illustrated portrait of American poet Robert Frost

Robert Frost

Start Free Trial

Please help me  interpret the poem "The Line Gang" by Robert Frost. I'm having a really hard time trying to figure out what Robert Frost is trying to convey in this poem: Here come the line-gang pioneering by,They throw a forest down less cut than broken.They plant dead trees for living, and the deadThey string together with a living thread.They string an instrument against the skyWherein words whether beaten out or spokenWill run as hushed as when they were a thoughtBut in no hush they string it: they go pastWith shouts afar to pull the cable taught,To hold it hard until they make it fast,To ease away -- they have it. With a laugh,An oath of towns that set the wild at naughtThey bring the telephone and telegraph. I'd really appreciate anyones help.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The title of the poem reveals the subject. The poet is critiquing the upheaval that the line gang's installation of telegraph and telegram lines is bringing to his once quiet and undisturbed rural setting. The poem is about how he resents the intrusion of the line gang.

He refers to line gang as "pioneering," alluding to the settlers who once arrived at unspoiled, natural places and disrupted them. He implies the line gang is careless, not so much cutting down trees as breaking them to make way for the "dead trees" (telephone and telegraph pools) the gang erects in their place.

He says the line gang is noisy as it works, in contrast to the "hush" or silence which will prevail when the lines later bring words via phone or telegram to people. The line gang "shouts" and "laugh[s]." In general, it is a nuisance, disturbing the narrator's peace.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The poem "The Line Gang" by Robert Frost was published in 1916, an era that was new to technology. In this poem it appears that the poet is questioning the value of progress as the line men are literally cutting down living trees to make way for the dead timber that will support the telephone and telegraph cables.

In today's world, we take telephone and electric poles for granted. In fact, many of us in newer neighborhoods have underground utilities, and we rely on satellite towers for our cellular phones. However, in "The Line Gang," the negative imagery of throwing "a forest down less cut then broken" illustrates the destruction of nature and the line gang's disregard for living trees to replace them with the dead trees, the telephone poles.

As the poem continues, Frost turns his attention to the cable that will be strung between the poles. The words that will travel through the cables are hushed; that is, messages that are transferred through the wires cannot be heard by a passerby. This idea is juxtaposed to the line men stringing the cable who "go past with shouts afar." The poem ends with the line gang bringing "the telephone and telegraph," in other words, ushering in a new era for better or for worse.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles


In "The Line Gang" Robert Frost describes a team of men who are setting telephone and telegraph wires.

They begin by cutting down a forest, "replanting" the logs as telephone poles, and then stringing wires between the poles:

They throw a forest down less cut than broken.
They plant dead trees for living, and the dead
They string together with a living thread.

The wires will carry words, either spoken on a telephone or "beaten out" on a telegraph; as the words travel along the wire, however, they will be "as hushed as when they were a thought."  The men, though, do not work quietly: "they go past /
With shouts afar."

Frost was born in 1874 and died in 1963; he witnessed the rapid transformation of America from a mostly rural country to a mostly urban superpower.  In his personal life, he experienced urban life in his hometown of San Francisco and rural life in his adopted home of New England.

In "The Line Gang," Frost seems to be considering the progress of industrialization and urbanization.  His attitude toward this process is not simplistically "for" or "against."  He observes that the forest has been left "broken" by the chopping down of trees, but he also seems to admire the power and potential of the telephone and telegraph that can "set the wild at naught."

Critics have observed that Frost often expresses a "double" vision in his poems.  This can be seem in "The Line Gang."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team