“The Most of It” is a lyric poem cast in twenty lines of rhymed iambic pentamer. The title contains a dual meaning that reflects an important contrast between the attitudes of the male character in the poem and of Robert Frost himself.
The man in the poem wants “the most of it”: He wants more out of life than it ordinarily provides. Thus he spends time alone in nature, seeking a certain kind of response from “the universe,” but he feels disappointed when nature does not provide that kind of response.
On the other hand, the title also ironically alludes to the common phrase “make the most of it.” Through this allusion, Frost implies that the man expects the world to do too much for him and that he should participate more energetically in perceiving and creating satisfaction for himself. The poem suggests that the man has not “made the most” of his experience in this sense; Frost, through a powerful display of his poetic prowess, definitely has.
Though Frost does not separate the lines into stanzas, the action of the poem falls into two distinct sections. The first eight lines present the man and his situation, while the last twelve describe his sighting of “a great buck,” a large male deer. The first section introduces a man with an exalted—perhaps too exalted—conception of himself: “He thought he kept the universe alone.” As another person might think of “keeping” house, this man thinks of himself in a domestic relationship with the “universe,” and he seeks a response from nature to reassure him that he does not keep it alone. He is frustrated when all he hears is a “mocking echo” of his own voice, though he is crying out for “counter-love, original response.”
In the second section of the poem, the man sights “a great buck,” but he seems strangely unmoved by the experience. Disappointed by his quest in nature, the man feels that “nothing ever came of what he cried/ Unless it was the embodiment that” he saw across the lake. He believes that his pleas have produced either no response or perhaps—merely perhaps—one encounter, which is then described in detail. A being, which the man would like to believe is the “embodiment” of the “counter-love” or “original response” that he seeks, crashes through the talus (loose rock below a cliff) on the other side of the lake and swims toward him. As it moves closer, however, the man realizes that it is not another human, but a large male deer. With great power, the buck moves quickly out of the lake, across the rock-strewn beach, and into the underbrush. The poem ends with a curiously abrupt coda: “—and that was all.” This flat statement might be taken to mean that neither the buck nor anything like it ever appeared to the man again; more likely, it expresses the man’s rueful sense of letdown at this incident and perhaps his entire quest.
Through the vivid imagery and powerful form of “The Most of It,” Frost draws a vivid contrast between the man’s naïvely sentimental expectations of nature and the harsh but awe-inspiring reality that he does encounter but seems to be too narrow-minded to appreciate.
The first section of the poem presents a situation in which the man’s sentimental view of nature seems ironically out of synch with the details of the natural world around him. As noted earlier, in his rather domestic scenario, he thinks of himself “[keeping] the universe” as if it were a house. What he wants from nature sounds more...
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like what one would want from another person, perhaps a wife: “counter-love, original response.” What he faces in the scene around him, however, is a “tree-hidden cliff across the lake” and a “boulder-broken beach.” Frost’s images suggest that nature in this situation is too obscure, remote, and harsh to provide the man with the human kind of response that he is convinced he needs to find there.
Similarly, in the second section, Frost’s images show how nature provides the man with an experience that is ironically so “original,” so “counter” to his own expectations, that it is difficult for him to respond to it. The verbs that Frost chooses for the buck’s first appearance clearly associate the animal with the wild and harsh natural scene of the first section: He “crashed” in the talus and “splashed” into the water. On the other hand, by mentioning twice what the man wants to see, Frost emphasizes the way the man’s preconceptions obstruct his responsiveness to the buck: “Instead of proving human when it neared/ And someone else additional to him.” In contrast to the human response the man had hoped for, the images of the buck’s actions present a thrilling spectacle of wild, inhuman nature:
As a great buck it powerfully appeared, Pushing the crumpled water up ahead, And landed pouring like a waterfall,And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread, And forced the underbrush—and that was all.
The abrupt tag-line to this spectacular description, “—and that was all,” provides one final indication that the man finds little, if any, satisfaction in the sighting of the powerful deer. Frost, on the other hand, reinforces the impression that as a poet he does “make the most” of the buck’s appearance through a virtuoso display of poetic form. He heightens the impact of his narrative by providing a strong underlying rhythm of iambic pentameter. Further, Frost casts his twenty lines into five quatrains with a rhyming pattern of abab, and he contrasts the limited perspective of the man with the expansive power of the buck by the way he manages syntax within these quatrains. For example, the two quatrains in the first section are both complete sentences, in consonance with the man’s self-enclosed view of his situation. Frost describes the encounter with the buck in one long sentence of twelve lines. It is as if the expansive power of the buck, which gains momentum as Frost adds phrases in an accumulative parallel structure (“And landed,” “And stumbled,” “And forced”), is trying to burst out of the limited perspective of the man who witnesses it. The beginning and end of the long sentence (“And nothing ever came of what he cried// . . .—and that was all”) create a frame that dramatizes the sense that the man cannot let go of his limiting preconceptions.
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