Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Some might argue that Frost has set up a straw man type of argument in this poem—that he has set up two bitter tramps merely to knock down their position with his own. A quick reading proves the two tramps fairly unimportant figures in the larger poetic narrative. Yet the poem is a great favorite, and it is important to discover the ways this poem extends beyond mere rhetoric.

First, Frost portrays accurately the mixed emotions of both outrage and embarrassment at being jeered at by those at the bottom of the social ladder. Frost’s account of himself reminds the reader how shaky the ground can feel beneath one’s feet when one suddenly gets a catcall from one’s vulnerable, blind side. Nothing shows people exactly how isolated they are from those of other social orders than when sudden, unsociable contact is made. From the point of view of the landed gentry, Frost’s poem captures this emotion almost instantly. Another emphasis is set into motion by the third stanza, however, a new emphasis that allows Frost to get somewhere deeper, to matters of the soul.

Frost’s long digression about the season of April and its peculiar blend of winter and spring is actually a demonstration of what it is he does in the working world. This piece of pure poetry is Frost earning his keep, so to speak. He splits April as cleanly as anyone splitting a stick of oak, displaying his prowess as a wordsmith. Everything he hits with his ax falls on each side of him—nothing missed and nothing in excess. Readers are asked to judge Frost by his “appropriate tool.” Once he is sure that he has shown the reader his skill, he...

(The entire section is 668 words.)