The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“To Earthward” is a lyric poem of eight stanzas contrasting the airy pleasures of youth with the more earthy, yet more spiritual and congruent, passions of maturity. Robert Frost wrote the poem in 1914 while he was living at Little Iddens in England. He was not to publish it until nine years later, when he was close to fifty years old.

While the development of a kinesthetic motif is central to the meaning of the poem, Frost makes it clear that human experience necessarily embraces different forms of sensuality and that joy and pain are always mixed. His poem distills a select number of especially vivid images that combine a variety of sensual impressions. For example, the musk and grapevine springs combine taste and smell; the honeysuckle coalesces touch and odor; the lips both taste and feel.

The poem is evenly divided into two sections. The first four stanzas recall the paradisiacal intensity of the sensual pleasures of youth, while the last four describe the attraction of human spirit toward the earth, an attraction which necessarily involves the more holistic experiences of maturity. The first section describes youthful love in exquisitely tactile terms. The touch of love “at the lips” (perhaps a kiss) was as much as the poet could bear. He recalls living on air that teased him with what may have been the scent of musk, and he remembers the confusing swirl and ache from the touch of dew shaken on the knuckle.

In the final four stanzas, Frost describes the experiences of maturity and the mixed nature of passionate love. He now...

(The entire section is 644 words.)