The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Home Burial,” a dramatic narrative largely in the form of dialogue, has 116 lines in informal blank verse. The setting is a windowed stairway in a rural home in which an unnamed farmer and his wife, Amy, live. The immediate intent of the title is made clear when the reader learns that the husband has recently buried their first-born child, a boy, in his family graveyard behind the house. The title can also be taken to suggest that the parents so fundamentally disagree about how to mourn that their “home” life is in mortal jeopardy—in danger of being buried. Further, Amy, because of her introspective grieving, risks burying both her marriage and her sanity.

The husband enters the stairway from below and sees her before she sees him, because she is wrapped up in herself. He tardily observes that she has been looking out the stairway window at the graveyard, already containing four of “my people” and “the child’s mound.” She doubts that he ever noticed the graveyard from that window and cries out for him to stop talking. Avoiding his touch, she shrinks past him down the stairs. When he asks why a man cannot speak of his “lost” child, she counters first by saying “Not you!” and then by doubting that any man can. She abruptly announces that she must get some air. He tells her not to take her grief to “someone else this time,” sits so as not to seem domineering, and, calling her “dear,” says he wishes to ask her something....

(The entire section is 562 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Home Burial” achieves tension first of all through its use of unpretentious wording in blank verse, a poetic form with a tradition going back centuries, to tell a tragic domestic story in a homely locale. More obvious tension results from the fact that Amy and her husband have no meeting of either heads or hearts. He speaks fifty-eight lines, many of which are incomplete, while she speaks forty-five such lines. In contrast to the rhetoric of William Shakespeare’s flowing blank-verse dialogue, Frost’s is full of rushes, interruptions, and pauses. Amy tells her husband to stop talking thus: “Don’t, Don’t, Don’t, Don’t.” Frost called this burst the best part of the poem. The husband puts too much faith in words, saying at one point, “There, you have said it all and you feel better.” In Amy’s reply—“oh, you think the talk is all”—that “oh,” which Frost also said he liked, is more effective than a dozen words.

Much remains unarticulated. Frost never tells readers the husband’s name, what the house looks like inside or out, how long ago the child died, or where Amy plans to go as she leaves. The poem is partly about the ineffectiveness of words. When the husband says that he must laugh because he is cursed, Amy does not even hear him but chooses to quote—and misunderstand—his earlier talk about wet days and birch fences.

Frost freights his sparse words with much meaning, often subtle, sometimes symbolic....

(The entire section is 503 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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