What symbolism is used in the poem "Desert Places" by Robert Frost?    

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Robert Frost builds the power in the poem by using the primary symbol of snow and its related color, white, and then employing the clear contrast of night falling, which is echoed at the end with the empty (black) spaces between the stars. The metaphor of the desert emerges only at the very end, after the poet has built up the lonely impression at the poem's center. We are led into feeling the speaker's loneliness and fear- the fear he denies- through numerous sensory images. They are primarily but not exclusively visual, as he uses touch.

The change from motion to stillness shows the change from observation to contemplation. He evokes the sense of touch in a neutral way: the poet changes "smooth" into "smothered" for a negative sensation.

The immediate surroundings are shown to look empty and almost lifeless. There are weeds and stubble, while fuller life- the woods and animals- are at a distance.

The emptiness that grows with the snow cover represents the speaker's loneliness. Yet it seems that they welcome that emptiness. Another physical and remote environment is invoked with space. Rather than use it to emphasize distance, the poet uses space to indicate intimacy; the speaker identifies with space and emptiness, ending by saying that they have desert spaces.

Repetition serves to emphasize the connection between "lonely / loneliness" with "scare." The repeated words help bring the reader from looking with the speaker at the empty scene outside to reflecting on the empty scene inside: "my own desert spaces. "

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The snow that has fallen, having made a "desert place" in nature—a place where no life can be found—seems to symbolize the lonely and "desert places" within the narrator himself. He remarks that "The loneliness [of the forest scene] includes [him] unawares" (line 8). Thus, he feels as though he is a part of this lonely scene because he is "too absent-spirited to count" as a life within it (7). Calling himself "absent-spirited" alerts us to the narrator's belief that he contains a similar loneliness within himself. He feels himself to be without spirit, an empty vessel: lifeless.

Further, he says that winter scene "lonely as it is, that loneliness / Will be more lonely ere it will be less" (9-10).  The loneliness of the natural, snowy forest will grow as the snow continues to fall, creating a more pristine blanket of white, and as night sets in, layering pure darkness atop it. The "blanker whiteness" will have "no expression, nothing to express" (11, 12). However, this neither concerns nor bothers the narrator, this emptiness, because he has emptier, more deserted, places within that are more apt to "scare" him. If he is empty, and this corresponds to the deserted forest, then his loneliness and expressionlessness will grow deeper as well. This may be the most unsettling part of the poem.  

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In Robert Frost's poem, "Desert Places," the symbolism used seems to be that of nature, specifically snow, to represent a separateness or loneliness as the world becomes covered, blanketing not only what is seen, but what is heard as well, giving one the sense of being isolated or cut off from the world.

As the snow falls quickly, so does the night, adding to a sense of isolation. The snow is all-encompassing, much as loneliness is: the poem reflects that it covers the last vestiges of growth in the fields, and even the lairs where animals sleep or hibernate. Frost indicates that it will get worse before it gets better:

And lonely as it is that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less--

The snow represents not only loneliness, but later in the poem it seems to also symbolize the inability of one to communicate because of that loneliness.

With no expression, nothing to express.

However, whereas Frost comments on the snow and how it represents loneliness, he (sadly) holds the "trump" (winning) card. He explains that no matter what kind of loneliness snow may present, he can beat even that. He is not frightened by the aloneness he feels surrounded by snow, or the emptiness of the sky and stars, where no human companionship can be found.

Nature cannot scare him with its quiet snow or quiet night: Frost admits that he is already frightened by the "desert places" that live within him every day; by comparison to those places, the world of snow is no match for his reality.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.




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