The Silken Tent

by Robert Frost

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To whom or what is "The Silken Tent" addressed?

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In “The Silken Tent,” Robert Frost addresses a woman—perhaps a lover or a spouse—whom he admires for her beauty and strength. A tent serves as an extended metaphor for this woman who shows vitality within limited freedom restricted by social expectations and roles. Published in 1942, this poem reflects the grace and fortitude of a woman within her family and the world at that time.

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In the 1942 sonnet “The Silken Tent,” Robert Frost addresses a woman whom he admires and loves. Frosts uses the extended metaphor of a tent to represent the woman and her beauty, strength, and position given the constraints imposed by society. The poem opens with a direct link between “she” and “a silken tent” that stands alone in a field; seemingly delicate and vulnerable, the woman moves with fluidity and spirit within her limited freedom within society.

The “sunny summer breeze” dries the tent’s dew (the woman’s sweat and tears) and blows it gently to sway “at ease.” She exudes beauty and vitality but, like the silken tent, is tied to a specific role or “central cedar pole.” Like the breeze, societal expectation is an invisible force that determines the woman’s actions. As a mother and wife, she is the pillar or “pinnacle” of the household that holds it up and keeps it running or functioning. Without her fulfilling stereotypical female roles in 1940s society, the household and family would collapse, just as the tent's fabric if not held up by a pole would fall. Frost admires the woman for her inner strength or “sureness of the soul.”

Within the limits of her defined roles, nonetheless, the woman exerts some—albeit limited—volition of movement and expression. She is bound to the pole by “ropes” but is “strictly held by none, is loosely bound.” Her love for her family as well as her own thoughts and opinions are like “silken ties”—they may keep her in place physically and socially, but she has freedom within those constraints. She can enjoy giving and receiving love from her spouse and children. She can think and feel as she pleases; no one else can control her inner life.

The woman is connected to society at large—“to everything on earth"—but feels constraint only when she strays too far. If she behaves with “capriciousness,” then she feels the pull of her ties “going slightly taut” which remind her of her “bondage.”

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