The Poems of Robert Frost | Study Guide

Robert Frost

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The Poems of Robert Frost | The Runaway | Summary

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Summary

A colt, "a little Morgan," has been left unattended in a pasture, and snow has begun to fall. Two people stop to watch the colt. The little animal is barely visible behind a veil of falling snow. The watchers imagine the colt is not "winter-broken" and see he is terrified of the snow. The colt's terror is visible as he attempts to mount the pasture wall and then races off again. His eyes roll, and his coat shudders. The watchers observe that someone "ought" to tell the owner to come and get the frightened colt and take him in.

Analysis

"The Runaway" follows "Nothing Gold Can Stay" in New Hampshire (1923). Frost talked about assembling a volume when he discovered relationships among a group of poems on similar themes. In that context, it is interesting to consider "The Runaway" in its proximity to "Nothing Gold Can Stay." The latter, a springtime lyric, cast in a golden glow, posits the fleeting nature of beauty as a timeless treasure.

"The Runaway," set at the beginning of winter, is the appropriate foil, highlighting the other poem by contrast. Two people, walking together, feel compassion at the sight of a colt running in terror about the pasture. The watchers at the edge of the pasture think emotionally rather than rationally about the colt and its situation. One speculates, "I doubt if even his mother could tell him, "Sakes, / It's only weather.' He'd think she didn't know!" The speaker is anthropomorphizing the colt. It becomes a teenage runaway who, according to the watchers, wouldn't appreciate his mother's wisdom.

The poem's end rhymes support the narrative. What opens as a promisingly symmetrical scheme—ABACBCDEF—begins to disintegrate, becoming DDDEGHIJK. Then we arrive at a closing couplet, lines 20–21. The sound of sense here, an overheard conversation between a friendly pair, begins in a kind of harmony in lines 1–9, moves through agreement in lines 10–13, and finally disintegrates in the disorder of the colt's terror.

The rhyming couplet at the end offers resolution in the golden rule: the owner "ought" to be told to do the right thing.

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