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In “Tree At My Window,” Robert Frost addresses a tree growing outside of his bedroom window with these words: “But tree…You have seen me when I slept, … I was taken and swept / And all but lost. / That day she put our heads together, / Fate had her imagination about her, / Your head so much concerned with outer, / Mine with inner, weather.” In these lines Frost conveys several emotions and themes that infiltrate many of his works. These common themes include darkness, nighttime, isolation, inner turmoil and the premonition of death.
It is through these recurring images that we are able to glimpse into Robert Frost’s life, and see how greatly his life effected his poetry.
Robert Frost endured many emotional hardships in his life. Some of the most significant and tragic, are the many deaths in his immediate family. By the time Frost was 27, he had lost both of his parents, his son Elliott, as well as his grandfather, the man who had served as a surrogate father to him after the death of his own father when he was only 11.
By the time Frost was 62, he was forced to commit his sister Jeanie to a mental hospital. He had also lost three more of his seven children (one to a miscarriage), as well as his wife Elinor, the love of his life. Five years later, his son Carol committed suicide.
“Spring Pools” is a reflection on Frost’s inner emotions in dealing with the deaths of his children. The “pools, that though in forests, still reflect / The total sky almost without defect,” are his children.
He speaks of their innocence, and the fact that they are too young to know the imperfections of the world, too young to be jaded, or even scared of their forthcoming death.
The poem is entitled “Spring Pools,” however; it does not give an illusion of Spring in the traditional senses of newness, rejuvenation, joy & rebirth. Rather the term “spring” is used in the title in much the same way as the term “Spring lamb,” an animal whose only purpose behind being born is to be slaughtered at the end of the season.
The trees and roots are symbolic of both death and God. He implores the “trees that have it in their pent-up buds / to darken nature” to “think twice before they use their powers / To blot out and sweep away / These flowery waters.” He is literally begging God to reconsider when bringing death upon his children, yet he knows that he is not the force controlling the situation. He knows that his children “will like the flowers beside them soon be gone.” The fresh pools, “from snow that melted only yesterday,” are spoke of with a touch of nostalgic innocence.
Frost puts both himself and Elinor, in the poem as, “a flower beside [the pools].” In referring to the “pools” as “flowery waters,” he is not only showing the parental bond between the “pools” and the “flower[s] beside them,” but also intensifying the image that the “pools” are soft, young and innocent. He speaks of their premature death, “not out by any brook or river, / But up by roots to bring dark foliage on” with deep-rooted feelings of loss brought on by his own personal tragedy.
“Spring Pools” contains within its lines the themes of darkness, sadness, and inevitable death. It shows Frost’s struggle to control occurrences in his life that are virtually insuperable. At the end of the poem, he slowly comes to terms with the uncertainty of life, and he begins to resolve his feelings of contempt for the collective world. Frost is rarely satisfied or resolved with his choices, however he is accepting of his future uncertainties. At the end of most of Frost’s poems, he has generally resolved or come to terms with his emotional and mental turmoil. Many of his works share these same inner conflicts, such as his poem “The Road Not Taken.”
Frost uses “The Road Not Taken” as poem as a metaphor for the mass amount of travelling that he was doing in the period of his life in which it was written. Between 1909-1915, Frost and his family relocated their home twelve times. They lived in several places on America’s East Coast, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and the Virginia-North Carolina border, as well as England, Gloucestershire, and then back to New York. It was during this time of transporting his family back to America that Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken.”
In “The Road Not Taken,” Frost speaks of “Two roads…in a yellow wood” and the decision that he must make in choosing one path over the other. He “looked down one as far as I could / To where it bent in the undergrowth…Then took the other, as just as fair,” and scrutinized its possibilities and potential in comparison to the first road. He eventually comes to a decision, deciding to “[keep] the first for another day! / Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back.”
But is he satisfied with his decision? Of course not! “I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere 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.” He is not satisfied with his decision, as is made apparent when he says that he will be “telling this with a sigh” somewhere in the future. However, one does not have to be satisfied with their decision to accept it. Choosing the “road less traveled by” “has made all the difference” in his life, but Frost does not specify that his choice was the one that produced the best possible outcomes in his life.
Many of Frost’s poems concern his future and making decisions that will effect the rest of his life. The poem “An Old Man’s Night” was first published at the same time as “The Road Not Taken.” It was a time of great unsettlement, both mentally and physically for Frost. Frost was travelling from one city to another trying to establish his roots. His poetry was being received quite well, but his personal life was in a disheveled state. Elinor was becoming ill due to a weak heart and she suffered a miscarriage.
Frost feared for her life, as well as fearing the loneliness that seemed to be inevitably looming in his future. He had suffered quite a substantial amount of grief and heartache, and he was terrified of the thought of getting old by himself. He had been known to hear voices in his head as a child, however, Frost remained adamant that these voices had disappeared when he entered adulthood. Most critics, however, agree that Frost refused to admit that the voices still occupied his mind in order to avoid ridicule or institutionalization.
The old man in “An Old Man’s Winter Night,” can be construed to be Frost himself when he states ambiguously, “All out of doors looked darkly in at him / Through the ‘thin frost’.” The man is old and alone, not able to remember his reasoning and decisions. He goes into his cellar, but “what kept him from remembering what it was / that brought him to the creaking room was age. / He stood with barrels round him – at a loss.” The stillness of the house is obvious in the amplification of common noises. He “scared the cellar under him / In clomping in here…and scared the outer night / Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar / Of trees, and crack of branches, common things. / But nothing so like beating on a box.”
Frost feels that without anyone around him in his life, his life would become insignificant, a “light he [would be] to no one but himself.” He identifies with the darkness, calling the moon “as better than the sun in any case / For such a charge.” He is able however, to find peace and sleep in the darkness that envelops him. “The log that shifted with a jolt / Once in the stove disturbed him and he shifted, / And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.” Although he is not content, he is beginning to accept that this may be a potential outcome of his life. The final lines convey his fear of the future when he says, “One aged man – one man – can’t keep a house…or if he can…It’s thus he does it of a winter night.”
The darkness and mystery that couple with nighttime are key players in many of Frost’s metaphors. He often uses a winter night as his setting, and most commonly, the speaker is either travelling or walking out in the cold. Frost himself was rumored to be afraid of the dark, but he was also known for taking long walks in the dark. This was a straightforward way of confronting his fears by staring the darkness in the face and standing up to the nighttime that terrified him. After years of this practice, Frost found himself not only comfortable and at ease in the darkness, but he found also that the nighttime was where he became the most content and free from anxiety. Frost was a very contemplative man, and he used his work to convey his inner thoughts and fears.
In “Good Hours,” Robert Frost writes about a late evening walk down a winter lane. The rhyme scheme of this poem is a simple A, A, B, B pattern and is broken down into four stanzas of four lines each. The speaker walks in pensive silence, having “no one at all with whom to talk.” As he walks down the winter lane, he personifies the inanimate objects that surround him, and gives light and life to the surroundings that fill the bleak night.
The main unification in this poem comes from the recurring themes of darkness, amplification of sound and stillness, and the speaker’s inescapable loneliness. The speaker is feeling isolation from the world around him, and he cannot escape that feeling no matter how hard he tries to disillusion himself that his life follows the same course as the lives of the people that he sees in the cottage windows.
The night is lonely and the speaker tells of “cottages in a row / Up to their shining eyes in snow.” How can a cottage have eyes, the organs of vision, if it does not possess the sense of sight? But to the speaker, the cottages are enormously alive, and the windows are the eyes from which he can see into the cottage’s soul. Eyes themselves do not literally “shine,” but in this instance, it is literally true to say that the eyes of the cottage were “shining” from the light within.
The inside of the cottages are full of people performing various activities, and although the speaker is not included in the actions of their lives, he feels as though he is a part of it all, “I thought I had the folk within: / I had the sound of a violin.” The speaker catches a “glimpse” from behind a veil of “curtain laces” “youthful forms and youthful faces.” (This too, can be construed as an image of his children, partially veiled by a shroud of death). He allows himself to become an integral part of the background scenery to such an extent that it satisfies him and keeps his mind occupied. Notice that he never once mentions the bitter cold that should accompany a snowy winter evening.
Although he has no human companion with him, the speaker has “such company outward bound,” that he continues to walk deep into the night until “there were no cottages found.” He has been in such deep thought that he has not realized that he has reached the end of the town. He turns and realizing that he has been out such a long time and that it is getting very late, “I saw no window but that was black,” he heads back toward his home. He crosses the “slumbering village street” with his “creaking feet,” a paradox since the street cannot actually rest or sleep because it is not living. An inanimate object does not need sleep or rest, however, when he “disturbs” the street’s “slumber,” he feels it is “like profanation.” He is disrespecting the street and putting it to an improper use at this time of night, “at ten o’clock of a winter eve,” when everything else in the town is at rest and still. The street is empty except for one last wanderer still traversing down a lonely lane.
Frost deals with recurring themes of darkness, loneliness, death, and uncertainty. Through these themes, Frost reveals himself in candid form. He was a natural born worrier who often got nervous stomachaches. These occurrences became so frequent that eventually they drove him to quit school for several years. He had fears of abandonment in his childhood, which lead to feelings of isolation in adulthood. Both of these projections can be seen in lines from “Desert Places.” “I am too absent-spirited to count; / The loneliness includes me unawares.” Frost writes, “They cannot scare me with their empty spaces / between stars…I have it in me so much nearer home / To scare myself with my own desert places.”
By making the parallel between Frost’s life and his poetry, we are able to clearly see how his life experiences shaped his poetry. These experiences gave birth to some of his greatest works, and from these works we see the man behind the poetry. We see a man who dealt with more heartbreak, hardships and sorrow than most should have to endure. We see a man who put more effort and soul into his work, than many will ever attempt. And we see a man whose works have inspired many, and will continue to do so for generations to come.
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