Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem is a lyric meditation on what it means to move and grow toward wholeness and physical and emotional congruity. It is an admission that feelings are not selective and that they do not simply encompass the ecstatic and pleasurable. Pain and pleasure, ecstasy and anguish, sorrow and celebration, life and death are integral with each other and are essential parts of the same range of human emotions. Also, the poem suggests that any honest understanding of maturity will insist that the feelings and experiences of youth be a congruent and integrated part of the adult. The implied pain of love in youth, described in the images of petals, musk, and honeysuckle, is now tacitly acknowledged as not only feeling good but also being almost unbearable in its capacity to give pleasure. As such, it is painful as well as exquisite.

The poem suggests, then, that the process of living and maturing involves a curious totality. Frost was forty when he wrote the poem, and he claimed that the changes he had undergone during his lifetime were a matter “of record” in “To Earthward.” The poem suggests that the process of being fully alive and fully mature necessitates a capacity to embrace and compact the full range of human emotions, sensations, and experiences. As one ages, one begins to realize that to understand life, one must understand death and pain; to accept love is to accept the pain of loving, for love must invariably lead to sorrow. The experience of...

(The entire section is 462 words.)