What is the main theme of the poem "The Silken Tent"?

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

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Naturally, with any poem, different interpretations and reads can be present.  I think that the main theme of Frost's "The Silken Tent" is that there is a strength and individuality within the soul of women.  Traditionally poetic conceptions of women depict them in different lights, but Frost's theme emphasizes the austerity and distinctively independent quality within women. 

He does this in several ways.  In the opening line, the woman is personified as "a silken tent" in the middle of a field.  The "central cedar pole" is a deliberate reference to a type of wood that distinguishes itself from all others, having both natural and religious significance.  The "sureness of the soul" reflects confidence and clarity in voice and vision. 

The setting of the poem casts the tent alone in the center of a field, indicating that the confidence and austerity of a woman's character stands out.  The repeated idea, or theme, in this poem is a testimony to the independent and strong spirit of women.

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The use of 'she' in the first line of the poem is a distinct identification of its focus and, therefore, its theme. The speaker is clearly expressing his sentiments about a woman whom he obviously admires and holds in high esteem for her strength and character by employing an extended metaphor throughout.

The poet compares the woman to a silken tent, which suggests softness and gentleness -- feminine qualities. The tent also suggests a protective nature and strength, for it is used as a shield against the harshness of nature. Furthermore, the speaker focuses on the tent's central pole, which symbolizes this woman's central role. Everything is tied to her. Without the support offered by this pole, the tent would collapse. In much the same way, the central character in the poem offers support and guidance. It is clear that the speaker relies on her strength, spiritual guidance, and sustenance.

In addition, the 'she' in the poem is not tied to anyone in particular, but rather shares a connection with many, just as the central pole can stand on its own and is loosely tied. The woman's connection is expressed in the form of 'countless silken ties of love and thought,' which signifies a gentle, caring bond to many others. Her connection, however, is not limited only to a specific place, but is universal.

There is an indication, however, in the last three lines, that the woman does share a closer connection to one individual. Her bondage to such a one (in all probability the speaker) is metaphorically indicated by one of the ties pulling taut when the unpredictable wind suddenly produces a gust. In effect, this suggests that whenever an unforeseen event occurs, she would immediately respond by either drawing nearer to the one she cares about most or commit some act of care.

The speaker clearly admires the woman he is speaking of and is in awe of her strength, love, tenderness, and care.

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