The Poems of Robert Frost | Study Guide

Robert Frost

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The Poems of Robert Frost | Plot Summary

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Summary

The Pasture

The speaker announces his intention to attend to some chores in the pasture quickly: cleaning leaves from the spring and fetching the calf. He imagines slowing down to watch the water clear once the leaves are raked from the spring, and he thinks about the calf and its mother. The poem's refrain of "I shan't be gone long.—You come too" falls on the fourth and eighth line of the poem, which is only eight lines long. This repeated phrase indicates the speaker's care for the person the speaker addresses and the wish to share these small moments in the pasture.

Mowing

This 14-line poem about making order in a field and in a poem has the line count of a sonnet. However, the poem breaks the patterns of the conventional forms in its disturbed meter and its peculiar pattern of end rhymes. It is neither a Shakespearean nor a Petrarchan sonnet, although it exhibits some rules from each. As the mower meditates on the whispering sound of his scythe, his confusion abates and the meter regularizes. A couplet of resolution both provides an "aha!" moment and is an homage to the conventions of the Shakespearean sonnet. In it, the mower is rewarded with a simple truth: his own thought processes have taken him from a fantasy of idleness or a dream of sudden wealth to the riches inherent in work. He has come to see clearly the plain and compelling elements of his world.

The Tuft of Flowers

A farmhand works alone, turning grass in a field, and attempts to imagine the work of the solitary mower who cut the grass before sunrise. At this, the farmhand's thoughts take a serious turn: he is not dealing with the solitude of his task but with the profound loneliness characteristic of the human condition. His meditation is interrupted as he follows a butterfly's circling flight that leads to a tuft of bright flowers. Recognizing that the mower had spared the flowers, likely a sign of his appreciation of the beauty of the morning, the farmhand concludes that he has found a "kindred spirit." He is not alone.

Mending Wall

A stone wall separates two properties: a pine woods and an apple orchard. Two neighbors meet in the springtime, each on his side of the wall, to repair gaps caused by nature and sometimes by the activities of other men. The speaker does not believe the wall is needed, while his neighbor insists on upholding tradition, stating, "Good fences make good neighbors." The speaker, recognizing that the true barrier is his neighbor's stony point of view, remains on his side of the wall as both men work to mend the fence. "Something there is that doesn't love a wall" is the refrain from one side while "Good fences make good neighbors" echoes from the other.

The Death of the Hired Man

This poem is a dialogue described by a third-person speaker. Warren, Mary's husband, returns from shopping to find that Silas, the hired man who periodically leaves the family in a lurch, has returned. Wary of Warren's disapproval, Mary explains why she took Silas in. He is in terrible shape and needs help. Warren is unsympathetic until Mary convinces him to take pity on the well-intentioned, ruined man. In the course of their conversation, Warren's sympathies are aroused when he learns a new way to think about the meaning of home. Finally, he agrees to look in on the sleeping man. He soon returns with only a single word in conclusion: "Dead."

Home Burial

A man standing at the foot of the stairs in his home watches his wife, who has paused at the top of the stairs. He knows she is miserable and that her pain comes from the view through a small, high window that frames the family graveyard and the burial mound of their first child. He recognizes that his wife has not recovered from the death and tries to comfort her. Unable to find solace, she refuses his sympathy and accuses him of not mourning properly. He acknowledges that his mourning is not like hers. Increasingly upset, she tries to leave the house, and he warns that if she does, he will follow her and bring her back "by force."

After Apple Picking

Although his work was not complete, the apple picker has chosen to stop. At home and half asleep, he recalls the sight of distorted apples through a pane of ice skimmed from the water trough that morning. The pane melts as he starts to fall asleep. He believes the dreams he can almost see will consist of "ten thousand thousand fruit" and the "great harvest" he had once desired. Finally, we learn the speaker's sleep is troubled by questions about the sort of dreams he might have. He concludes that only "the woodchuck" could say if his exhaustion is like the dead sleep of hibernation "or just some human sleep."

The Wood-Pile

The speaker wanders far from home on a "gray day." A small bird leads the way, and the speaker begins to impute thought and reason as well as traits of character to the bird. Dismissing one "so foolish" as to attribute thought to the bird, "to think what he thought," the speaker does just that. The bird hides behind a cord of maple, carefully stacked. The logs are well weathered and uniform in size. The speaker imagines that only a person who lives to start new tasks would abandon this precise and careful handiwork, leaving the logs "to warm the frozen swamp as best it could," which is to say, not at all.

The Road Not Taken

A traveler comes upon two divergent roads and laments that he cannot not travel both. The road he chooses is "grassy and want[s] wear"; meanwhile, he recognizes that the other is the same. He decides to take the first road on another day, and once again, reverses himself, doubting he will "ever come back." Finally, he imagines that in the far future, he will announce, with a sigh, that he chose the road "less traveled by" and that "made all the difference."

Hyla Brook

The unidentified speaker in "Hyla Brook" remembers the brook for what it no longer is. It has run out of "song and speed." The brook bed is dry and silent. If there is water, it is not visible, having "gone groping underground." Parentheses emphasize the submerged effect: the frog colony for which the brook is named is no longer visible, nor are the frog's ghostly shouts audible. Shrouded in mist, the frog's shouts are recalled in an inaudible, invisible simile, a comparison that uses like or as: "like ghost of sleigh bells in a ghost of snow." Also remembered is jewel-weed that grew in the brook's running waters. What's left is the brook bed lined with dry, dead leaves, the only element of substance in a song made of memory and love.

Birches

The speaker claims that when he sees birch trees arching in the woods against a background of dark vertical trees, he likes "to think some boy's been swinging them." He knows better. Birch trees, although they don't break, are bowed permanently by ice storms. Still, the memory of swinging on birch trees persists, especially when life gets him down. Then he imagines he would like, once again, to be a youthful "swinger of birches."

Fire and Ice

A speaker considers apocalyptic scenarios, speculating on whether the end of the world will come by fire or ice. Given what he has "tasted of desire," he believes fire is most likely. If, however, the destruction were to repeat, ice, which he equates with hatred, would work as well.

Dust of Snow

The speaker is dusted with snow a crow had shaken from a hemlock tree. He is heartened by the small gesture, his mood improved on a trying day.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Gold shoots of plants ripen to green, the former being a color that doesn't last in nature. Pale leaves look like flowers, but those new leaves "subside" to leaves. They become ordinary. Similarly—that is, in a short time—immortality, the mystery of the biblical Garden of Eden, is lost; it "sank to grief." The golden beauty of dawn is also short-lived. Gold in nature offers a fleeting glimpse of immortality.

The Runaway

Two people stop at a mountain pasture where they see a frightened colt. The colt is barely visible against the falling snow. The pair worries about the animal that is not "winter-broken." They imagine he has run away. When the colt comes back into view, he is terrified. His eyes are rolling, and his coat shudders. One of the watchers observes that whoever has left the colt out "ought to be told to come and take him in."

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

The speaker stops in the woods to watch the snow fall on the darkest night of the year. His horse seems to object, shaking its harness bells as if to question the speaker's choice. It is so quiet that the speaker hears the wind and imagines he can hear the snowflakes drop. He admires the peacefulness and solitude of the setting but acknowledges that he must continue on his way.

Acquainted with the Night

A solitary speaker describes himself, probably in an interior monologue since the poem is in first person and there is nothing to indicate that the speaker addresses anyone. He begins and ends with the statement, almost an admission: "I have been one acquainted with the night." He confirms the statement by reviewing what it means to be acquainted with the night. He has walked the city at night, peered down lanes, listened for his own footsteps. Moreover, no one calls to him from houses along the way. He is alone, and even the passage of time counts for nothing in his life.

Two Tramps in Mud Time

The speaker is chopping wood in his yard when two men come along looking for work. The wood splitter is enjoying the task and letting off steam. He is also basking in the signs of spring. He recognizes that it is the presence of the men seeking work that gives him pause to fully take stock and appreciate his task. That thought generates his concern that he is selfishly immersed in the pleasures of his task while these men clearly need the work. He feels vindicated, however, when he recognizes a crucial life lesson. In his solitude, he has managed an all-important integration of vocation and avocation, that is, of love and need.

Neither Out Far nor In Deep

The poem opens with a line of people on a beach standing and looking out to sea all day. What can be seen is a ship on the horizon and a gull reflected in the wet sand. Even if the land is varied and likely more interesting, the people look out to sea. They can't see very far and certainly not very deep, yet this does not dissuade them from keeping watch.

Take Something Like a Star

The speaker looks to the heavens for reassurance, invoking a star for help. Although the star is asked to speak, the silence remains. Finally, the speaker determines that what is demanded by the solitary star is height. Thus, when speech is corrupted, meaning and purpose may be maintained if we take our models from the star, standing tall and remaining fixed in position.

The Gift Outright

The speaker of the poem begins with a surprising observation: we were not American even as the land was ours. He explains: it is one thing to possess the land and another to be possessed by it. Such possession comes with freely giving oneself to the land. "The deed of gift was many deeds of war." Only through the generations of service has the patriot gained opportunities to enhance the land with stories and with art—affirmations of the citizen's possession by the land.

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