Updated date:

Analysis of Poem Storm Fear by Robert Frost

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Robert Frost and A Summary of Storm Fear

Storm Fear focuses on the inner feelings and thoughts of a young man in charge of his family as a storm rages around them in their house. In typical Frost fashion, what appears to be on the surface a simple straightforward poem, turns out to be so much more.

Published in his first book A Boy's Will, in 1913, (when Frost and his family were living in England) it is one of a collection where each poem has a lead-in phrase. For this particular poem the phrase is: He is afraid of his own isolation.

  • So the poem's primary theme is that of an individual's place in the natural order. Are we in control or is some greater power working with and against us?
  • It also explores the potential weaknesses and strengths humans possess when faced with extremes of nature.
  • And it encourages the reader to think about how our mindset can be altered by the environment we're an integral part of.

Over the years critics and analysts have given their views on the meaning of this poem and the various theories range from the purely physical to the psychological and on to the spiritual/religious.

For some, the scene is literal - here is a young farmer facing an awful storm, his family unable to sleep, the snow building. For others, the speaker is someone going through a bout of depression (Frost did suffer from this illness from time to time in his long life). Last but not least, the storm is an evil entity for those who think the poem religious, and the speaker someone who has sinned and who has to resist the negative forces.

Ambiguity is the poet's prerogative and Frost is a master. He teases with his imagery and suggestion, leaving his poems open to different interpretation.

Storm Fear does have a psychological element, the speaker's fear and doubt reflected in the shorter intense lines and threatening language. The longer pentameter lines are Frost's traditional signature blank verse, but they are undermined and thwarted by the varied shorter line and unusual syntax.

It is this rare structure that gives the poem significance. The reader has to tread carefully, pause occasionally to acknowledge the inner anxiety of the speaker, then through enjambment go with the inevitable energy of storm and building snow.

Storm Fear

When the wind works against us in the dark,
And pelts with snow
The lower chamber window on the east,
And whispers with a sort of stifled bark,
The beast,
‘Come out! Come out!’—
It costs no inward struggle not to go,
Ah, no!
I count our strength,
Two and a child,
Those of us not asleep subdued to mark
How the cold creeps as the fire dies at length,—
How drifts are piled,
Dooryard and road ungraded,
Till even the comforting barn grows far away
And my heart owns a doubt
Whether ‘tis in us to arise with day
And save ourselves unaided.

Analysis of Storm Fear

Storm Fear is one of a series of poems exploring the idea of the individual's position within the greater scheme of life. In this case, fear and isolation are highlighted, the speaker being 'trapped' at home with his young family as the storm rages around them.

The added menace of snow increases the tension. Snow in most situations is considered innocuous; on a mountain top it brings scenic wonder, in a landscape peace. Yet in the poem it is driven by high winds into threatening drifts.

So the tone of the poem is overall one of darkness, which is why many critics have suggested that the whole poem is a metaphor for mental depression. The cold weather, the force of the wind, the smothering snow - all add up to stasis and ultimately a sense of fear for future survival.

Another perspective comes from those who see the poem as religious, the wind and storm being evil, being called the beast, that is, demonic in nature. The speaker therefore is a sinner and divine power is testing the spiritual strength of that person.

'The speaker in the poetry keeps alive the possibility that something greater than man sustains order and purpose in the universe.' (Juhnke, Religion in Robert Frost's Poetry, The Play For Self-Possession, 1964)

The poem's varied rhythms, line lengths and metrical changes all enhance the idea that the speaker's situation is unpredictable, that there is a monstrous energy out there capable of taking life at short notice.

Frost himself was a farmer for a time and it's no coincidence that the barn is a symbol of stability and survival in the poem. But even it is in danger - the speaker's security is at risk, the family's very existence wrapped up in the image of the barn.

As it fades from view because of the wind driven snows, the speaker's heart begins to doubt if his family will make it.

Throughout the poem there is rhyme but it never really glues the poem together, as rhyme is meant to do, leaving the reader challenged. A quick look at the rhyme scheme reveals a complex pattern:

abcacdbbefaefghdhg

Eighteen lines with some tight full rhymes suggesting togetherness (beast/east,go/no) and loose distant rhymes, all full, (out/doubt,dark/bark/mark) reflecting the instability of the situation.

What Literary Devices Are In Storm fear?

There are several literary devices in Storm Fear, including:

Alliteration

When two words close together in a line start with consonants they are said to be alliterative - When the wind works...whispers with a sort of stifled...cold creeps...

Alliteration changes the texture of sound and brings added interest for the reader.

Enjambment

When a line runs into the next with no punctuation and the sense continues, as in lines 2/3, 11/12, 15/16/17.

Enjambment encourages the reader to not take a pause at the end of a line but to flow on, increasing the poem's momentum through certain lines.

Metaphor

When an object or thing becomes something else. So the wind becomes the beast in line 5.

What Is The Structure and Meter of Storm Fear?

Storm Fear is not a typical Frost poem because it has an unusual structure; the lines vary in length, from two to twelve syllables, which alters the rhythm and the breath pattern of the reader. This reflects the unstable nature of the speaker as the storm hits the house and he begins to doubt if he and his family can survive.

Let's take a close look at each line:

When the / wind works / against / us in / the dark,

The first foot is a trochee, an inverted iamb, with stress on the first syllable When and is followed with the alliterative second foot, a spondee, two stresses, wind works before settling down to the rhythm of iambic feet.

This initial altered rhythm breaks the regular iambic and reflects the strength and disruptive nature of the storm.

And pelts / with snow
The low / er cham / ber win / dow on / the east,
And whisp / ers with / a sort / of sti / fled bark,
The beast,

Iambic pentameters are sandwiched between two shorter rather abrupt lines.

Come out! Come out!’—

Two spondees, all syllables stressed for maximum impact.

It costs / no in / ward strug / gle not / to go

Ah, no!

I count / our strength,

Iambic feet take over.

Two and / a child,

Trochee plus iamb.

Those of / us not / asleep / subdued / to mark

Opening trochee again, followed by iambs. That stressed first syllable is the effect of the windy storm.

How the / cold creeps / as the / fire dies / at length,—

Trochee plus a couple of spondees which place emphasis on the cold and the fire.

How drifts / are piled,

Iambs.

Dooryard / and road / ungraded,

Trochee plus iamb plus an unusual amphibrach - three syllables, the middle one stressed.

Till e / ven the com / forting barn / grows far / away

An opening spondee, double stress, followed by an anapaest and then three iambs. Arguably the most complex line with 12 syllables.

And my heart / owns a doubt

Two anapaests, which give a lilting rhythm, quietening things down.


Whether / ‘tis in / us to / arise / with day
And save / ourselves / unaided.

That first line tells you this is no ordinary plodding, straight iambic pentameter poem. Even though Frost loved his regular metric foundations, Storm Fear only holds three pure iambic pentameter lines - 3, 4 and 7. The rest are variations, some lines deviating quite markedly, suggesting an abnormal situation.

© 2018 Andrew Spacey

Comments

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on December 20, 2018:

Frost was on the cusp of the modern poetry movement, he knew that poetry was changing from the technical and metrical to free verse, that is, lines written primarily with meaning, sound, structure and texture uppermost in the poet's mind. Metre (meter) isn't so important to poets anymore generally speaking. So yes I think that it is possible to write poetic lines intuitively without having to measure the feet, but skill still plays a big part in creating a poem...using metaphor and devices and such...those moments of inspiration, our feelings, will always need some form of lyrical expression shaped on the page...unless that is you want to write a prose poem, which is altogether a different proposition!

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on December 20, 2018:

Thanks so much Andrew, yes I am as safe as one can be, just one more day on the road (snow, hail, flood, sudden wind storms power outages, windfalls across the roads, deer running, Tis not my favorite place to be. but I 'get' two weeks (16 days) off work after tomorrow. Yay!

Back to my question, and not to belabour a point, but if you analyzed a poem I wrote (not that I'm asking you to). You might find meter and iambic variations and sounds as well, but I would have used them unknowingly just by sound. Like playing music by ear? Is that even possible?

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on December 20, 2018:

Verlie, I started this analysis two weeks ago before I got to know about your unfortunate experiences - glad to finish it - and equally happy to know you are safe. Frost I am certain prepared his poems so to speak with rough drafts reflecting his ideas on just what the finished poem would look like. Ever the metrical expert he undoubtedly crafted this poem like a verbal sculpture, shortening lines here, lengthening there. It is an unusual poem for Frost, who liked his iambic pentameters and rhymes in stable, block stanzas. A great technician no doubt who said that free verse was like 'playing tennis without the net'.

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on December 20, 2018:

Timely piece Andrew. I am curious about the 'structure and meter' of Storm Fear. Do you think Frost considered all of that when he wrote the poem? Or is it something that fell into place naturally as he wrote it.

Related Articles