The Poems of Robert Frost | Study Guide

Robert Frost

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The Poems of Robert Frost | The Pasture | Summary



This small and very efficient poem—two stanzas, seven lines of direct address and one of introspection—tells a brief story. The speaker stands before someone he cares for, announcing his intentions. He is headed out to the pasture to rake some leaves from a spring and fetch a calf. He is reluctant to separate from the person he addresses. The evidence is in the refrain, the fourth line of each of the poem's two stanzas, fully one quarter of the poem: "I shan't be gone long.—You come too."


"The Pasture" originally appeared as the first poem in Frost's second published volume, North of Boston (1914). Frost, however, chose it to open the Complete Poems of Robert Frost, in which the individual volumes of the poet's work are chronologically arranged. Thus "The Pasture" is out of place chronologically and in its placement outside of the volume in which it originally appeared. Like the essay "The Figure a Poem Makes" at the beginning of Complete Poems, "The Pasture" has an introductory function. In fact, this small two-stanza poem demonstrates the principles set down in Frost's essay, beginning with the all-important music of sound/sense relationships and ending in an expression of love.

Content and form join to initiate the poem's movement "from love to wisdom," the goal Frost described in his essay. The love, of course, is in the refrain, the speaker's reluctance to part even for a short time from the one he addresses. The sound/sense relationships of the first stanza advance meaning: readers are tipped off by the end rhymes of lines 2 and 3 in the first stanza: "away" and "may." The words suggest the parting of the lovers and a provisional something else suggested by "may." This "something else" turns out to be the clarity the speaker may achieve if he is patient enough to wait, spending precious minutes away from his beloved. That is, he may "wait to watch the water clear." The w of "away" leads to an alliterative series of w words: "wait," "watch," "water," to emphasize the potential for clarity that comes with patience and separation from his beloved. The unity of the second and third lines is further emphasized by the repetition of the vowel. So many of the varieties of a sounds (line 2 "rake," "away'; line 3 "wait, "watch," "water," "may") also promise "clarity."

Line 3 is in parentheses. The direct address of the stanza is interrupted by an inner thought, an ambivalent moment ("I may"), perhaps in recognition that waiting to watch the water clear delays the lovers' reunion. The compensation is a reward to the inner life of the speaker, a moment of clarity available only to the solitary watcher.

The "wisdom" of the second stanza derives from the theme of separation. Alone, the speaker closely observes and finds meaning in a scene that, had he been with another person, might have gone unnoted. This time it is the little calf he has come to fetch, a creature so vulnerable and unsteady that when its mother "licks it with her tongue," "it totters." The theme of separation develops here as the speaker has come to fetch the calf.

Again, the sound/sense relationships do the work in stanza 2. The frequent use of word-initial and internal t's seems to stop readers in their tracks. The reader pauses and conjectures that when the calf is fetched—that is, separated from its mother—its dependence may be exacerbated. The end rhyme of lines 2 and 3 of the second stanza, "young" and "tongue," bring together the calf's vulnerability and the mother's care. The vowel system changes: a proliferation of a's in the first stanza gives way to a single a in "standing" and then a collection of i's and o's (line 1: "I'm going out," line 2: "mother," "It's so young," line 3: "It totters," "licks it," "tongue," line 4: "I," "gone long," "You come too"). It's as though between the characters suggested by the words you and I there is something going on that is resolved in the refrain—(y)ou—(c)o(me)—(t)oo.

The poem elicits an understanding of the vulnerability and dependence of the individual who loves and is loved in return. There is the sense that being alone yields experience unavailable when one is distracted by love. In the end, despite the glorious distractions of love, there is wisdom and clarity of thinking that comes with solitude. The reader is invited to participate in this solitude, as the refrain invites readers to "come too" in the solitary act of reading.

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