The Poems of Robert Frost | Study Guide

Robert Frost

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The Poems of Robert Frost | Hyla Brook | Summary

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Summary

It is June, and the speaker observes that Hyla Brook has "run out of song and speed." Soon after, it has "gone groping underground" and the Hyla frogs, which had "shouted" just a month before, have disappeared. Now, leaves have blown into the streambed, and the hot summer sun has dried the leaves, leaving "a faded paper sheet / Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat." The speaker then concludes that a brook like this no longer exists, except in the minds of those "who remember long." The speaker doesn't seem to mind that the waters have gone underground because "We love the things we love for what they are."

Analysis

"Hyla Brook" appeared in Mountain Interval (1916). This poem, a modified sonnet, is about a brook named for the frogs that breed there. The speaker describes elements of the brook that are lodged in his memory. Just as many of Frost's poems employ elements of the natural world to metaphorically demonstrate the turns of thought that are the poem, the elements of the brook that wind through the poem evoke the movements of the poet's thoughts. In "Tuft of Flowers," it is the circling flight of a "bewildered butterfly" that represents the turning flight of the poet's fancies. In "Hyla Brook," a dry streambed reminds the speaker of the "song" and "speed" of the brook in an earlier time when it still flowed. This song of Hyla Creek pays homage to memory in which the things we care about are enshrined: "We love the things we love for what they are."

Although it would play havoc with the meter, the closing line might profitably be extended: "We love the things we love for what they are" to us. "Hyla Brook" is, after all, a deeply personal poem. Although the reader of poetry is generally encouraged not to assume that the speaker of the poem and the poet are the same, this poem could be deemed an exception. The unidentified speaker in the poem's opening line calls his subject, "our brook," as indeed it was. The brook is on the property of the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire, where the poet and his family lived from 1900 to 1911. Readers can visit the brook and even stand in the dry brook bed. A literary group, The Hyla Book Poets, meets once a month at the farm and conducts a competition each year for the best submission of a metrical poem. The farm is open to visitors.

The poem opens with the speaker acknowledging that the brook has "run out of song," yet the uninterrupted flow of iambic pentameter invites the reader to hear the flow of water. The meter is abetted by an assonance of soft vowels—June, our, brook's, run, out, of song—amidst the trills of r's variously placed—our, brook's, run—which are the water's conduits. The alliterated s's of song and speed recall the flowing brook. Moreover, the water has "gone groping" its way underground. In the poet's memory, the water has taken the sounds of the Hyla frogs with it.

Still, in the real world, not much is left of the "brookness" of the little stream. It is a dry creek bed lined with leaves, "a faded paper sheet." Readers mustn't be too quick, however, in conceding how little is left. The brook bed is a "faded paper sheet." Along with the "dead leaves," the image reminds readers that the brook has been fixed not only in memory but on paper, as a poem.

This poem of 15 lines formally recalls the Petrarchan sonnet. It is based on an opening octave (Hyla Brook adds a ninth line to the opening portion) with a rhyme scheme of ABBACCADD and a sestet, EEFGFG. To note the proximity in form, meter, and rhyme to the Petrarchan sonnet is to recall Frost's use of conventional verse forms. In "The Figure a Poem Makes," he discusses the "sound of sense," the accomplishment of the poem's "dramatic tones of meaning struck across the rigidity of a limited" meter. "Hyla Brook" is another demonstration of Frost's mastery of the defined rhyme scheme.

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