husband, Len. He is an optimist, totally absorbed in his work, believing that their land will be worth something with time, and that his wife will “be all right / With doctoring.” (46-7) However, just as no one appreciates the land, the speaker is likewise unappreciated. She knows that living such a mundane, meaningless life is slowly driving her insane, yet she accepts this. She needs a break “From cooking meals for hungry hired men / And washing dishes after themfrom doing / Things over and over that just won’t stay done,” yet the speaker takes Len’s advice that “the best way out is always through.” (50-2, 56) She knows that there is no escaping her destiny. “As that I can see no way out but through / Leastways for meand then they’ll be convinced.” (58-9) She knows that she is beyond the help of doctors and their medicine, but Len is so caught up with his work, “from sun to sun,” that he doesn’t notice his wife’s deteriorating situation.She tells the camper about the indolent hired hands that take advantage of her absorbed husband. The woman resents that she has to continuously cook and clean up after these lazy men, “great good-for-nothings, / Sprawling about the kitchen with their talk / While I fry their bacon.” (76-8) Although she works as hard as her husband, even the hired men don’t appreciate her efforts. She is a “servant to servants.”The speaker then describes the insanity that runs in her family. She had been put into the State Asylum at one point in her life, but feels that the state institution is better than being kept at home. It was the common belief that the asylum was the “poorhouse,” and those who could afford it should care for mentally ill family members. She argues that at the asylum, “they have every means proper to do with, / And you aren’t darkening other people’s lives / Worse than no good to them.” (98-100) Perhaps this is foreshadowing her own situationshe already feels unnoticed in her work. Also, the speaker comments that “You can’t know / Affection or the want of it in that state,” referring back to her remark that she no longer feels emotion. (101-2) She seems unable to avoid her progressing insanity.The woman’s uncle had been mentally ill, kept in a cage of hickory poles built by his family. Because he would tear up any furniture they tried to give him, “they made the place comfortable with straw, / Like a beast’s stall, to ease their consciences.” (120-1) This physical cage may be symbolic of the speaker’s own cageher unsatisfying life and unbreakable routine. Though the family meant well by caring for the speaker’s uncle, they reduced him to the state of an animal. This experience is probably why the woman is in favor of the State Asylum. “I’ve heard too much of the old-fashioned way,” she admits. Her uncle would yell at night, keeping her mother awake. “She had to lie and hear love things made dreadful / By his shouts in the night,” the speaker describes. (131-2) She goes on to say that “they found a way to put a stop to it.” (140) This “way” is not revealed, allowing the reader to imagine what they could have done to quiet the caged man.Although the uncle died before the speaker was born, the cage remained upstairsa constant lurking presence of madness. The woman would joke, “It’s time I took my turn upstairs in jail,” again foreshadowing her own insanity. When she finally moved away with Len, she thought the change would make her happy. However, she had merely escaped from one unfavorable set of circumstances to the next. She had her attractive natural surroundings, but “the change wore out like a prescription,” she states ironically. (161) The beauties of nature couldn’t mask unhappiness caused by her situation. However, she seems to accept her impending insanity, speaking in a matter-of-fact tone about such subjects. She says, “I’m past such help / Unless Len took the notion, which he won’t, / And I won’t ask him / I s’pose I’ve got to go the road I’m going.” (163-6)Then, she seems to remember that the camper is listening to her soliloquy. She mentions that she wishes she could live as he doesto “drop everything and live out on the ground.” (170) She quickly changes her mind, saying that she may not like the night in the outdoors, or the rain. Although her mundane life behind kitchen walls constrains her, she is drawn towards it. There is no escaping the inevitable. She sees herself too weak to live as the camper does. “I haven’t courage for a risk like that,” she explains. She knows the only way out of her seemingly meaningless existence is to break the routine that imprisons her, but she is unable to do it. She knows that she is destined to insanity, yet accepts this without a battle. She even jokes about it when speaking of the hired hands, saying, “I’m not afraid of them, though, if they’re not / Afraid of me.” (85-6) She tells the camper, “The worst that you can do / Is set me back a little more behind. / I sha’n’t catch up in this world, anyway.” (182-4)Finally, the speaker answers the question that the camper had most likely come to ask. “I’d rather you’d not go unless you must.” (185) She wants to see an example of someone living freelysomeone who can travel from place to place, based on locations he reads about in fern books. The camper is a foil to the speaker. While he is capricious, taking what nature gives him, the woman is trapped by routine and looming insanity, unable to change her fate. Because she has no hope for herself, she enjoys thinking about and watching this man taking pleasure in nature that she no longer finds beautiful.A constant symbol in this poem is nature representing freedom. Like her tragic uncle, the speaker is trapped in a cagethe endless job of cooking for her husband’s hired men. This task will never bring her satisfaction, and yet she has no other options. She is the wife of a farmer, with limited finances and limited opportunity. Although she appreciates the idea of living in freedom like the camper, she knows that for her, this is impossible. Nature has lost its beauty because she knows she will never be the recipient of the freedom it represents. The outdoors used to take “[her] mind off doughnuts and soda biscuit / To step outdoors and take the water dazzle / A sunny morning,” but it no longer has this effect. She has accepted her fate as the wife of a man too absorbed in his work to notice her, and as an unappreciated cook for hired men, a servant to servants.
“The Tuft of Flowers” by Robert Frost, a pastoral and ambiguous poet, is a narrative poem structured in the form of heroic couplets. The speaker is a haymaker that looks for a mower, only to find mowed grass, but later discovering a butterfly which leads him to a tuft of flowers. Frost conveys the theme that humans and nature can complement each other through the motif of duality, juxtapositions, and imagery.
Frost’s poem begins with a stark description of a setting: “Before I came to view the levelled scene I looked for him behind an isle of trees.” The haymaker is looking for the mower but only finds a levelled scene, one of destruction and desolation. “An isle of trees” is a metaphor, comparing a small group of trees to an island, representing loneliness and isolation. “And I must be, as he had been-alone. “As all must be,” I said within my heart, Whether they work together or apart.” The speaker here speaks in a tone of despair, thinking that all people have to be alone. Then, the speaker sees a butterfly and describes it as “But as I said it, swift there passed me by On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly.” The speaker personifies the butterfly, and Frost makes use of pathetic fallacy by reflecting the speaker’s feelings of confusion onto the butterfly, an aspect of nature.
The speaker is projecting his emotions – of feeling lonely, and thus noiseless and unheard, and confusion regarding his isolation, onto the butterfly. Moreover, consonance of the sibilant s sound in the line “But as I said it, swift there passed me by” adds to the sense of suspense and confusion the speaker has regarding the situation. “And once I marked his flight go round and round, As where some flower lay withering on the ground.” This is an example of kinesthetic imagery, and further adds to the idea of confusion and feeling lost. The visual image of a withering flower is one of desolate deterioration. “And then he flew as far as eye could see And then on tremulous wing came back to me.” The word tremulous also personifies the butterfly, and is a reflection of the narrator projecting his fear- his fear of being alone onto the butterfly. The butterfly then leads the speaker to a tuft of flowers, and the speaker describes it as “A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.” This is where the tone shifts from one of desolation and gloominess to one of hope and wonderment. A leaping tongue of bloom is a metaphor, comparing the tuft of flowers to a bright flame of fire, brightness in the midst of desolation and devastation.
Frost’s chosen motif of duality is made evident here, between the juxtaposition of the bright, vivid tuft of flowers and the brook bared of grass. Even where there has been devastation, there is still a glimmer of hope, of brightness, symbolized by the red flowers, for red is the colour of passion and vitality. “The mower in the dew had loved them thus By leaving them to flourish, not for us.” The speaker thinks that he mower had loved the flowers so much he chose to spare them for the sake of themselves, for the sheer appreciation of the beauty and intrinsic value of nature. When the speaker comes to this realization, he feels more joyous and hopeful. “The butterfly and I had lit upon Nevertheless, a message from the dawn.” Both the butterfly and the haymaker, one a part of nature, the other a human, find beauty in the flowers. The duality of hope and destruction is present here, with the butterfly and human looking for the same thing. The flower is a part of nature, of which humans cannot exist without. Humanity and nature can complement each other, another instance of the motif of duality. This appreciation of beauty, which many argue is what separates humans from animals, bonds and connects the haymaker and the mower together though they do not physically connect
On the basis of Frost’s writing, the haymaker feels as if they are kindred spirits, another instance of the motif of duality between humans- each human has an interconnected role to play that complements the other. Cooperation, then, is an essential part of how humans are interlinked and find companionship and understanding with each other. The mower mows the grass in order for the haymaker to turn the grass into hay, and they are connected by a mutual appreciation and love of beauty of nature. “And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground.” This is the third repetition of the scythe, a symbol of death. There is a juxtaposition of life and death. Though the haymaker makes food, the hay, for survival, it is necessary for the mower to leave the grass dead, killing it, in order for it to be turned into hay for human use. This is a representation of the duality of life and death and the cyclical nature of life.
By the end of the poem, the speaker feels a shadowy representation of the mower by his side and no longer feels alone. There is a repetition of the refrain “Men work together, I told him from the heart, Whether they work together or apart.” In the end, the haymaker achieves what he was looking for – companionship. His tone is hopeful and cheerful. There is a transition throughout this poem: In the beginning, the speaker feels emotionally alone, but at the end, though he is physically alone, he is no longer lonely but fulfilled with the beauty of nature that both he and the mower share. Moreover, the heroic couplets represent the motif of duality: everything comes in pairs.
In Robert Frost’s poem “Directive”, the answer to a question of absolution and religious peace can be found in the form of a journey, led by a poet guide. Frost wrote this poem when he was in his seventies, and while it harnesses many of the same images and tones of his previous works, “Directive” presents a wisdom and a certainty previously uncharted by the poet. While far from morose, this poem presents the Christian paradox and the ways in which man is distant from that which he worships. The Christian imagery and evocation of Eucharist are evident even to those not raised in the Catholic tradition, but the poem serves more as metaphor than parable. In contrast to Eliot, whose works were an invitation back to Church, Frost’s poem examines both humanity’s distance from absolution and the residual thirst for the revival of the spirit, the paradox of finding only in losing. The rituals of mourning and religion as guide are utilized, but they do not alone provide absolution or even solace. Here, the contrast of symbols for death and the senses of childhood present a guide who neither ironically jests nor resigns himself to the grave, but is rather a wizened traveler; a man staring at the sunset, reveling in its matter of fact magnificence.
From the start of the poem, the imagery and tone both prove that Frost did not take the road less travelled with his writing: until its last six lines, the only image in “Directive” that does not appear in, or bear on, some earlier Frost poem is that of the “children’s house”; the apple trees, small animals, and stone outcropping are vintage Frost curations, here distilled to their metaphorical essences. These are the writings of an aged man, who in his decades of finding lines and stories was able now to make it come whole, to discover the cumulative strength and comfort of images he had always known. The symbols for death are also consistent in the opening lines of the poem, and attain the same levels of sincerity, if not comfort. The “loss/ of detail,” and “graveyard marble,” which suggest mankind’s inability to imagine much beyond death, and the incantatory erasure of the house, the farm, and finally the town all present a Christian sense of loss. The following “Monolithic knees” and “enormous Glacier,” lend scale to the mourning and personify those natural wonders which make the experiences and plights of man infinitesimal. Guided by Frost, the religious right of man is lost among the laboring generations of men, exposed to those forty “eye pairs” which provide no answers, merely watch. But just when the ordeal becomes unbearable, the experiences of men are placed in contrast to the newborn trees, and the energy is renewed. The experience of the reader mimics that of mourning, first there is the fixation on the death, then rituals to abate the loss, the emotional toll of facing an end, and the peace of seeing the grand scale. Each invokes its own emotion but draws upon the wealth of lessons found in Biblical storytelling, itself a ritual on its own. But the reader has not yet discovered the answers, they are still lost in the personal trenches of becoming lost, awaiting the act of finding. Come line 36, the reader has become enveloped in the loss and is in turn working towards finding an answer. Just as “two village cultures faded / Into each other,” all accessory adorned by civilization has been left behind by reader and guide alike. All that has been read thus far indicate a decay or a loss of life, a destruction of scale, yet the poem provides no comfort or solution. The human in its ordeal is too far from the gates of heaven to merit their mention. The poem employs a common practice seen in religious works of first moving in towards self reflection before moving up towards a theological understanding. This idea of marginal grace and the paradox of finding in losing come to the poem’s forefront with the lines, “And if you’re lost enough to find yourself/ By now, pull in your ladder road behind you/ And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.” Here loss gives way to finding, regardless of the burden of the paradox or the bitterly inconsequential destination, the poem’s perspective shortens to focus on those few residual symbols in which humanity is sustained. The attention on the uncertainty of death is shifted to the sincerity of youth, “Make believe” though their house may have been, it is also the house in which belief could be entirely vested, a glory yet unseen in this derelict scenescape. This “house in earnest” is now only a “belilaced cellar hole,” as impersonal as a “dent in dough”; its shelter may be lost, but humanity collectively agrees to place faith in it nonetheless. Newly children again, Frost and his wards, “weep for what little things could make them glad.” With faith invested, the world regains a hint of its former solidity, and those who are lost are becoming established. Here “Directive” focuses solely on the ritual of being found, and the act of Eucharist and absolution is realized. Existing in the purgatory-like state of being lost but also established in the child-like imagery, the reader is only now able to drink from the “goblet like the Grail.” Broken though that goblet is, from a tradition seemingly long lost, in drinking from it both where humanity has been and where it has arrived are brought to light. It is uncovered in, “Here are your waters and your watering place.” that humanity’s directions can be found in the natural world through which they’ve just been guided. Absolution was always in reach of man, if only he were willing to search for it. The poem’s greatness continues to reside in how painfully native to the reader its least images, and in turn its solutions, seem. “Directive” is, throughout, more metaphor than parable; Frost’s examination of Christianity exists almost exclusively in secular terms. The explicit biblical references further allude to its chief thematic paradox from Luke 9:24, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life … the same shall save it.” Frost’s sense of being “saved” is marginal, incomparable to the grand notions of fellow writers such as Eliot: to sustain one’s values, beyond sure losses, depends on being guided by natural signs. In this clear but profound claim lies the poem’s sincerity, a mockery would not permit such simple means to grant salvation. The paradox of being found by losing oneself is a staple of Christianity but far from black and white in its teachings, the lessons learned, in all their confounding subtlety, are not the mark of a man laughing at the concept of deities, but rather a recognition of a chance at peace for those uncertain or left behind, a light in the shaded wood. These are the writings of a man who has seen much, rather than one who explains all. “Directive” has the rare ability to have a context that later illuminates simple images as their intended metaphors. Frost explicitly avoids overwhelming the text with symbols or allusions, it is only after reading the poem in its entirety that the reader earns a right to its wisdom and the signs become metaphorically clear. The poem is a staple Frost piece in its clear surfaces and complex depths; it’s unusual in specifically initiating a reader to what “the wrong ones can’t find.” The “cedar” for instance, is natural to Frost’s New England, but only in the context of the poem’s climax does it spring forth as a cedar of biblical Lebanon. The “Barb and thorn” or “ladder road” are similarly metaphors only in retrospect; they are images of spring floods and natural steppes before they imply the stories of Gethsemane or Jacob. The iambic meter that overwhelms the sound of each line only becomes a chanted prayer after the poem’s conclusion. The reader is privy to new depths only after taking in the truths provided by the guide. The residual sense of Christianity measures both the distance between humanity and full redemption in a way that is not cynical yet still offers no overwhelming sense of hope. Though “Directive” displays the mourning of humanity’s common ordeal, its country is no wasteland, there is no chapel at its height. Frost’s goblet is only like the Grail; those who drink from it are still only “near its source.” The Christian drama, adamantly implied by the poet and in which the metaphors are steeped, establishes the message that mankind need not let go the value of Christianity’s crucial paradox, however diminished its symbols may be to the casual reader. Yet to imagine these ordeals as part of a larger drama is not to cast man as hero; it is simply to realize each reader’s share in the human condition. What is heroic in “Directive” is its quiet acceptance of the role to which experience conditions individuals. Nothing in “Directive” leads to hope, whether for a Grail, Redemption, or an answer from a seemingly distant god. But it does promise a sense of peace, it implies a ritual with a climb but without expectation, an end of quenching the unexpected thirst earned in sweating uphill. Reality is the ordeal, and the drink the poem finally offers is solely clear water from a spring. Man is “beyond confusion” not least in this, wholly human both in having wept for the children’s playthings and in being gladdened by what was make believe in drinking from their cup. The thirst and need for absolution are satisfied, but the poem fulfills itself with a sacrament which redeems all experience by promising a grounded answer in nature.
Steeped in a Christian tradition, the reader is privy to only after all questions have been answered makes the poem “Directive” sincere and honest in a way only a writer who has lived through much can create. Finding in losing is the poem’s, and religion’s, crucial paradox, and unless a reader has been scared by their own desert places they may not be “lost enough” to be guided by Frost through this high-country quest. As it tests a reader’s earned humanity, not demanding any previous knowledge or requiring any future action, merely examining that which already exists within mankind, all that man wants is within reach. Just as this poem illuminates the cumulative import of the natural images the poet had always known, so the answer to man’s constant struggle for absolution is found. In a tradition and a long walk in the woods, there can be found peace in the light of a distant god and the engrossing sensations of being surrounded by nature.
Robert Frost’s petrarchan sonnet, written in iambic pentameter, “Design,” questions the role of God in the world through predestination and divine intervention with the use of tone, juxtaposition, imagery, and symbolism. He does so by narrating a scene in the octave in which a spider holds its prey while standing on top of a heal-all, then by asking provocative questions about the occurrence of such in the sestet which follows.
“Design” has two separate tones with a shift after the first octave. The first part, being a narrative, is light and observant, such as it would be from an onlooker’s perspective, watching from afar instead of taking a personal role in the action described. Frost uses this tone to keep the poem neutral as he uses imagery and symbolism to bring about his point. The imagery is used specifically as symbolism in this piece, most obvious in the coloring of three objects: a white spider, fat with prosperity and cruel in its actions, a white flower which heals, and a white, dead moth, victimized by the spider. Juxtaposition can be seen within these symbolic elements, as the purity of the color white contradicts the actions of the spider, “fat” and “holding up a moth.” Not only do the colors contradicts the actions of the spider, but also the spider itself contrasts the idea of a pure flower that heals. The phrase “snow-drop spider” gives a euphonic, soft sound, but the feelings conjured relate more to the flower than the spider, who is a “fat” spider, known to kill, while the flower is more affectionately referred to as a “heal-all” and “a flower like a froth.” We know that the spider, flower, and moth are supposed to be compared, seen together, and not just as three separate unities because of the lines “Assorted characters of death and blight / Mixed ready to begin the morning right, / Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth”. In “Design,” the spider seems to represent the bad in the world. Since the poem can be seen to reflect on the entirety of human existence in terms of divine intervention, the spider is The Unplanned Negative, seen as he kills a moth. The flower is The Good, taking less of an obvious action in the poem, but still present and apparent. The moth seems to represent victims of the evil in the world, as it is like “satin,” but “rigid” with death. This also gives context to the questions he asks in the sestet about the “design” involved in bringing the three to the state in which they find themselves.
The second of the two parts, after the shift in tone starting with the sestet, carries a darker, more analytical, anxious, and contemplative tone, as the speaker asks questions relating just as much to humanity in general as they relate to the scene described. Although the octave sets the stage up for analysis, these questions bring the poem to its completeness in the theme of questioning God and the role He takes in regards to humanity. In the ending lines, Frost writes, “What but design of darkness to appall?- / If design govern in a thing so fall,” referring to the concept of predestination. Does ‘design’ or God govern things as small as these, bringing these rare creatures of color together at just the right time and place just for the spider to eat the moth in the end? Or is there no ‘design’ at all? Is everything simply a random occurrence? He shows through darker diction in words such as “darkness” and “appall” that this is a dark occurrence whether a god has personally decided to make this happen or if it is just chance. He contemplates the absurdity of the entire situation, wondering “what had that flower to do with being white” despite its usual blue hue. This is further exemplified in “wayside” and “innocent,” referring to its blueness. Frost speaks of it as though it did not choose to be white, but rather was made so by design. But whose design? God’s or chance’s? In “What but design of darkness to appall?-” he speaks as though the designer would be one of darkness. The diction further illustrates this, as appall serves to mean both “to horrify,” or “the lid of a coffin.” Everything links back to a negative view of the concept of predestination or the void of chance meetings. He never determines which it is, leaving the last line as a provocative statement, questioning how far design would go, and whether or not it would apply to matters as small as these.
In summary, in Robert Frost’s petrarchan sonnet, “Design,” he speaks of the existence of, or perhaps the lack of, predestination. In the first part of the poem, in an octave, he does so by setting a scene with a narrative. In the second, after a shift in tone to a darker and more contemplative expression, he speaks of predestination and chance through a series of provocative questions. Although not a Christian, Frost seems to speak of His potential existence in the poem.
We all experience hardship. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you’re bound to face some sort of struggle. Whether it’s something as small and inconvenient as your car breaking down or as big and monumental as the death of someone close to you, struggle is inevitable. Not everyone deals with their struggles the same way. What may serve as a great outlet for one may not work as well for others. Nonetheless, art and writing in particular tend to be a very useful way of expressing one’s emotions and dealing with the hardship they face. The issue of struggle faced by the modern individual is seen in poems “Home Burial” and “Out, Out” by Robert Frost as well as in “My Father’s Love Letters” and “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa.
Throughout life, experiencing struggle in any form is inevitable. There are not many poets that understand this as well as Robert Frost. His poem “Home Burial” speaks of a couple who have lost a child. As the child’s mother makes her way down the staircase, she sees her child’s grave outside the window in the yard. This is the first time she noticed it from this viewpoint. The couple has had a hard time dealing with this loss. Catching sight of the grave leaves the woman distraught, and at first her husband is confused as to what is bothering her. This causes her to want to flee the house, but her husband begs her to stay, saying “Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time./ Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs” (Frost). The loss of a child puts enough strain on a couple. What’s even worse is their inability to properly communicate and work through their issues. The husband says “My words are nearly always an offense./ I don’t know how to speak of anything/ So as to please you” (Frost). He claims that no matter what he says, it’s always not what Amy wants to hear. He can’t figure out what exactly he needs to do differently. Amy goes on to vent and share some of her frustration with him, but to no avail. The piece ends with the husband calling out to his wife as she makes her way through the door.
Another poem in which Frost touches on the topic of struggle is “Out, Out”. It tells of a young boy living in New England who is out cutting firewood in his yard. He is just old enough to be working. Whilst cutting the wood, he hears his sister yell to him that supper is ready. In his excitement he jumps and badly cuts his hand, nearly chopping it off. “The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh,/ As he swung toward them holding up the hand/ Half in appeal, but half as if to keep/ The life from spilling” (Frost). The boy almost laughs until he realizes how horribly injured he is. He then begins to beg his family to help him stop his hand from bleeding. A doctor soon comes to the house, and the boy begs his sister to not let him get rid of his hand. “The doctor put him in the dark of ether./ He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath./ And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright./ No one believed. They listened to his heart./ Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it” (Frost). The boy is put under anesthesia and the doctor amputates the injured hand. During the process his heart rate slows and eventually comes to a stop as he dies. It is unfortunate enough that this boy had to begin working at such a young age in order for his family to survive. He missed out on having a normal childhood that he could enjoy. To make matters worse, one false move gave him an injury that cost him his life. Despite his struggle to work to keep his family alive, in the end the boy still is unable to avoid death; and an early death at that.
When it comes to inspiration, Yusef Komunyaaka builds his poems upon his own personal experiences and how he finds meaning in them. Mainly, he writes about the many struggles he has faced throughout his life. In “My Father’s Love Letters”, Komunyakaa writes about growing up with a dysfunctional family. He tells of his father who works hard at the mill and comes home asking Yusef to write letters for him to his mother. “On Fridays he’d open a can of Jax/ After coming home from the mill,/ & ask me to write a letter to my mother/ Who sent postcards of desert flowers/ Taller than men” (Komunyakaa). It is clear that his father is illiterate, which is why he can’t write the letters himself. Also the two are separated, which is why his father is writing letters to his mother. We can see his use of personification here when he describes the desert flowers as being taller than men. There is a big juxtaposition here as well. While his father is doing hard labor trying to support himself and his son, his partner seems to have found a new and better life without him. Komunyakaa goes on to say “He would beg,/ Promising to never beat her/ Again” (Komunyakaa). This line reveals that the reason why his parents are separated is because his father is abusive. In line 12 he says “His carpenter’s apron always bulged/ With old nails, a claw hammer/ Looped at his side & extension cords Coiled around his feet./ Words rolled from under the pressure/ Of my ballpoint…” (Komunyakaa). Komunyakaa uses concrete imagery to describe the setting of the tool shed as well as the way his father looks. The shed is littered with objects just as his mind is littered with his emotions. The use of hard and sharp objects in this description conjures up the feeling that Yusef is intimidated by, and possibly afraid of his father. The imagery surely describes his father’s character. The choice of language is particularly important here. He mentions writing with a ballpoint pen, a tool that writes very smoothly and easily. Yet, he is putting a lot of pressure on the pen. This shows the tension of the scene, signaling that Yusef does not want to be writing this letter.
Komunyakaa speaks about more than his struggles as a child. He also recounts the time he spent as a correspondent in the Vietnam War. “Facing It” is a poem telling of his experience visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. The piece opens with the lines “My black face fades,/ hiding inside the black granite” (Komunyakaa). Yusef connects himself to the memorial by stating how both the memorial and his skin are black. This makes the experience all the more personal to him. There is slight alliteration with the use of the words “face fades”. He goes on to say “I said I wouldn’t/ dammit: No tears./ I’m stone. I’m flesh.” (Komunyakaa). Yusef told himself he wouldn’t get emotional, but he does. He uses a simile to compare his strength to that of the granite, then to claim he’s weak like flesh. Yusef is identifying contrast between who he wants to be and who he actually is. He goes on to say “My clouded reflection eyes me/ like a bird of prey, the profile of night/ slanted against morning” (Komunyakaa). Again, we see a simile used when he compares his reflection to a “bird of prey”. Then Komunyakaa sees a fellow veteran, saying “A white vet’s image floats/ closer to me, then his pale eyes/ look through mine. I’m a window./ He’s lost his right arm/ inside the stone” (Komunyakaa). Once comparing himself to stone and flesh, Yusef is now using a metaphor to say he is a window. This fellow veteran can see through him, possibly seeing his past on the battlefield since he had some of the same experiences. Also he has lost an arm ‘inside the stone’, signaling that the loss was a causality of war.
Struggle continues to be a big influence on all artists, especially writers. In a journal article named “A Conversation with Yusef Komunyaaka”, the interviewer Mena Mitrano mentions Yusef’s piece “My Father’s Love Letters”. Mitrano is recounting the poem, saying “Your father comes back home from the mill…He is laboring over simple words, focusing on wooing back his reader- your mother…it stages- in the best sense of the word- a scene of apprenticeship in which a parent or ancestor who sometimes can only sign his name, nevertheless becomes the young writer’s mentor and first teacher. That seems to happen in your poem. As he stands there, “redeemed by what he tried to say”, the fathers transmits to the child a core knowledge about language. The achievement of the poem to me lies in its capacity to preserve the power of this transmission despite the violence of the father…” (Mitrano). Mitrano expresses how despite the fact that Yusef’s father was violent and illiterate, he still managed to make a big impact on his life. He was a mentor to him, and Yusef drew inspiration from him as well as their relationship. It is one of the many struggles that inspired his future work, such as “My Father’s Love Letters” and “Facing It”. Robert Frost also faced his fair share of struggles throughout his life, beginning during his youth. A biography written by Ellen Bailey says his father William “…was an alcoholic and a womanizer, and was unpredictably brutal. When Robert was two years old, pregnant Isabelle left William for several months…From early childhood, Robert had been beset by nervous illnesses, and he was usually kept home from school as a result. Although his mother tried to teach lessons at home, he received very little formal schooling as a young child” (Ellen). Beginning at only two years old, Robert dealt with issues at home. He seemed to be unable to escape his troubles as he aged, considering his daughter died of puerperal fever and his wife died after suffering from a heart attack and then cancer (Ellen). These events definitely inspired Frost’s work, with his biography stating “Not much of Frost’s poetry is cheerful. Works such as “An Old Man’s Winter Night” (“Mountain Interval,” 1916) and “Death of the Hired Man” (“North of Boston,” 1914) deal with the fear of alienation, loneliness and death. “Home Burial” (“North of Boston,” 1914) is a highly emotional poem about the death of both a child and a marriage” (Ellen).
The poems “Out, Out” and “Home Burial” by Robert Frost as well as “My Father’s Love Letters” and “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa exemplify the issue of struggle faced by the modern individual. In Frost’s “Home Burial”, we meet a couple trying to come to terms with the loss of a child. Their situation only snowballs as they struggle to communicate with each other effectively while they are grieving. Rather than being there for each other during this difficult time, they only add to each other’s frustration. In Frost’s “Out, Out” we see a young boy who has to begin working from a very young age to support his family. His normal childhood has been stolen from him. It only gets worse for him once he injures himself while working, and eventually dies from his injury. In Komunyakaa’s “My Father’s Love Letters”, a boy has to face the reality of his parents separating. When living with his abusive and illiterate father, he is forced to help him write love letters to send to his mother. The boy struggles to deal with his emotions. Finally in Komunyakaa’s “Facing It”, the author recounts the time he spent fighting in the Vietnam war. This experience has had a huge impact on him, and to this day still affects him emotionally. He struggles to figure out who he is as a person.
Throughout both poems, Frost approaches the theme of mortality both directly and indirectly, exploring not only the random, often violent nature of death, but even its dangerous appeal. ‘Out Out —’ deals with the former, choosing to question the romanticism often attributed to it through portraying the violent, accidental death of a young child. Undoubtedly influenced by the mass slaughter witnessed throughout the First World War, Frost’s portrayal of a narrator seeking to apply blame even to inanimate objects – such as the chainsaw – provides a metaphor for the search for meaning and direction when both are absent. Despite opting for a more structured, regular form (in terms of both verse and metre), ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ approaches death in a similar manner, developing an overriding sense of isolation which mirrors the response of the community in ‘Out Out —’ to the child’s death. Certainty and uncertainty are frequently juxtaposed throughout both poems, undermining any sense of assured knowledge and laying significant emphasis on humanity’s total powerlessness in the face of its own mortality. Crucially, however, whilst ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ does not attempt to ‘explain’ death to any extent, it suggests an acceptance of it that is not seen in the attempts of ‘Out Out —‘ to come to terms with the random, meaningless nature of mortality. In this way, therefore, the former can easily be seen as a development of the latter, marking Frost’s increasing acceptance of – even longing for – death. In their refusal to romanticise death, both poems choose to undermine the romantic movement of the late 19th century, instead reflecting an era of modernism in which, after the first world war had shaken much of the belief in religious and conservative values, the structures which underpinned contemporary society were beginning to deteriorate.
Through the use of a first person narrator, Frost gives both poems a distinctly human perspective, allowing him to fully explore humanity’s relationship with death: ‘Leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap, / He must have given the hand.’ Here, in ‘Out Out —’, Frost’s use of personification in the repeated ‘leap’ gives the chainsaw some kind of malevolent intent – as if the the boy is a victim of an external force. Furthermore, the frequently repeated, strongly onomatopoeic phrase ‘snarled and rattled’ contains further connotations of violence, once again portraying the chainsaw as an intentionally harmful living creature. However, this attempt to divide the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ – the ‘victim’ from the ‘assailant’ – is clearly misguided, with the contrast between the certain connotations of ‘must’ and the doubtful ‘seemed’ serving to question the narrator’s ability to distinguish truth from invention. His fruitless attempts to apportion blame only emphasise the indiscriminate, often random nature of mortality; it is through this sense of randomness that death loses the higher meaning or significance that was frequently applied to it by the romantic poets. Frost’s use of a singular, unstructured stanza, particularly when combined with the lack of regular rhyme and metre, serves to reinforce the lack of stability and order seen throughout the poem, whilst the phrase ‘dropped stove length sticks of wood’ contributes strongly to the overall sense of purposelessness – he declines to mention the specific purpose of the action, focusing only on its immediate result (the somewhat vague ‘stove length sticks of wood’). The impersonal, almost passive connotations of ‘dropped’ again remove any sense of positive progress. The ideas of purposeless violence found throughout the poem, set against the backdrop of a fruitless search for moral accountability, most likely has its roots in the first world war; although the poem is not a direct metaphor for human conflict (its themes of powerlessness in the face of mortality are too universal to be limited to just ‘war’) the poem is perhaps an example of the first world war’s effect on attitudes towards death, bringing the fragility of human life into focus.
Similarly, Frost incorporates ideas of uncertainty into ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’: ‘Whose woods these are I think I know. / His house is in the village though’. Here, in the opening line of the poem, the direct juxtaposition of ‘I think’ to ‘I know’ again undermines the extent of human ‘knowledge’, stressing the narrator’s uncertainty as to the nature of mortality – unsubstantiated ideas (‘think’) are placed equal to factual ‘knowledge’ (‘know’). However, the owner of the ‘house’ is perhaps intended to be the personification of death, with the immediate connotations of ‘village’ suggesting a closer, more direct relationship with death than that seen in ‘Out Out —’, where mortality is portrayed as a detached, entirely arbitrary entity. The use of a regular rhyme scheme and stanza structure, combined with the consistent use of iambic tetrameter, contributes to a calmer, more contented tone of voice; written 8 years after ‘Out Out —’, this is perhaps indicative of an ageing Frost’s own increasing willingness to embrace mortality. Whilst both poems position humanity in a position of total subservience to death, it could be argued that, in each, Frost handles this position in different ways – where ‘Out Out —’ comments more upon the meaningless, often violent nature of mortality, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ explores its dark attraction, describing the woods as ‘lovely, dark and deep’. Perhaps symbolic of death, the simultaneously alluring and threatening connotations of ‘dark and deep’ serve to clarify his feelings on mortality, expressing an odd desire for it without questioning his total ignorance of its nature.
However, through the links they draw between mortality and the natural world, both poems choose to further subvert the style of the romantic movement that dominated in previous years: ‘And from there those that lifted eyes could count / Five mountain ranges one behind the other / under the sunset far into Vermont’. Here, in ‘Out Out —’, Frost’s use of assonance, combined with the repeated enjambment, lays heavy emphasis on the expanse of the scenery, painting a vivid picture of natural beauty which, on the surface, would appear to be a highly romantic image. However, the connotations of heavy physical labour in ‘lifted’ contrast to the relatively simple act of looking upwards, highlighting the extent to which the workers are detached from the natural world and, by extension, the substantial effort required for them to embrace it. This preoccupation with human ‘affairs’ is a theme that runs throughout the poem, extending further into Frost’s presentation of mortality – unable to comprehend or even acknowledge the natural world, humankind is left at the mercy of death. The connotations of subservience in ‘under the sunset’ subtly reinforce this overriding sense of powerlessness and insignificance. The total inability of human kind to comprehend the nature of mortality is highlighted by the boy’s ‘rueful laugh’ in reaction to his severed hand, with the light-hearted connotations of ‘laugh’ belying the seriousness of the wound to lay emphasis on the boy’s confusion and disbelief. However in ‘stopping by woods on a snowy evening’, Frost focuses less on his ignorance of death and more on a growing acceptance of it, with the connotations of bedding in ‘downy flake’ highlighting the attractiveness of the environment. Much like in ‘Out Out —’, Frost uses the setting of the poem to develop his presentation of mortality, in this case turning an apparently barren, nihilistic environment into a relatively accommodating one. This could be seen to mimic the idea that death – a previously alien and hostile concept – has become decidedly more attractive. The continuing theme of powerlessness is also explored in the poem, with the speaker clearly placed in the position of a helpless observer in the phrase ‘watch his woods fill up with snow’. However, there is an element of defiance here – by trespassing on death’s territory (the idea of possession is emphasised by the personal pronoun in ‘his woods’) he is demonstrating both his lack of fear and ability to acknowledge the inevitability of death, even without necessarily understanding it. This is a substantially more optimistic view of mortality than that presented in ‘Out Out —’, once again developing a strong tone of acceptance and contentment.
As both poems progress, however, it is increasingly clear that they place humanity in a position of total helplessness. Frost continually takes this point further, highlighting the descent of human progression into an act of helplessness in the face of mortality: ‘no more to build on there. And they, since they / were not the one dead, turned to their affairs’. Here, in ‘Out Out —‘, the vague, impersonal use of ‘they’ lays heavy emphasis on the total lack of intimacy or affection, highlighting the ability of death to subvert the prized traditional value of family and, by extension, civilised society as a whole. In fact, the everyday connotations of ‘affairs’ seems to point the finger directly at civilised society itself, portraying the day to day existence of human beings as a sort of distraction from the reality of death and, in this way, as the embodiment of human powerlessness. The total lack of emotion in ‘build on’, combined with the shortened sentence structure, creates an empty, unfeeling tone, again representing society’s dismissive attitude towards human life – the ‘progress’ of society takes precedent. These ideas can be seen clearly reflected in the events of the First World War, where territorial gains were given a higher value than human life.
Equally, in ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, Frost portrays the relationship between death and social responsibility: ‘But I have promises to keep, / and miles to go before I sleep, / and miles to go before I sleep’. Here, the repeated line ‘and miles to go before I sleep’ creates a sense of dogged, almost endless continuation, presenting mortality as a welcome rest from the day to day repetition of life. It is only his ‘promises’ that keep him from embracing death immediately, suggesting that the only motivation for human existence is to honour commitments for the future, as opposed to the present moment. The use of continuous rhyme here helps to add to the sense of constant repetition. It is clear, then, that whilst both poems present mortality as being totally out of human hands, they choose to deal with this information differently, with Frost’s early poem focusing mainly on the random, inexplicable nature of death, whilst ’Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ marks the poet’s gradual acceptance of his inevitable fate.
Escapism is a method one uses to focus attention on pleasant or enjoyable things, as opposed to the harsh realities of everyday life. Humans face countless struggles, and to overcome these they turn towards their imagination or other means in life to slip away from their unwanted reality. Such an intent is foremost in the novel Under this Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell and the poem “Birches’’ by Robert Frost. These authors use bold characters throughout their works to prove how people under different circumstances can vanish from their present to shed some light in their darkened lives. As well, both effectively use exceptional literary devices and imagery that make the reader have a stronger understanding of their intent. Both, Mitchell and Frost in their works demonstrate how characters elude ultimate oppression by choosing the road of escapism.
Novelist Shandi Mitchell and poet Robert Frost both use adults throughout their work to show how they escape from their immense struggles to have a moment of enjoyment in their lives. In the novel, Anna is a character who is not happy or satisfied with her life and the conditions in which she lives in. Her predestined fate, unstable marital life, estranged children and relatives are a result of her being a lifeless person. Her unfortunate life is no different than living a life with no purpose. Therefore, Anna escapes her daily struggles by building a strong relation with the coyotes since they attract her at first sight and she has never seen “anything so beautiful, so wild’’ (Mitchell 19). She encounters coyotes, every once in a while that leads her to build a strong attachment with them, much stronger than what she has with her own children and relatives. Anna escapes the unstable marital relationship and her own unsatisfying children by politely touching the coyotes, giving them food, singing and talking to them. Her escapism reaches such a point of addiction that while spending time with a wild animal she forgets her responsibilities towards her children. When coming in contact with her son Petro, she hesitates and is ‘’not sure if she should touch him’’ (155) since “it’s so much easier with the coyotes’’ (155). Considering she lacks a proper relationship with her children, she is not sure of how to treat them with love and care despite the fact that she demonstrates these emotions while tending the coyotes. Due to the estranged maternal character she possesses, her children become victims of a loveless mother. Another way Anna escapes her reality is by diving into a world of memories. Every time Maria comes over for her checkup, Anna tries to escape from any conversation about the unborn child and its unwantedness, Stephens’ responsibilities and her health by telling stories; “Once silence has passed, Anna tells her stories’’ (150), about attractive boys in school, her beauty as a young lady and her loving parents to Maria. She forgets all about her pains and worries of the present and her “eyes come alive’’ (150) when telling stories. Her expressions demonstrate how enthusiastically she leaves all the distress of her present and escapes into the memories that satisfy her.
Similarly, in the poem Frost represents an adult to demonstrate the theme of escapism. Frost himself becomes a man who escapes the present through his imagination of climbing on birches in attempt to forget his life that is full of miseries and to “get away from the earth awhile’’(Frost). Climbing trees is universal, in order to be above all problems and undermining all ties to the earth. He climbs above the fray, to leave below the drudgery of the everyday, particularly when he is “weary of considerations,/ And life is too much like a pathless wood’’ (Frost). A way to navigate through the pathless woods is to climb up high and seek a new path, leaving the difficulties behind with the hope of overcoming them for a while. The birches act as a means of transcendent escape for the man, giving him a moment of peace and tranquility. Either in texts, or real life situations the archetype of escapism is very common because it allows a person to enter a glorified world that temporarily satisfies all their needs and wants. Therefore, Anna, the man in the poem and Jack rise above their struggles by embedding themselves into a world far more pleasing and satisfying than their own sad realities.
In the novel and the poem, children are portrayed as characters who try to get away from their present to relish some moments of their life. In the novel, Lesya is displayed as a character who has the desire to live a content life with her family and the willpower to overcome all obstacles that her family may face. However, the reality is that she lives in a gloomy family with disrupted relations. Lesya, like her mother Anna, tries to forget her haunting reality at home by keeping herself busy and allowing her attention to be diverted. In doing so, she creates a close relationship with her aunt Maria and her family. She spends most of her day at Maria’s house, singing, helping with the crops and living through moments of laughter and joy. This helps her forget the awkwardness she faces at her own house, which is why ‘’Lesya is happy to be with her Aunt and cousins’’ (Mitchell, 46), living a more lively life rather than the lackluster “house with her mother’’ (46). This is a form of escapism for her from her mother’s reckless attitude and careless father’s presence. She experiences a temporary but pleasant life with her Aunt and cousins and so she wonders “what it would be like to be Teador and Maria’s child’’ since their life is joyful and spending time with them ‘’feels like a family’’ (46), rather than her own family which lacks a bond of love. The profound impact of having a bond-less family is heartbreaking, but instead of falling into a deep hole of hatred for her family, Lesya tries her best to join pieces of her family together. She tries to grow love in her mother’s heart for her by walking tall and gracefully with “hardly a limp so her mother will see there is nothing wrong with her’’ (62). She tries to escape the reality of having deformed legs, which is the reason for the distance between her mother and herself; with the hope of her mother having some love and emotions towards her disguise.
Similarly in the poem, the poet through his imagination, portrays a boy as a child who swings on birches “over and over again’’ (Frost) as a source of escapism “until he [takes] the stiffness out of them’’ (Frost). The poet describes how the boy may not have similar intent for escapism like an adult does to escape from daily struggles. However, his purpose to climb birches is to get away with the curfews and his mother’s denial of his wishes; which for the boy is an everyday struggle. He climbs in order to be free from the life that is to be lived according to others. For the boy, reaching the top means he is alone and for a while and can have fun swinging without any stoppings. Each time the swing gets higher, it represents him reaching the clouds of freedom, leaving behind the world of miseries. This also relates to many teenagers today. The biggest form of escapism from family problems, struggles or school for the current generation is the internet which eventually becomes an addiction. People spend hours of the day and night just surfing the internet, which may or may not be for any good. They may do so in preference to working in the world, or in preference from having real life relationships with other people. With the internet, today’s generation has the whole world in the palm of their hands; just with a few clicks they can virtually reach their comfort zone. This keeps them busy in a place where they are content with life, temporarily forgetting the reality of life. Other forms of escapism for many people include drugs, books, media or any other form of technology. Therefore, the theme of escapism is prominent in todays society among individuals who escape from their no longer desired present, likewise Lesya and the boy too flee from their struggling present for joy and peace.
Both Mitchell and Frost, effectively use rhetorical devices and imagery throughout their work to represent their importance as a source of escapism for the characters. In the novel, Mitchell uses literary devices and imagery to make the reader have a better understanding of her intent and theme. She describes the idea of Anna vanishing from her present using imagery; “Anna’s eyes come alive and the stories begin’’(Mitchell, 62) which helps the reader have a good understanding of how Anna forgets her disconsolate life by telling stories for a while by entering a world of memories. Anna also takes the road of escapism by keeping herself busy with Teador’s family and farm. As Lesya hasn’t seen her mother cleaning in a very long time “hops around the house feeling such joy that she thinks her heart might burst’’.(62) This hyperbole explains the excitement Lesya feels about the way her mother was able to forget her unhappy life by reuniting with the family members. Her happiness is comparable to a caged bird who is set free. Coyotes are also represented as an important symbol that represent freedom and living in the wild away from any demands of the world. They become the reason for Anna to escape her miseries and divert her attention. Thus they act as a path that lets Anna escape her reality temporarily. On the other hand, the poet uses devices and symbols dominantly throughout his piece of work. In the poem, Birches are seen as an important symbol since they are the main key behind the theme of escapism for both, the boy and the poet himself. The birches are represented as powerful objects, “they are strong enough’’ (Frost), that even when the boy or adult swing on it “they seem not to break’’ (Frost). They hold on to all the worries and problems of the person and let them have a peaceful moment of joy. They fill up all the pain of the swinger “Up to the brim, and even above the brim’’ (Frost). This repetition effectively emphasizes the authors intent, helping the reader understand the competence of the birches and tree itself. These symbols, imagery and devices in the novel and poem help advocate the idea of escapism from daily problems.
Through their works, Mitchell and Frost illustrate characters who escape into an idealized world that is a better substitution than the hard truths of this world. In the novel, the characters escape the everyday struggles by building relations with others or through imagination whereas in the poem the characters swing on birches to elude their struggles; for both a transcendent escape. This theme is also present in many people today because they find escaping from the struggles of life a better alternative. The characters in the novel, poem, text and individuals in today’s society share the mutual desire to break away from the struggling aspects of life through escapism that helps them relish and create beautiful moments in life, making it ethereal.