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.

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The regularity of the form and the abruptness of the lines reinforce the ironic tone of “Neither Out Far nor In Deep.” The form implies a rigidity in the minds of the people being described, a lack of imagination which leads them always to look in one direction, however unrewarding their study may be. The poet distances himself from them with the occasional extra syllables which prevent the rhythm of the poem from taking on a sing-song quality.

The language and imagery are unusually generalized for Frost, who preferred to employ specific imagery. The poet does use the word “sand” to represent the entire shoreline, and the second stanza does contain relatively precise visual images of the ship, hull down out at sea, and the “standing gull,” but all the other imagery in the poem is deliberately general. Those being described are not individualized in any way; they are simply “The people.” That they lack individuality is emphasized by the fact that they turn a singular “back” to the land, instead of individual “backs.” They all behave in the same way.

This generalized imagery continues in the third stanza. “The land” is given no specific qualities or dimensions; it only “may vary more.” The ocean reaching the shore is not described in terms of breaking waves, foam, or swirling surf; it is only “the water.” This seems to suggest that the people in their looking fail to see anything in detail, which can only be...

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(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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