Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462

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.

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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 being fully alive and fully human thus insists that a person hope for weight and strength enough to embrace all of life and all the limits of life in its most painful and in its most beautiful complexions. That same experience also requires an implicit understanding of one’s own mortality and a willingness to accept death, which is a part of life. In embracing the earth, then, the poet not only seeks to revive and intensify his passion for life, he also admits a longing to return to earth, which is both the mother of life and the grave.

Whereas in youth the poet saw pleasure in terms of parts—in lips and knuckles for example—he now longs to embrace it with his whole being. Passion, then, is not objectified as an isolated or singular experience affecting only one facet of his being. It is all-enveloping, involving the total self with a complex of sensations and emotions that cannot be made selective toward the pleasure end of the spectrum. The poem describes the very essence of maturity. It was probably the change which Frost said was a matter “of record” in the poem, and it is most certainly an elegant testimonial to an unqualified acceptance and love of life.

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