What is the "battle" in "Range-finding" by Robert Frost?

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The poet does not state explicitly what battle is being discussed in the poem. It is irrelevant. We know that Robert Frost 's poem was written during World War I and can surmise that the poet alludes to a battle during this war. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition...

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The poet does not state explicitly what battle is being discussed in the poem. It is irrelevant. We know that Robert Frost's poem was written during World War I and can surmise that the poet alludes to a battle during this war. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of range-finding is the “determination of the range to a target by adjusting fire on it.” In other words, the title refers to a gunman’s testing the range of his or her rifle or gun by firing a test shot. Thus, on one level, the battle is an unnamed siege during World War I. On another level, it is the battle between mankind and nature.

In the test shot discussed in the poem, the bullet disturbs the tranquility of the natural elements in the field or range where the testing occurs. For example, “before it stained a single human breast,” the bullet tears a cobweb, which the poet compares to a diamond necklace because when the light shines through it, the thin filament looks like a prism. The test bullet also cuts a flower and disturbs a butterfly. Thus, if the battle is between man and nature, man disturbs nature with his actions, which include war. Man is seen as being at war with the earth and with nature’s creatures.

Frost also draws parallels between man's hunt for the human enemy on the battlefield and the spider's hunt for prey caught in the spiderweb. The spider weaves the web to ensnare the fly, just as man produces warfare and armaments to ensnare and harm the enemy. In the poem, the spider weaves “a wheel of thread” and “straining cables wet with silver dew.” This is the spider’s weapon, just as the gun is man’s weapon. When the bullet whirls past and shakes the spider web, the spider “ran to greet the fly” but finds no fly ensnared in the trap (or weapon).

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The battle referenced in the poem is a typical military battle between two armies. Robert Frost wrote this poem in 1916, in the middle of World War One, so he was likely writing with these kinds of battles in mind. In this sense, "Range-finding" qualifies as a war poem. However, whereas a conventional war poem focuses on the loss of and destruction to human life, this poem focuses instead on how these battles affect the natural world.

The image in the opening line, of "a cobweb diamond-strung" (whereby the diamonds are droplets of water or dew) connotes the delicate beauty of the natural world. The fact that the battle "rent," or tore through, this cobweb implies the sudden violence that is inflicted upon the natural world.

At the end of the poem, the speaker emphasizes how these battles upset the order of the natural world. He describes "A sudden passing bullet" destroying a spider's web. The spider rushes to meet the fly at the centre of its web but finds the centre destroyed and so has to "sullenly" withdraw. This is of course a small detail, but it serves as a microcosm to represent the impact of war upon the natural world in a more general sense. A spider's web is a beautiful and delicate construction, as is so much of the natural world in general. The spider's web also serves a purpose, as does the natural world in general. Thus the message is that the battles waged between humans unthinkingly destroy the beauty, delicacy, and purpose of the natural world.

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There are actually two different implications of the "battle" that are happening in this poem.

First, the poem reflects a literal battle (of war) that surrounds otherwise peaceful scenes in nature. There is a bullet speeding through the air—meant for a "human breast" but finds other casualties along its trajectory.

Hence the second meaning of the word "battle"—here, it is used to identify the unintentionally devastating effects that humanity's wars have. In this poem, imagery of nature is used to illustrate this. The flower is cut down; the butterfly which is hovering above it, waiting for his moment of rest, has to recalculate and delicately reach to cling to his now-damaged flower.

This battle extends to other unintended devastations as well. Frost's message is that war has far-reaching and often unforeseen effects. It is worth noting, however, that, while man rages his battle with bullets, the bird still "revisit[s] her young." Nature finds a way to persevere in spite of humanity's destructive battles.

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In the poem, a bullet on its way to kill a person invades the natural world. And yet, the bird goes on visiting "her young" and the butterfly went on searching for a flower on which to rest. A little ways away, a spider has constructed its own web, which is shaken dry by a "sudden passing bullet." The spider, feeling the vibration, comes out to see what it caught, but goes away again, dismally, when it sees that it didn't actually catch anything. On the one hand, the poem does seem to address the unintended consequences human activity has on nature. On the other hand, it also depicts the way nature goes on regardless of what we do. The "battle," then could literally refer to an actual armed conflict certainly, but it could also, symbolically, refer to anything humans do that seems significant to us but which is actually insignificant to the rest of the natural world because it continues in its course regardless of our actions.

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Robert Frost's poem "Range-finding" is about a stray bullet from a battle that, on the way to its target, travels through nature. The poem begins, "The battle rent a cobweb diamond-strung / And cut a flower beside a ground bird's nest / Before it stained a single human breast." The "battle" could be any military conflict, but as the poem was written in 1916, it is most likely a battle that takes place during World War I. In the poem, a bullet from the battle tears a cobweb and cuts a flower on its way to lodge itself in a human chest. The flower droops over, but a bird goes on visiting its young. The poem is about the ways in which events in the human world--in this case, a battle--affect the natural world. It is also about the ways war causes collateral damage--in other words, damage that is not the war's original target. This was very relevant at the time Frost wrote the poem, as World War I caused a great deal of collateral damage and hurt civilians as well as soldiers. 

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