The Silken Tent

by Robert Frost

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What is the literary meaning of "The Silken Tent"?

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The literary meaning of the poem 'The Silken Tent' by Robert Frost lies not in the idea of 'connectedness' but in that of control. The poem was written when the world was concerned by the Nazi atrocities in Europe and when Jewish people had grave concerns about persecution, capture and execution. The tent represents the precious, gentle, fragile beauty of freedom and justice - and we, as global citizens, are all responsible for that. We gently hold on to it and keep it aloft, checking with one another, monitoring the situation for hazards, and tugging gently on our personal cord to raise the alarm and 'control' the tent of freedom when the turbulent winds of evil opposition threaten. The tent 

 'is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightlest bondage made aware. '

So it relies on every one individual member of the global community to pull their 'silken tie' gently so that, all pulling together, we can fight evil and all threats to democracy and freedom. It is the idea of the 'pull' or ''drag' on the ties that is the defining concept here - interconnectedness is but a secondary theme. The poem concerns the concepts of control, constraint, power, courage, bondage, enslavement, teamwork and opposing forces - a 'tug of war' between good and evil. As we all know, Jewish citizens were enslaved in concentration camps and exterminated. Some people had concerns, but weren't sure and so did nothing. In order for evil to blow our tent of freedom away, it only requires the good to ignore their 'silken tie' - and do nothing.

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This poem creates a beautiful image of interconnectedness that can be related to a number of different possible meanings. Firstly, the pole that is held up equally by all ropes so that it balances delicately could be a symbol of man's interconnectedness with nature, and how closely we are related to what goes on around us in the natural world. Secondly, this could be a symbol of the independence of the poet that allows him, like the pole, to point upwards but also to recognise that they are placed in a context that must be acknowledged and reflected in their work. Note how this is reflected through the following quote:

Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round...

What is key to realise is that whilst these "silken ties" do exist, in an ideal situation it is only infrequently that the poet is made aware of any sense of "bondage." The poem then calls for a sense of balance and proportion, a recognition of the different relationships that form us and are part of who we are, but that at the same time give us the strength we need to point upwards, signifying "the sureness of the soul." Lastly, some argue this poem is about love, as indicated by the naming of the pole as "She" in the first line. Critics argue that this poem is therefore about a relationship that is true to itself whilst also being supported and sustained by outside influences.

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