Poetic Techniques in “The Tuft of Flowers”: Understanding Frost’s Depiction of Humans and Nature
“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.
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“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 […]