Home Burial Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Frost’s primary concern in “Home Burial” is to present modes of grief and communication. The Frosts’ first child, a son, died in 1900 at the age of four. Their grief, which permanently wrenched their long marriage, took conflicting forms, during which his wife, unlike the more talkative Frost, bottled up her grief and called the world evil exactly as Amy does. Frost, who gave innumerable public and private readings of his poetry, never included “Home Burial,” explaining that it was too sad.

Amy and her husband are disastrously contrasting spouses. She is masochistic and rebellious. When she says, “I won’t have grief so/ If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!,” she risks losing not only husband but reason itself. He moves coarsely from trying to question her to protesting and threatening. He never explains his sense of loss or his mode of grieving and never tells her that his commonplace talk and actions might represent a flinching from heartbreak. He never says that when he buried their baby he wished she had been standing beside him. Amy too misses a chance to replace discord with harmony, by not helping him frame the question he wants to ask; instead she stifles him by saying that neither he nor “any man” can speak acceptably to her. Never once do they speak of “our” child.

They communicate by body language more expressively than by words. At first she is at the top of the stairs, and he is at the bottom. After they have reversed positions of seeming dominance, he sits—but with his chin in “his fists,” not his hands. When he generalizes about off-limit topics between couples, her only response is to “movethe latch” of the door. Her intention is to get out of the house. It, along with her husband in it, is smothering her. Frost offers two messages in “Home Burial,” one for pessimists such as himself, another for optimists. Its action exposes barriers to communication even among people “wonted” to intimacy. On the other hand, the dreadful aftermath of such barriers should encourage readers of good will to speak from the heart, listen, and be sympathetic.