Themes and Meanings

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The central theme in “The Most of It” is the human attempt to commune with nature—to connect with some spirit or presence and lose the sense of isolation and alienation. Frost’s poem shares this theme with a long tradition of earlier Western literature, stretching from the classical myth of Narcissus and Echo in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.) through pastoral, romantic, and transcendentalist literature in the centuries since the Renaissance.

Much of this earlier literature would suggest that the reader might bring to “The Most of It” a sympathetic and supportive view of the man’s spiritual quest. In particular, New England Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, whose writings Frost admired, posited a pantheistic Oversoul (Emerson’s term) that would nourish the spirit of people who sought it in nature. Also, Frost would have been aware of the close correspondence between the man in his poem and a similar character to whom nature’s voices do respond in “There was a boy,” a famous section in the 1805 version of William Wordsworth’s The Prelude (Book V, lines 364-388).

On the other hand, Frost’s presentation of his character suggests a more ironic sense of the man’s similarities to Narcissus, the archetypally self-centered character in the classical myth. Like Narcissus, Frost’s man seems to suffer in an echo chamber largely of his own making. He acts on the naïve belief that all he should need to do is call or “cry out” (the phrase conveys passionate desire, but it also connotes a baby crying as if for its bottle), and nature should then respond with some form of “counter-love” or “original response.” When nature does provide a startling encounter with a powerful animal, the man seems to consider briefly the possibility that this experience might be significant. Yet the abrupt ending of the poem (“—and that was all”) suggests that the man’s response is hardly adequate to the spectacle that Frost’s powerful imagery and syntax have dramatized.

“The Most of It” indicates that those who would commune with nature would do well not to blind themselves with limiting expectations or preconceptions. Rather, such seekers should be as open, aware, and responsive as they can be to whatever experiences nature provides. Such encounters may not always be warmly reassuring, as Frost’s man had hoped; however, to those seekers willing to “make the most” of such experiences through open-minded responsiveness (and perhaps through the work of forming those experiences into art, as Frost and many others have done), the results are often richly satisfying.

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