The Gift Outright

by Robert Frost

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What did the colonists withhold from the land in "The Gift Outright"?

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In "The Gift Outright" by Robert Frost, the colonists hold themselves back from the land, for they still belong to England. Only in the act of war and self-sacrifice do they fully give themselves to their land.

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Robert Frost's poem “The Gift Outright” presents an interesting reflection on colonists and their land. The poem begins with the rather strange statement that “the land was ours before we were the land's.” It then proceeds to unpack this statement. The land belonged to the colonists for over a hundred years, but the people did not belong to the land. Rather, they belonged to England. They were not free to give themselves completely to the land that they claimed. Their colonial status was always in the way.

The people were weak, the speaker says, because they were withholding themselves from the land. They were refusing to make the full commitment to their land, to make it really theirs, and to truly belong to the land rather than to England. It would take a war for the people to give themselves outright to the land. “The deed of gift was many deeds of war,” the speaker explains. The gift was one of self-sacrifice, sometimes complete self-sacrifice, but it opened up the land for full realization. The people who have now given themselves fully to the land will spread out, moving westward, reaching out to embrace the land's full potential, now belonging to the land as much as it belongs to them.

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