illustrated portrait of American poet Robert Frost

Robert Frost

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Discuss the theme of loneliness in Robert Frost's poetry.

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It is amazing the way in which loneliness occurs as a definite theme in so many of Frost's poems. My own personal favourite is "Acquainted with the Night," as mentioned above, in which the speaker finds that nature eerily echoes his own sense of inner-desolation and loneliness. Likewise there are a number of poems which may not necessarily be about loneliness but nonetheless feature a speaker being by himself in the middle of nature, such as "The Road Not Taken." This seems to indicate to me that loneliness was always a theme, if not explicit, in the work of Robert Frost.

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Many of Frost's poems convey a sense of loneliness, emptiness, alienation, and isolation.  "Acquainted with the Night" is just such a poem.  The speaker of this poem is walking out past the city lights on a rainy night.  He hears nothing but the sound of his own feet, engulfed as he is by the silence of the darkness.  When he passes the watchman, he lowers his eyes, and wehn he hears another human cry of suffering, he cannot acknowledge it.  The night becomes a metaphor for the darkness and desolation of his spirit. 

 Another poem that conveys this same sense of isolation is "Desert Places."  The snow falling on a field on a winter night is the setting for this poem.  As the speaker watches the blankness caused by the blackness of the night and the whiteness of the snow, the speaker declares that

The loneliness includes me unawares.

In the second stanza, the speaker declares that

And lonely as it is that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less--

Just as in "Acquainted with the Night," nature becomes a metaphor for the speaker's internal state.  At the end of this poem, the speaker admits that within him lie the most deserted of places--that this loneliness is not from without but from within. 

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Loneliness is one of Frost's most profound themes throughout his poetry. I think the best place to begin discussing this theme is with one of his most famous poems called "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." In it, the speaker has come to a halt "on a snowy evening." He is riding his horse and the sense is that he's just stopping to take a break and listen. He doesn't hear much, except for the horse giving his "harness bells a shake.../The only other sound's the sweep/ Of easy wind and downy flake." At the end, the speaker says:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

We don't know where he is going, but it doesn't seem as if he's going home to someone. He's not necessarily lonely, but he's certainly alone.

Many of Frost's poems have this feel to them. Some are set in homes and farmsteads that are far from other people. Examples are "Mending Wall," in which two men meet once a year to mend the wall between their farms, and "Out, Out" in which a young boy is killed in an accident involving a saw. A doctor gets to him, but not in time, establishing a great distance between the people in the poem. Another example is "Home Burial" in which a family has buried their young child in their backyard, far from town.

The sense of distance that Frost creates in his poetry allows for the sense of loneliness of which you speak.

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