Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963) is America’s one of the most famous poets. There was something in his use of everyday speech, farm life, and plain folk wisdom that drenches his poetry in the nostalgia of a snow-swept New England at the turn of the twentieth century.
On the surface, Frost appears to be a simple farm rhymer but on closer inspection, is a dark and complex poet writing about the inner world of the individual inescapably a part of a vast, indifferent outer world.
For today’s article, I have enlisted 10 of the most famous poems by the poet.
10. The Gift Outright
|Poetry Collection:||A Witness Tree|
‘The Gift Outright’ was a recitation by Frost during the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961. Initially composed in 1936, this poem is technically a sonnet written in iambic pentameter and free verse.
This poem is a patriotic poem that recalls the history of English colonial establishment over the Native Americans.
In the poem, the poet claims that this ‘gift’ is the ‘deed of war’ and the heroic most selfless death of millions of martyrs during the war, which regained the Americans their land.
The poem is a gist of the great American Revolutionary War and the gradual genesis of politics and the structure of the country.
9. Acquainted With The Night
|Poetry Collection:||West-Running Brook|
Another poem in iambic pentameter, this poem has only 14 lines in total, called as ‘terza rima’, first introduced and penned by Dante. Albeit its short length, this poem is capable of catapulting the reader into an eerie detachment.
Frost had experienced inexplicable sadness in his life: he had to lose both his children to different circumstances and often suffered from sporadic depression. Here, ‘the night’ could pertain to depression or perhaps his solitude that he had been familiar with.
Much of the popularity it garnered was because of the fact that the poem dealt with this aforementioned issue. It was like one person telling the other about oscillating between dark moments and moments of normalcy.
He has given this feeling of acute sadness some volume via his words, which people were able to read, grasp and even identify. Replete with metaphors, this poignant poem is one of his greatest works.
8. Home Burial
|Poetry Collection:||North of Boston|
‘Home Burial’ is a dramatic, conversational yet intense poem written by Frost which cascades into continuous scenes and embellished by dialogues rather than being descriptive or narrative.
By reading the poem, the reader gets transported back onto the seat of a staged drama where the characters are portraying fiery performances.
It revolves around the active lives of a certain husband and wife in the rural area, their lamentation, and despair.
The poem accommodates two tragedies in itself: the death of their child and consequently, the dissolution of their marriage. It also deals with the dichotomy of lamenting by the husband and wife.
She gets disabled with the death of her beloved child and plunges into bottomless grief with a bleak chance of recovering from the trauma. She is not yet ready to accept the death of her child and far from being emotionally stable.
On the other hand, the husband has entirely pacified with his emotions and tries to appease his wife.
He has waned with time and holds a view that it is the ‘way of the world’ and poses a stoic disposition.
This unfortunate turn of event has rendered their marriage completely torn, past the point of reconciliation where each isn’t able to cope with the other.
Perhaps, this poem could also be shedding the sensitivity of a mother towards her child with whom she has an umbilical cord attached and the practicality that the father possesses.
Regardless, this is a melancholic poem that stirs a tense feeling into the hitherto calm mind of the reader.
7. Out, Out
|Poetry Collection:||Mountain Interval|
This 34 lines long poem has its title from William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ (Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 17-28), where Macbeth delivers herself the dialogue that life is a ‘brief candle’ that extinguishes quickly(“Out, out, brief candle, life’s but a walking shadow” -Macbeth).
This reference is just to fit the theme of which is the helplessness of humans during the inevitable consumption by death.
Through the poem, we learn that a young lad cuts wood with a spinning saw. He has his hands between the saw and gets it mutilated.
He dies due to severe bleeding, and the onlookers glance at it and resume doing their chores.
Simply, this poem depicts the futility of life where a farmer boy has been doing his daily task of chopping woods when unfortunately he has to have it amputated and to make matters worse; he succumbs to death.
Similarly, another lesson put forth is that the onlookers are merely onlookers who possess no power whatsoever and will continue with their affairs regardless of the boys’ death or anybody’s death for that matter.
The poem seems to convey that our life is short and often humorous if seen in that light and the fact that the world stops for none, it keeps moving perennially. Such a profound message only Frost can deliver with deft that makes this poem unsettling yet beautiful.
6. Fire and Ice
|Poetry Collection:||New Hampshire|
‘Fire and Ice’ is a short 9-lined poem which, despite its length, holds a grave meaning and leaves the reader contemplating upon it. Speculation has it that it is a gist of what Dante wrote in his ‘Inferno’ or at least has been inspired by it.
The verse elaborates in simple, comprehensive language and even has mentioned household objects, yet it contains a deep and human meaning.
The narrator starts by questioning whether the world is going to end by another ice age movement or another holocaust or nuclear war or something like that consuming the earth.
Then he takes a subtle swerve in the meaning when compares fire with human passion and human desire that can get too hot and even go onto becoming destructive.
Eventually, he goes on to say in the latter part that it could be ice or hate or indifference of men that are equally or even of greater destructibility.
It could merely imply that there is more than enough of man’s insatiable greed or extreme hate looming significant in this world which is detrimental to the human race.
Whatever may be the inference, at the core, we know that it is the human passion and energy that will bring an end to this world.
|Poetry Collection:||New Hampshire|
Since Frost grew up in the countryside, nature and its whims are close to his heart. The poem is of 59 lines in iambic pentameter form, but each stanza has a thematic resemblance to different phases such as the past, present and the future tethered on the branches of the birch tree itself.
The theme of the poem seems to be akin to ‘swinging’ as the poet has depicted the branches swinging and making a fashionable touch down on the earth.
It could imply that there’s the infinite sky above the tree-tops and the vast stretched-out land below and juggling between these two is our life, us humans who have sustained.
The whole climbing the branches refers to a momentary respite from the mundane life, transcending into the unknown, often regarded as death.
But the poet hasn’t promised about the after-life slightly he diverts into coming back to the earth (Earth’s the right place for love) as this is where life thrives.
Although we are weighed down by the responsibilities of everyday life, the poet reiterates that the upward thrust must be followed by a downward motion to balance life.
To convey this theme, the poet has chosen a birch tree because the tree is rooted to the earth well and as a sapling, it has a tendency of bending and retreating back.
This scaling of the tree and following the trajectory backwards is what he describes as ‘good both going and coming back’.
4. Nothing Gold Can Stay
|Poetry Collection:||New Hampshire|
Although this poem is only an eight liner, it unearths profound meaning when excavated. The poetry has been revered worldwide for the literary devices manoeuvred by the poet.
Needless to say, the reader understands that nothing gold can stay forever. In other words, nothing good lasts forever.
The poet has made this simple fact time evident by stating that ‘the first green of spring is her hardest hue to hold’, ‘so Eden sank to grief’ and lastly, ‘dawn goes down to day’.
The pleasant days of spring gradually morph into hues of brown and duns. The perfect world of Adam and Eve is interrupted by a host of the human race and the bright early mornings followed by nights.
The poem reflects the nature of mother nature in terms of carefully stringed words. Through this poem, Frost taps on the cyclic life and how we are born but certainly perish into the same soil we sprung.
Another message the poem imparts is that everything is temporary, and only if we are to fathom their ethereal existence, we can appreciate them even more.
3. Mending Wall
‘Mending Wall’ is a blank verse poem that commences with natural lines then escalates into ambiguous remarks.
It is about two neighbours separated by a wall that is often toppled by varying forces. One of them favours the wall, whereas the other cannot reason why the wall is necessary. And in between these two opposing views lies the central theme of the poem.
In the first four lines of the poem, the poet refers to as ‘love’ or companionship, and in the next four of the stanza, it is symbolic to ‘hate’ or ‘forceful’.
The bulk of the poem is that there is a contrast between the narrator and the neighbour. However, the irony lies in the complicity of the narrator to mend the wall each time it is damaged.
We can also catch the precipitate of ‘Myth of Sisyphus’ as it bears semblance to the tedious task of carrying the boulder to hill unnecessarily.
Perhaps it means that there are two types of people in this world: those who are adamant on wall-building and those who want to knock it down. There are also other inferences drawn of this poem. Nonetheless, it is loved by all.
2. Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
This poem is probably the most read poem by Frost and most loved yet most misinterpreted. The poem written in quatrain rhymed iambic tetrameter begins with a wilful entry of the narrator and his exit at the end of the poem.
The theme laid out in this poem is one that is frequented by Frost: departure and freedom. When he enters the scenic snowy woods, he is in awe of the splendid vista the place has to offer even on a dark evening.
He wants to stay there longer and adore what he sees. He soon realizes that he has unkept promises to fulfil and ‘miles to go before I sleep’ echoing the departure or rather a new pursuit.
The poem fits into many shapes and perspectives, some murky, some pleasant yet it doesn’t alter the fact that this poem resonates with everybody and duly deserves the position it holds.
1. The Road Not Taken
|Poetry Collection:||Mountain Interval|
Touted as the most famous poem by Frost, ‘The Road Not Taken’ describes our life’s journey and how we face choices in every step of the way.
Every day we have to make decisions, after all, life is about choices and their consequences, and we are only these fragments of our options soldered together. It is why Frost’s poem strikes a chord with all the readers.
Here, the speaker is standing in front of diverging roads and is perplexed about choosing the right path. Eventually, he takes the unbeaten path to worn-out one. He is amused by what discoveries and experiences the trail leads him to and makes him who he is.
There is an important lesson here about venturing into the unknown and rolling with the punches to better shape ourselves. The theme of the poem which makes it an inspiring read.
Frost’s poems reflect the folksy tone and the snowy atmosphere he grew up in New Hampshire.
His lyrics, embellished with dark themes which he had gone through and amidst the darkness, the reader finds his poems infiltrated by rays of hope and promises of transcendentalism which make them appropriate to all ages.