illustrated portrait of American poet Robert Frost

Robert Frost

Start Free Trial

What is the symbolism and theme in Robert Frost's poem "Love and A Question"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Frost's poems are often ambiguous and therefore lend themselves to a variety of interpretations.  "Love and a Question" is no exception.  The basic situation involves a stranger who approaches the house of a bridegroom and bride.  This young couple might be newlyweds or about to be married on this evening.  The situation is reminiscent of Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in which the mariner approaches a young bridegroom who is about to get married.  In this ballad, the joyful occasion of a wedding is interrupted by the old man who wants to tell his story of crime, penance, and redemption, and when he finishes his tale, the bridegroom is a wiser man.

In Frost's poem, we have a similar contrast young and old; cheerful and sorrowful. The young bridegroom steps out of his lighted and warm house, where inside is a young bride full of desire for him.  The stranger is an older man, for he carries a "green-white stick," and is desperate for shelter.

The bridegroom must decide whether or not to welcome this stranger into his house.  He looks outside to see if the night weather warrants taking the stranger into his house.  It is an autumn night and winter is in the air.  The bridegroom cannot predict the harshness of the weather:  "Stranger, I wish I knew."  But, as typical of Frost, the weather most likely symbolizes much more that a literal autumn night.  Perhaps the bridegroom is also studying the sky to see his own future.  What changes will his life experience as the seasons change?  It is a question no one knows the answer to.

He looks inside--the wife or bride at the hearth is in his present.  Is the stranger's life his future?  He hopes her heart will remain as it is "in a case of gold/And pinned with a silver pin."

Another question arises. The bridegroom struggles between his duty to a fellow human being and his desire not to mar the mood of the bridal house.  He feels that he should give the stranger shelter, food, and money.  But he fears that by letting the stranger into his house, he will be "harboring woe."  At the end of the poem, this question is unanswered.  The bridegroom "wished he knew" what he should do.

This decision represents a conflict between duty and desire as well as compassion and selfishness.  But it also represents a clinging to the present and a fear of change.  One's life can be as unpredictable as the weather, but changes are as inevitable as the seasons.  So, perhaps the larger question here is what kind of life is in store for the bridegroom.  Could his fate be that of the stranger?

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial