Robert Frosts poems are quite simple, dealing with everyday situations and emotions, yet taking them to another level of exploration. He looks at aspects of nature and then converts them into symbols to use in his poems, thus making them completely relevant to our everyday lives and easy to make sense of. In After Apple-Picking, there is another symbol derived from nature. The Road Not Taken writes, two roads diverging in a yellow wood and shows how Frost considers his choices in life, choices that people face every day. Frost is a philosophical observer who perceives existential aspects in common occurrences (all his poems on the course). These include the nature of making decisions in ‘The Road Not Taken’, the nature of barriers in ‘Mending Wall’ and fragility of human life in ‘Out, Out-’. Other prevalent themes include loneliness seen in ‘Acquainted with the Night’ and ‘The Tuft of Flowers’ and living in the countryside as seen in ‘After Apple-Picking’, ‘The Tuft of Flowers’, ‘Mending Wall’ and ’Out, Out-’.
‘The Tuft of Flowers’ introduces the themes that dominate much of Frost’s poetry. These themes, developed as the narrative unfolds, include the passage of time, loneliness, communication, and the power of the imagination. The use of a first-person narrator makes the poem a more immediate and realistic experience as the reader is drawn into the poet’s world and explores the themes ‘as with his aid’. The poem opens with the narrator setting out to turn the cut grass so that it will dry in the sun. In a scene like the Romantic era, the speaker is portrayed as a figure of isolation in the landscape. He searches in vain for the mower, ‘But he had gone his way, the grass all mown’. The narrator sadly concludes that loneliness is intrinsic to the human condition, whether people ‘work together or apart’. The arrival of the butterfly, which like the speaker is searching for something it cannot find, flutters in confusion around the withered flowers on the ground and then returns to the poet, who prepares to continue with his work. The butterfly diverts the speaker’s attention to the tuft of flowers, beside the stream. Unlike the other flowers, these have been spared by the mower because he loved them and are described as a ‘leaping tongue of bloom’. The flowers ‘speak’ to him, bringing him a ‘message from the dawn’. They enable him to hear the wakening birds and the whispering scythe. The mower is compared to the Grim Reaper as he cuts the grass and possesses the power to kill the flowers or to spare them ‘from sheer morning gladness’.. He comes and goes silently and is never seen by mortal eyes. His power over life and death is contrasted with the helplessness of the butterfly ‘on tremulous wing’. The flowers connect the mower and the narrator, who sees in them a ‘message from the dawn’. Through the power of the imagination he is transported back through time to the early morning, when the birds sang as the scythe cut through the tall grasses. The speaker recognises ‘a spirit kindred to my own’ in the mower and feels as if he can reach out across time and space to the absent mower and friend. This connection forces the speaker to revise his earlier opinion that humans are destined to be lonely and alone as he can confidently declare: ‘Men work together … Whether they work together or apart.’ A form of communication exists between the mower and the speaker as the poem ends with the consoling thought that ‘Men work together … Whether they work together or apart’.
The ‘Mending Wall’ considers the beliefs that separate men. There are two characters in the poem, the narrator and his neighbour, who see the wall in very different ways. They are brought together to repair the damaged boundary in the spring and are unified by their divisions. The poem opens on a mysterious note: some unidentified force exists that dislikes walls. The soft ‘s’ sounds capture the sensation of the silently swelling ground that dislodges the stones and he broad vowels mimic the shape of the rounded boulders that roll off the wall, gaps behind, of which he means, ‘No one has seen them made or heard them made’. The annual wall-repairing ritual occurs in the spring. It seems as if a magic formula is required to keep the stones in place. At first it is like a game and a more serious note is introduced when the need for the wall is questioned as borders wall things in as well as block things out. They cause offence, which is a pun on the word ‘fence’. The narrator wants the neighbour to reject the division and describes the man as ‘an old-stone savage armed’. Not only is he working with stones, but his attitudes are primitive, and his beliefs have not evolved. He is armed not simply with stones but with dangerous, inflexible attitudes as ‘He moves in darkness’. The neighbour refuses to change sides and sticks stubbornly to ‘his father’s saying’. The poem is about boundaries as these can be physical, political and psychological. The physical boundary in the poem is the stone wall as the men work on it to divide their opinions. The psychological differences between the two men are perhaps the most prominent as the narrator seems more open to change, to challenge accepted practices, more humorous and more imaginative than his conservative neighbour. The narrator realises that sometimes ‘we do not need the wall’, but this concept meets with firm resistance: ‘He will not go behind his father’s saying’. His neighbour is a traditionalist and stands behind received wisdom with the same tenacity as he stands behind the stone wall.
‘After Apple-Picking’ is a complex poem. At a surface level it can be read as a nature poem and dwells on the stillness of the weary harvester, with its lifeless mood and lush imagery. At a deeper level it can be read as a study of the creative process. The orchard is described at the outset. The harvest is over, the air, with the scent of mature apples, has a sensual effect on the apple-picker. The long vowel sounds, irregular rhyming scheme, slow tempo and rhythm suggest that the repetitive work has lulled him into a semi-conscious state. The speaker sinks into a drowsy numbness. This suspension of consciousness releases his imagination. Sight and insight are important issues. In the opening scene the speaker looks upwards towards Heaven and downwards to the barrel. This reflects the main movement in the poem: the ascent towards the visionary heights and the gradual descent to normality. The focus slips and becomes blurred when the speaker drowses off. He enters a semi-conscious state, neither. awake nor asleep. Ironically, this releases his imagination and frees it from its sense-bound limitations, and he can now see in a completely new way and have a new perspective. The familiar becomes strange, transformed in a visionary world by his imagination. In this state his perspective changes and his perceptions intensify. The focus is sharpened and magnified. Even the smallest details on the apple are visible: ‘And every fleck of russet showing clear’. awake nor asleep. Paradoxically, this releases his imagination and frees it from its sense-bound limitations. He now sees in a new way. The familiar becomes strange, transformed in a visionary world by his imagination. In this state his perspective changes and his perceptions intensify. The focus is sharpened and magnified. Even the smallest details on the apple are visible: ‘And every fleck of russet showing clear’. The poem describes the drift from consciousness to unconsciousness. The calm, peaceful mood in the opening lines is replaced by a sense of physical and mental exhaustion as the speaker becomes increasingly vague (‘there may be’, ‘upon some bough’, ‘two or three’). The breakdown of the rhyming scheme and the repetition of sleep and apple reflect his weariness. It It seems he is too tired to vary his vocabulary and maintain the discipline of a strict rhyming pattern. The lethargic mood is reinforced through the use. of long vowels and the slow, irregular rhythm. He enters a dreamlike state, yet it is not without a feeling of unease. He is overtired and cannot escape the sensations of the day’s work. There are moments of tension when he remembers the care required to prevent the fruit from falling: ‘For all That struck the earth, No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble, Went surely to the cider-apple heap as of no worth’.
‘The Road not Taken’ suggests considerable thematic issues through a simple narrative. The speaker stands in an autumnal wood at a point where two roads run off in different directions. Reluctantly he is forced to make a choice about which one he will take. Both roads seem ‘about the same’, so the focus is on the decision made and its consequences. The traveller cannot see where the first path will lead, as it bends in the undergrowth, so he chooses the other. The grounds for his choice are unclear. While he states that this road had ‘the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear’, he goes on to admit that they were ‘really about the same’, as, maybe, both have the same destination and fate will decide what happens to the speaker, influencing him to trust his instinct in which path is more correct for him, ‘and both that morning equally lay’ covered in leaves. He keeps the first ‘for another day’, knowing there is a finality inherent in his choice, and doubts he will ever return. He conveys the sense of momentous, life-changing decisions in the final stanza when he predicts that in the future the speaker will look back on this moment ‘with a sigh’, which could be one of regret or content. He knows he will regret losing the opportunity to investigate the other option. The choice he has made has serious consequences for him. Frost uses imagery in an almost symbolic way to carry the meaning in the poem. The two roads in the yellow wood represent two different journeys through life. The narrator describes himself as a traveller who must choose which path to follow. One road bends in the undergrowth, making it impossible to see where it will lead, just as in life no one can foretell with certainty the outcome of a decision or what one’s future will be like. Frost describes the woods as ‘yellow’ and the roads as covered ‘In leaves no step had trodden black’. This suggests an autumn scene. Autumn is sometimes used in poetry to suggest maturity. The decision is being made at a time when the speaker is sufficiently experienced and wise to realise the implications of his choice; he knows ‘how way leads on to way’. When he chooses, there is no turning back. He finally decides to take the road ‘less travelled by’ and this changes his life completely. He chooses the road with his moral compass as life is full of risks and took the road he wanted even if the decision was hard.
The poem ‘Out, out-’ deals with the briefness of human existence. The boy is depicted as a tragic hero, destined by forces beyond his control to meet an untimely and pointless death. The title may also refer to the blood flowing from the mutilated hand and the departure of life from the body. The poem opens suddenly with the snarling machine cutting wood into sweet-smelling logs. The ‘stove-length’ logs will be burned for the life-supporting purposes of cooking and heating. However, the saw has the power to destroy as well as create. It reduces the wood to dust. The reader is reminded of the description of the body’s decay after death: ‘earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust’. This image anticipates the fatal accident that will occur later in the poem. The mechanical noises, evocative of predatory animals and rattlesnakes, are suggestive of danger and death. The machine, a ‘buzz saw’, sounds like swarms of angry, stinging and biting insects. These threatening images are contrasted immediately with the tranquil beauty of the natural world, as represented by the Vermont mountains. The effect is to heighten the menace of the saw. Significantly, the whole scene is enacted against the background of the setting sun. The fading light foreshadows the darkness that is shortly to fall upon the boy. As the sun sets, the brief candle of his existence will also be extinguished. His sister, homely in her apron, announces that supper is ready. Like the stove-logs, supper is life-sustaining. With cruel irony, the saw takes its cue, leaps to devour the boy’s hand and bites into the flesh. The biblical overtones here of the Last Supper, flesh, and blood, point towards the boy as an innocent victim, needlessly sacrificed, as the bystanders look on. The opening lines that set the scene are long, flowing, and descriptive. The lines shorten when the accident occurs; this quickens the pace of the poem and heightens the tension. At the end, the pace slows down in order to echo with three little words the last three heartbeats as the boy’s life ebbs away: ‘Little – less – nothing! – and that ended it.’ The full stop refuses to admit any continuation of life or hope. The brisk, matter-of-fact attitude is summed up in the brief line ‘No more to build on there’. The return to normality is indicated in the full-length closing line.
‘Acquainted with the Night’ is one of Frost’s darkest poems. The mood is predominantly sombre, the tone unmistakably solemn. It expresses an overwhelming sense of anxiety, isolation, and despair. While the speaker is presented as a solitary figure walking at night through the city, the poem can be read as a psychological journey, where the townscape is coloured by the mental state of the speaker himself. The scenes portrayed are mental projections, reflecting the mood of the narrator. The world is covered in darkness and unrelieved gloom. The incessant rain is indicative of his depression as he travels through the blackness beyond hope and comfort, symbolised by the reassuring city lights. In this ‘saddest’ of places he shuns human contact, refusing communication with any who might enquire. Jealously guarding his privacy, ‘unwilling to explain’, he retreats into his own silent world. The silence is punctured by a distant impersonal cry. The cry is ‘interrupted’, hinting at possible violence, repression, and suffering. The anonymity and impersonal nature of the incident deepens the fearful mood of the speaker. Yet he is not in immediate danger: the cry comes from far away, another street. These events occur beneath the ‘luminary clock’ – the moon, or perhaps a real clock – which marks the passage of time. This clock fails to offer guidance or comfort to those who look upon its face: it proclaims merely that ‘the time was neither wrong nor right’. In this short poem Frost explores his recurrent themes. He refers to darkness, isolation, the passage of time, sorrow, indifference, and an absence of communication between people. It is important to note, however, that the poem is set in the past. He writes that though he has ‘walked’, ‘outwalked’, ‘looked’, ‘passed by’, ‘dropped my eyes’, ‘stood still and stopped the sound of feet’, he has not escaped the night; instead, he has undergone his ordeal alone and has coped with it and survived: ‘I have been one acquainted with the night.’ The poem is carefully crafted with images of darkness and rain overshadowing the first stanza, creating the bleak atmosphere that is sustained throughout. The images of light serve only to intensify the gloom. The city lights are distant, while the ‘luminary clock’ stands at an ‘unearthly height … against the sky’. The second stanza is preoccupied with seeing and not seeing: ‘looked’, ‘watchman’, ‘dropped my eyes’. The sounds accentuate the silences of the third stanza, reinforcing his isolation. The clock in the fourth stanza emphasises the impersonal nature of the world. The repetition of the opening line in the rhyming couplet is a reminder of the speaker’s harrowing experience.
For Robert Frost it seemed that the deed of writing and interpreting his poetry never ended. His technique included simple dialect and description, his imagery was physical yet hypothetical, and his method showed his opposing views of the universe. Frost creates an atmosphere of depth, pulling the reader into the story by his use of descriptive adjectives and other descriptions of desolation, silence, and emptiness. Frost can be regarded as a nature poet, but the focus of the poems is usually deeply philosophical. Frost does not really express any opinions in his poetry. Instead, he highlights certain issues to stimulate the reader to make up his or her mind. This is a characteristic of exceptional poetry and helps explain why Frost is so revered.