Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519
Robert Frost’s poem “Desert Places” is a sixteen-line poem consisting of four stanzas; each stanza is four lines each. Most of the lines consist of ten syllables, and in many of these lines the meter or “beat” is “iambic,” in which the odd syllables are unstressed and the even syllables are stressed. Stanzas two and three, for instance, are entirely iambic in rhythm, as in the first sentence of stanza two: “The woods around it have it—it is theirs.” Everything said so far about the poem might therefore make it sound entirely typical of much poetry in English, which often uses iambic rhythm and in which stanzas of four lines (quatrains) are not at all unusual.
Writing an essay?
Get a custom outline
Our Essay Lab can help you tackle any essay assignment within seconds, whether you’re studying Macbeth or the American Revolution. Try it today!
However, one aspect of Frost’s poem is quite unusual indeed: its peculiar rhyme scheme. Many poets would have used couplets in four-line stanzas, so that the stanzas would rhyme as follows: a/a/b/b. Another common way to rhyme four-line stanzas would be as follows: a/b/a/b. Frost, however, chooses a pattern that is altogether uncommon: a/a/b/a c/c/d/c e/e/f/e g/g/h/g. Frost’s decision to experiment in this way with rhyme is typical of his interest in the formal, technical aspects of poetry. Frost once compared poetry lacking predictable rhythm and a regular rhyme scheme (often called “free verse”) to playing tennis without a net. In this poem, by forcing himself to find three identical rhyming sounds (instead of just two) for each stanza, Frost slightly raises the net and makes the game a bit more challenging for himself. It is also possible that Frost wanted an isolated, unrhymed word in each stanza as a way of subtly emphasizing one of the poem’s key themes—the theme of loneliness or isolation.
Stanza one opens with the speaker describing the rapid descent of snow and of the darkness of night. The speaker looked into a field as he was passing by and saw the field quickly filling up with snow, so that only a few “weeds and stubble” (4) were still visible. Stanza two describes how the surrounding woods, in a sense, possess the field; the trees are tall and are still visible, but the field set amongst them is almost completely covered. The animals in the field are “smothered in their lairs,” and the speaker feels lonely in this deserted landscape. The poem, then, first mentions snow, then plants, then animals, and then the single human being who is present to witness everything else.
In stanza three, the speaker anticipates even further and deeper feelings of loneliness as the landscape is covered even more completely by the snow, so that there will be nothing visible but an increasingly “blanker whiteness” (11). Finally, in the final stanza the speaker declares that he cannot be frightened by descriptions of “empty spaces” between stars or by tales of uninhabited planets. He has the capacity to frighten himself by contemplating “desert places” (16) much closer to home, including not only the snow-filled fields but also (by implication) his own soul or spirit.