10 Most Famous Poems by Robert Frost

10 Most Famous Poems by Robert Frost

 

Robert Lee Frost (1874 – 1963) was an American poet who is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed poets in history. He won four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. He remains the only poet and one of only four persons to accomplish the feat. Frost is highly regarded for his deep understanding of human nature leading to brilliant dramatic monologues or dramatic scenes in his poetry. He is known for his realistic depictions of rural life, capturing the rhythms of actual speech and depicting the human response to nature’s processes. Robert Frost is considered by many as the greatest American poet of the twentieth century. Here are his 10 most famous poems including Birches, The Road Not Taken, Mending Wall and Nothing Gold Can Stay.

 

#10 The Gift Outright

Poetry Collection: A Witness Tree

Published: 1942

The Gift Outright talks about the relationship between the Americans and America. It begins with describing the American people’s first possession of their land merely as a plot of earth. This was overcome when the Americans realized they had to give themselves in an act of passionate surrender to earn outright the “gift of the title. The poem summarizes the politics of formation of the country, primarily the American Revolutionary War. It stresses on the importance of getting rid of the political, cultural and spiritual allegiance to England in order to achieve perfect union with the land of America. The Gift Outright is most famous for being the poem which Robert Frost recited on January 20, 1961 at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. This was the first time a poet had honored a presidential inauguration.

Excerpt:-

Such as we were we gave ourselves outright

(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)

To the land vaguely realizing westward,

But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,

Such as she was, such as she would become.

 

#9 Acquainted with the Night

Poetry Collection: West-Running Brook

Published: 1928

In this poem, the speaker tells about his relationship with loneliness. The poem begins and ends with the line, “I have been one acquainted with the night”, and in between the speaker uses imagery to convey to the reader the nature of solitude. It is most often read as the narrator’s admission of having experienced depression and a vivid description of what that experience feels like. “The night” is the depression itself. Terza rima (“third rhyme”) is rhyming verse stanza first used by the famous Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Due to the difficulty of using it in English, few writers in English have attempted the form. Robert Frost was a master of many forms and Acquainted with the Night is one of the most famous examples of an American poem written in terza rima.

Excerpt:-

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.

 

#8 Home Burial

Poetry Collection: North of Boston

Published: 1914

Home Burial captures a scene in the house of a man and a woman who have recently lost a child. The wife doesn’t want to move away from thoughts of her child. She believes that people only pretend to grieve while they are “making the best of their way back to life”. She doesn’t accept this kind of false grief. The husband has already grieved the death of their child in his own way and accepted it. He believes that running away from the truth is not the way forward. He wants his wife to talk and address the issue while his wife wants to be alone. Home Burial focuses on the twin tragedies of the loss of the couple’s child and the collapse of their marriage. It touches themes of death, gender inequality and communication between couples. It is unusual for being a dramatic lyric with dialogues between its characters in natural speech rhythms of a region’s people. Home Burial is one of Robert Frost’s most dark, sad and emotional poems.

Excerpt:-

“You can’t because you don’t know how to speak.

If you had any feelings, you that dug

With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave;

I saw you from that very window there,

Making the gravel leap in air,

Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly

And roll back down the mound beside the hole.”

 

#7 Out, Out

Poetry Collection: Mountain Interval

Published: 1916

The title of this poem is an allusion to the quotation: “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow…” in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. It is spoken by Macbeth after he hears that his wife has committed suicide and refers to how unpredictable and fragile life is. The poem tells the story of a young boy whose hand gets accidentally severed by a buzz saw leading to his death due to excessive bleeding. It ends with people’s reaction to the death and how life still goes on. Frost focuses on the innocence and passivity of the boy in the poem and Out, Out is considered by some as a critique on how war forces young boys to leave their childhood behind and be destroyed due to the circumstances created by ‘responsible’ adults. Out, Out is among Robert Frost’s most critically acclaimed and renowned poems.

Excerpt:-

Since he was old enough to know, big boy

Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart—

He saw all spoiled. “Don’t let him cut my hand off—

The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!”

 

#6 Fire and Ice

Poetry Collection: New Hampshire

Published: 1920

Fire and Ice discusses whether the world will end in fire or in ice. The force of fire is equated to the emotion of desire while that of ice is equated to hate. Frost brilliantly uses casual language in the poem which contrasts with the terror of apocalypse he talks about. The poem is considered by some to be a compression of Inferno, the first part of Dante’s epic poem Divine Comedy. In Inferno, the worst offenders of hell, are submerged, while in a fiery hell, up to their necks in ice. Prominent American astronomer Harlow Shapley, also claimed to have inspired the poem by telling Frost during a chat that the world would end either due to explosion of the sun or by slowly freezing in deep space. Fire and Ice is one of Frost’s best-known and most anthologized poems.

Poem:-

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

 

#5 Birches

Poetry Collection: Mountain Interval

Published: 1915

This poem first appeared in August 1915 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The following year it was included in Frost’s third poetry collection Mountain Interval. Written in simple conversational language, the poem was inspired by Frost’s childhood experience of swinging on birch trees. Birches begins with the speaker wondering whether the birches he is seeing have been bent as boys have been swinging them. He realizes it is ice storms that bend the birches but prefers his initial interpretation. He remembers how he used to be a swinger of birches in his childhood and expresses his wish to do so again to get away from reality. However, he also deems it necessary to return to the rational world. The poem presents swinging on birches as an act of escaping the rationality of the adult world but the escape is only temporary as responsibilities cannot be avoided.

Excerpt:-

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.

And so I dream of going back to be.

It’s when I’m weary of considerations,

And life is too much like a pathless wood

Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs

Broken across it, and one eye is weeping

From a twig’s having lashed across it open.

 

#4 Nothing Gold Can Stay

Poetry Collection: New Hampshire

Published: 1923

Gold in this poem refers to the color of vegetation in its first stage. The speaker says that the rich hue of gold, after a brief while, gives way to the green of life. In the second couplet, this is emphasized again, this time with the analogy of a leaf existing as a flower briefly before taking its true form. The Fall of Man is a term used to refer to the story of Adam and Eve committing the sin of disobedience by consuming the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, leading to their expulsion. Frost uses the metaphor of the Fall, of dawn transforming to day and the above mentioned analogies to comment on the necessity of the transformation of life from its rich, beautiful and even paradise like state, to that which is wholesome and complete. Nothing Gold Can Stay is Frost’s most brilliant short verse and is renowned for its rich symbolism.

Poem:-

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf,

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day

Nothing gold can stay.

 

#3 Mending Wall

Poetry Collection: North of Boston

Published: 1914

The narrator in Mending Wall is a farmer in rural New England who contacts his neighbor to build a wall between their two farms. But he notes twice in the poem, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall”. Through the poem, the narrator questions the purpose of the wall as there is nothing that is to be prevented from crossing their boundaries. They have apples and pines planted in their regions and he reasons, My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines. However his neighbor always replies, “Good fences make good neighbors”. Frost uses short conversational words in the poem and folksy language. However, it is a complex poem with several themes, with the most dominant one being the role of boundaries in human society. Mending Wall is one of the most analyzed and famous poems in modern literature.

Excerpt:-

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors”.

 

#2 Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Written in a very short time, Frost called this poem,“my best bid for remembrance”. In it, the narrator stops to behold a lovely scene of snow falling in the woods and is tempted to stay longer. However, he ultimately decides to move on as he still has a considerable distance to travel before he can rest. The poem has been interpreted in many ways revolving around the pull the narrator faces between the “lovely” woods and the “promises” he has to keep. It has been thought to imply several things including being symbolic of the choice between adventure and responsibility. Stopping by the Woods is one of the most popular poems, especially its last four lines, which are among the most often quoted lines in poetry.

Excerpt:-

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

#1 The Road Not Taken

Poetry Collection: Mountain Interval

Published: 1916

Robert Frost was close friends with British poet Edward Thomas and the two took many walks together. In Frost’s words, Thomas was a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. The Road Not Taken was initially meant to be a gentle mocking of indecision and Frost sent an advanced copy of the poem to Thomas. In the poem, the speaker stands in the woods pondering which of the two roads ahead should he take. Though Frost probably wrote the poem to highlight the human tendency to look back and blame minor decisions in their life, it has since been interpreted by readers as a poem on the benefit of free thinking and not following the crowd. The last lines of the poem are hugely popular and often quoted. The Road Not Taken is not only the most famous poem of Robert Frost but among the most renowned ever written.

Excerpt:-

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

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