The Poem

Robert Frost’s “The Silken Tent” is both a love poem and a metaphor describing the poet’s relationship to his beloved as well as to his poetry. “The Silken Tent” is a sonnet written in the Shakespearean style, yet with Frost’s uniquely American twist on form. It is a simple sentence written in fourteen lines of rhymed iambic pentameter. Frost makes use of his ties to nature in general, and New England in particular, to address the universality of human relationships and love. This is also a poem about people’s individual relationships within the wider universe. At once simple and complex, “The Silken Tent” serves as a compelling metaphor for poetry within the context of lives and relationships.

Frost opens with the line “She is as in a field a silken tent” and immediately creates an image for the reader. The vision is of a tent in a field at midday, standing firm against the summer sun, sturdy and sure, supported by a strong “central cedar pole” which serves both to support and to point the pinnacle of the tent heavenward, toward the sun. Yet this tent is not set up for a rustic outing within the elements. Rather, it stands tall as Frost’s symbol of the complexities of love and the connections of relationships, which “owe naught to any single cord” and are “strictly held by none” but are always “loosely bound/ By countless silken ties of love and thought.”

Frost completes the sentence by noting that...

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Forms and Devices

Frost used a modern twist on a very traditional form in “The Silken Tent.” Clearly a sonnet in the English tradition, he keeps his New England perspective as he puts his emotions to paper. In the ancient tradition of the biblical Song of Songs and following also in the tradition of John Donne, this is a lusty poem about passion and the forces being exerted upon the relationship. It is both capricious and restrained. The verse is honest, yet measured and controlled.

“The Silken Tent” is a true Shakespearean sonnet. Frost uses fourteen lines of iambic pentameter in measured rhyme. The rhyme scheme is the traditional abab cdcd efef gg. This is a break from Frost’s many monologues written in blank verse. In this poem the rhyme is clear (“tent” and “relent”; “breeze” and “ease”; “pole” and “soul”), but it is never forced or predictable. The poem is masterfully crafted, allowing for the natural flow of typical New England speech patterns within the traditional constraints of the sonnet form, using iambic pentameter.

The “she” in the poem is not like a tent; Frost does not use simple simile. Rather, he uses an extended metaphor. The woman is “as in a field a silken tent.” She stands as a poetic symbol. The woman, the tent, the poem, all seem to be as one. Each stands alone seeking to find its place in the sun, each in a field, be it a green space in nature, the field of human relationships, or the...

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(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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Burnshaw, Stanley. Robert Frost Himself. New York: George Braziller, 1986.

Faggen, Robert. Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.

Galbraith, Astrid. New England as Poetic Landscape: Henry David Thoreau and Robert Frost. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.

Gerber, Philip L. Robert Frost. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982.

Lathem, Edward Connery. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Robert Frost: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Poirier, Richard. Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Potter, James L. The Robert Frost Handbook. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980.

Pritchard, William H. Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Thompson, Lawrance Roger, and R. H. Winnick. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982.