What insight can be given on "The Sandpiper" by Robert Frost?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Robert Frost once wrote, "In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life:  It goes on."  Frost's belief about the continuation of life is reflected in his detailing of nature. This reality underscores Frost's poem, "The Sandpiper."  Frost is able to convey the perpetual nature of life in the narrative of the bird.  He is able to illuminate how there is struggle in life and that the will to face this struggle is what defines that quality of life in which all is encompassed in the ability to "go on."  

The first stanza of the poem displays the adversarial condition in which the sandpiper must face the world.  The rhyme scheme of A-B-C-B provides a type of cadence for what the sandpiper must confront, as he looks out at the overwhelming tide and "starts to wonder."  This reflects how the small bird is almost insignificant to the massive natural forces that envelop him.  The first stanza establishes the quality of life in which individuals must face conditions that overwhelm them, forced to choose between capitulation and endurance. The sandpiper "starts to wonder" about this condition of being.

In the second stanza, the sandpiper's choice is clear.  "Swift and brittle" legs guide the sandpiper as he challenges "the lace of thunder." While the sandpiper lacks the physical qualities that one would think are necessary in facing down such a formidable challenge, Frost's conclusion to the second stanza reminds the reader the intense level of challenge with which the tiny bird must live: "And his voice is little."   This is a reminder of what the bird possesses and sets up the reader to think that the sandpiper is going to be a casualty of the world's cruelty.

It is in the third stanza that Frost brings resolution to the narrative.  While the second stanza focuses on how the physicality of the world outmatches that of the sandpiper, the concluding stanza reminds the reader that all results of confrontation are not solely resolved through externalities.  There is a will within the individual to persevere, to embrace the condition that "life goes on." Frost details how the sandpiper "has a notion" that is to challenge in the form of "outshout/ The Atlantic Ocean."  While the sandpiper might be "small," Frost injects into the creature an indomitable will to face down his adversary.  This will to succeed is what defines the perpetual nature of life and struggle.  The sandpiper is no different than any other creature who must fight to survive. The  sandpiper embodies the fundamental lesson of life that living in the world is predicated upon the will to continue, to see that "life goes on." 

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