Robert Frost Questions and Answers

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How can I develop a detailed analysis of the poem "An Old Man's Winter Night" by Robert Frost? I wonder what the "deep" meaning of it is or what interpretations we can have of it. I have been given some information, but I don't think its enough for my exams coming up.

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lindseywarren eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Great answer above!  One thing I would add in response to your question is that students (of all ages and levels--even some of my fellow graduate students) are often misguided in thinking that every poem has some kind of "deep" or "hidden" meaning that is different from the surface meaning--that the poem is actually about "death," or that it is an allegory for some historical event.  I would say 90% of times, this is not the case!  A more fruitful question a reader of a poem can ask, instead of "What does this poem mean," is "How does this poem work?" or "What is this poem doing?"  All poems are based on a number of different literary devices coming together to create meaning.  A good way to begin to identify how a poem works is to identify the different elements in the poem, and discerning their relationship.  So, in reading this poem, I would note that Frost parallels the old man, who is in the "winter" of his life, with his old house and the winter outside.  This is the way the poem gives a message about age.  So, on your exams, remember to think not about what it means, but what images it is putting together and what relationships you can find between them.  This is where you'll really find some interesting points!  Good luck!

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In analysis of poetry, it is essential to find the controlling metaphor, for this is what drives the poem and gives it the poetic meaning which lies within the literal.  In order to find this controlling metaphor, the reader must identify the tension between what is literal and what is figurative:  What is literal and what is not can shift depending on context, too. So, to understand the interweaving of the literal and the nonliteral, the different approaches to reality, is to take the most important step to understanding.

In your analysis, then, identify the controlling metaphor and the tension it creates by explaining the interweaving of the literal meaning with the figurative meaning.  For instance, in Frost's poem, the old man is ostensibly trying to maintain his house, while he is figuratively holding onto life with his creaking limbs that are much like the logs that shift with jolts. 

Once you have identified the tension that is the theme of the poem, you can then identify the literary devices that Frost uses, pointing to how their use amplify the speaker's meanings.  One example you can point to is the use of imagery, particularly sound imagery. The use of "creaking room," "cracks of branches," "broken moon," and "log that shifted with a jolt," suggest the bitter cold of the night as well as the ache of the old man's joints and his difficlty in moving.The assonance that abounds throughout this poem is also a poetic device that makes the reader "hear" the sounds of winter.  Visual imagery is also abundant and contributes to meaning.

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