The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Neither Out Far nor In Deep” is a lyric poem consisting of four four-line stanzas, making use of a regular rhyme scheme (abab). The meter is for the most part regular iambic trimeter, although several lines include one or two extra syllables. Only in the second stanza does Robert Frost provide precise imagery; for the most part, he relies on general description.

The setting of the poem is the seaside. The poet’s original observation is that the people, out for a day’s recreation at the beach, always look toward the water; “They turn their back on the land.” What they can see are a ship out on the ocean, passing to an unknown destination, and a gull standing on the wet sand near the water.

This is apparently a puzzle, since there is more variety and presumably more of interest on the land than on the ocean, which does nothing but come to the beach and then retreat. The Line “Wherever the truth may be” in the third stanza suggests that the people are searching for the truth and hope to find it by watching the unchanging ocean, with its endless repetitions of the same movements, rather than on the land, which presumably is more subject to change.

The people being described, like everyone else, have limited vision: “They cannot look out far./ They cannot look in deep.” Yet they keep on looking, presumably because there is nothing else for them to do. They cannot help searching for answers, even from such an unlikely source as the inscrutable ocean.