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Critical summary of Robert Frosts' poem "Home Burial"?

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piyhuu | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 31, 2010 at 3:38 PM via web

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Critical summary of Robert Frosts' poem "Home Burial"?

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dstuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted April 1, 2010 at 2:30 AM (Answer #1)

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Robert Frost's "Home Burial" is a dramatic poem written in iambic meter.  The poem is almost entirely dialogue, with only a few narrative lines that serve the purposes of defining the spatial relations between the couple and establishing the tension between them, such as when he stands over her and she cowers below him, and when she opens the door wider to leave.   

The two are in conflict over their different ways of grieving.  The man behaves as men are taught to behave by society:  stoical and tight-lipped.  The woman interprets this as indifference, an inability to care.  The resulting conflict is the feature of the poem. 

The poem is a study of misinterpretation.  The man reacts to the death of his child by throwing himself into his work, figuratively, and by focusing on a fence.  She sees him as throwing dirt from the child's grave as if he were doing anything else, as if he were performing any usual chore.  He comments on the fence deteriorating, and she fails to see that to him, the fence may represent the child, or at least, that he is attempting to ignore his grief by focusing on something else. 

The poem eavesdrops on a bereaved couple at an agonizing moment to reveal their passion and frustration. 

And their is no resolution. 

Frost in "Home Burial" demonstrates his ability to present a vignette featuring common people using the rigid form of iambic rhythm and meter, and to make even the dialogue appear and sound natural.   

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted April 1, 2010 at 3:38 AM (Answer #2)

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To add somewhat to the previous post, Frost depicts two different ways of grieving the death of an infant through the mother and father.  Because Amy is physically much closer to the infant through childbirth and nursing, she is unable to move on when the baby dies. She wants the world to stand still; she wants the baby's life to matter.  She cannot live her life as if the baby did not live:  "

Friends make a pretense of following to the grave,

But before one is in it, their minds are turned

And making the best of their way back to life

And living people, and things they understand . . .

I won't have grief so

If I can change it.  

The father, however, can draw closure.  He buries the baby in the ground.  This physical action enables him to move on to other things.  He cannot understand his wife's grief, and she cannot understand his seeming lack of it.  Unfinished sentences throughout the poem help to convey the sense of helplessness each has in trying to communicate to the other. 

Also indicative of their lack of communication and lack of understanding are the generalizations each makes about the opposite sex.  Amy questions whether any man can speak honestly and openly about "a child's he's lost." The man complains that a

a man must partly give up being a man

with women folks.

These types of generalizations do much to build walls of separation between the two. 

Frost shows how such a traumatic event strains a marriage.  Their positions on the staircase emphasize the separation; he at the bottom and she at the top, and later, these positions are reversed. At the top of the staircase is a view of the source of the problem; at the bottom of the staircase is the door,a possible resolution, escape.   

Amy's instinct is to run, to escape from the source of her grief.  The man's instinct is to use force to try to keep what's left of his family together.  We don't know if either is successful. 

The poem is structured dramatically.  It is told from an objective viewpoint, not taking either the side of the wife nor that of the husband.  It shows how the death of a baby can cause the death of a marriage.    Frost creates a delicate balance in his treatment of the two parents.  The woman is in obvious pain; the man wants desperately to help her move on, but his words are ineffective, patronizing, and waver between sympathetic and scornful.  The woman, though, seems hysterical and intent on blaming her husband for doing what he needs to do:  continuing to work. 

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