The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549

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.

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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 although life and love may be capricious, they are serious business; they are often filled with conflicts or choices that may be invisible to the human eye but pose a heavy burden for the heart and soul. At the same time, it is at those very moments when people most need the support of love that the strength of the cedar pole and the importance of the gentle but resilient “silken ties” that are so fundamental to meaningful relationships are most apparent.

Frost clearly writes this as a love poem. Originally titled “In Praise of Your Poise,” it opens the love sequence in A Witness Tree, for which Frost received a Pulitzer Prize in 1943. It is a love poem written in the traditional sonnet form, but it is much more. Frost, always one to delight in the importance of sound and sense and the natural rhythms of speech, uses the sentence, one of the simplest units of meaning, to address the universal themes most important to him.

“The Silken Tent” is a masterful metaphor on life, love, and poetry. The tent stands alone in nature, pointing toward the sun at midday. Similarly, the poet seeks the courage to stand so firmly in the field of his dreams, all the while being tested and pulled in many directions by the numerous ties or connections in his life. Most ties are as unseen as the invisible silken threads, yet they are no less real. Some pull the poet off-center, while others serve as support against that force. The poem describes the internal and external conflicts faced in life, as well as the conflicts faced by every poet who struggles to put the invisible realities of the soul into print without betraying the form that makes poetry what it is.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 463

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 field of language the poet navigates in search of words to bring the intimacies and intricacies of life to fruition on the printed page.

In this poem, images are essential elements. The cedar pole and the silken threads signify strength. A cedar pole is lasting and connects the modern world of nature to the ancients. People are connected to traditions and to one another through the power of lasting love and words. Human connections to nature and to one another are strong, and yet they must be willing to sway in the breeze, to “relent” when the time is right. People must allow themselves the freedom to seek and enjoy the “sureness of the soul” that comes when they are confident in their place in the world, when they have a true and lasting love, or in Frost’s case, when the innermost thoughts of the poet can take form in such a way as to surprise and delight the poet or the reader with a revelation for which neither was completely prepared. Like the woman and the tent, individuals stand alone, each in his or her own world, supported by unseen connections. Each person stands open to the perils and the capricious joys of nature, seeking the sunlight of happiness.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 136

Bloom, Harold, ed. Robert Frost. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

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.

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