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Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Robert Frost

Introduction and Text of "A Girl's Garden"

This fine little narrative, "A Girl's Garden," reveals that the Frostian speaker enjoys pure narrative offered just for the fun of it. The speaker is recounting an old woman's experience with a youthful endeavor in gardening on her family's farm. The poem features 12 quatrains displayed in four movements, each quatrain features the rime scheme, ABCB. The nostalgia presented here remains quite lucid without any saccharine overstating or melancholy self-pity that is so prevalent in many postmodern poems of this type: it is a simple tale about a simple girl told by a simple speaker.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

A Girl's Garden

A neighbor of mine in the village
Likes to tell how one spring
When she was a girl on the farm, she did
A childlike thing.

One day she asked her father
To give her a garden plot
To plant and tend and reap herself,
And he said, "Why not?"

In casting about for a corner
He thought of an idle bit
Of walled-off ground where a shop had stood,
And he said, "Just it."

And he said, "That ought to make you
An ideal one-girl farm,
And give you a chance to put some strength
On your slim-jim arm."

It was not enough of a garden
Her father said, to plow;
So she had to work it all by hand,
But she don't mind now.

She wheeled the dung in a wheelbarrow
Along a stretch of road;
But she always ran away and left
Her not-nice load,

And hid from anyone passing.
And then she begged the seed.
She says she thinks she planted one
Of all things but weed.

A hill each of potatoes,
Radishes, lettuce, peas,
Tomatoes, beets, beans, pumpkins, corn,
And even fruit trees.

And yes, she has long mistrusted
That a cider-apple
In bearing there today is hers,
Or at least may be.

Her crop was a miscellany
When all was said and done,
A little bit of everything,
A great deal of none.

Now when she sees in the village
How village things go,
Just when it seems to come in right,
She says, "I know!

"It's as when I was a farmer..."
Oh never by way of advice!
And she never sins by telling the tale
To the same person twice.

Reading of "A Girl's Garden"

Commentary

Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden" dramatizes a little story often told by the speaker's neighbor, who enjoys telling her little tale about growing and nurturing a garden when she was just a girl.

First Movement: A Conversation With a Neighbor

A neighbor of mine in the village
Likes to tell how one spring
When she was a girl on the farm, she did
A childlike thing.

One day she asked her father
To give her a garden plot
To plant and tend and reap herself,
And he said, "Why not?"

In casting about for a corner
He thought of an idle bit
Of walled-off ground where a shop had stood,
And he said, "Just it."

The first movement finds Robert Frost's speaker in "A Girl's Garden" relating a conversation he remembers with his neighbor in the village. The speaker reports that the woman has always been quite fond of narrating an experience from her childhood about "a childlike thing" she did when she lived on a farm.

While still a child, the woman one fine spring season, requests from her father some land upon which she might grow a garden. The father eagerly agrees, and in the next few days, searches his farm for just the right plot of land for his daughter's endeavor.

After finding the little plot of land he deemed just right for his daughter's nurturing experiment, the father tells his daughter about his choice. The few acres had at one time sported a shop and it was walled off from the road. The father thus deemed this little plot a fine place for his daughter's experiment in gardening.

Second Movement: Her Father Hands Over a Plot

And he said, "That ought to make you
An ideal one-girl farm,
And give you a chance to put some strength
On your slim-jim arm."

It was not enough of a garden
Her father said, to plow;
So she had to work it all by hand,
But she don't mind now.

She wheeled the dung in a wheelbarrow
Along a stretch of road;
But she always ran away and left
Her not-nice load,

After the father reports his choice to his daughter, telling her that the plot of land should be just right for her "one-girl farm," he informs her that because the plot is too small to plow, she will have to dig the dirt and get it ready by hand.

This work would be good for her; it would give her strong arms. The daughter was delighted to have the plot of land and was very enthusiastic about starting the work. She did not mind having to ready the soil by hand.

The woman reports in her narrative that she transported the necessary items to her garden plot with a wheelbarrow. She adds a comic element, saying the smell of the dung fertilizer made her run away.

Third Movement: A Wide Variety of Plants

And hid from anyone passing.
And then she begged the seed.
She says she thinks she planted one
Of all things but weed.

A hill each of potatoes,
Radishes, lettuce, peas,
Tomatoes, beets, beans, pumpkins, corn,
And even fruit trees.

And yes, she has long mistrusted
That a cider-apple
In bearing there today is hers,
Or at least may be.

The woman reports that she would then go hide, so no one could observe her running away from the dung smell. She next imparts the information about what she planted.

The story-teller reckons that she planted one of everything, except weeds. She then lists her plants: "potatoes, radishes, lettuce, peas / Tomatoes, beets, beans, pumpkins, corn, / And even fruit trees."

She further reckons that she planted quite a lot of vegetables and fruits for such a small plot of farmland. She recounts that today a "cider apple tree" is growing there, and she harbors the suspicion that the tree might be the result of her farming experiment that year.

Fourth Movement: The Poet's Kind of Storyteller

Her crop was a miscellany
When all was said and done,
A little bit of everything,
A great deal of none.

Now when she sees in the village
How village things go,
Just when it seems to come in right,
She says, "I know!

"It's as when I was a farmer..."
Oh never by way of advice!
And she never sins by telling the tale
To the same person twice.

The story-teller reports that she was able to harvest quite a variety of crops, though not very much of each one. Now when she observes the useful, abundant gardens the folks in the village have grown on their small plots of land around their homes, she remembers her own experience of growing a garden on her father's farm when she was just a young girl.

The poet/speaker who is recounting the old woman's story is amazed that this woman is not the kind of repetitive story-teller that so many seniors of nostalgia are. He says that though he has heard her tell that story many times, she never repeats the same story to the same villager twice. And the old gal never condescends to be offering advice, she merely adds her quips as fond memories. The poet/speaker seems to admire that kind of storyteller.

Robert Frost - Commemorative Stamp

U.S stamp issued for the centennial of the poet Robert Frost

U.S stamp issued for the centennial of the poet Robert Frost

Life Sketch of Robert Frost

Robert Frost's father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist, living in San Fransisco, California, when Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874; Robert's mother, Isabelle, was an immigrant from Scotland. The young Frost spent eleven years of his childhood in San Fransisco. After his father died of tuberculosis, Robert's mother moved the family, including his sister, Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they lived with Robert's paternal grandparents.

Robert graduated in 1892 from Lawrence High School, where he and his future wife, Elinor White, served as co-valedictorians. Robert thEn made his first attempt to attend college at Dartmouth College; after only a few months, he returned to Lawrence and began working a series of part-time jobs.

Elinor White, who was Robert's high school sweetheart, was attending St. Lawrence University when Robert proposed to her. She turned him down because she wanted to finish college before marrying. Robert then relocated to Virginia, and then after returning to Lawrence, he again to proposed to Elinor, who had now completed her college education. The two married on December 19, 1895. Their first child, Eliot, was born the following year.

Robert then made another attempt to attend college; in 1897, he enrolled in Harvard University, but because of health issues, he had to leave school again. Robert rejoined his wife in Lawrence, and their second child Lesley was born in 1899 . The family then moved to a New Hampshire farm that Robert's grandparents had acquired for him. Thus, Robert's farming phase commenced as he attempted to farm the land and continue his writing. His first poem to appear in print, “My Butterfly," had been published on November 8, 1894, in The Independent, a New York newspaper.

The next twelve years proved a difficult time in Frost's personal life, but a fertile one for his writing. The Frosts' first child, Eliot, died in 1900 of cholera. The couple, however, went on to have four more children, each of which suffered from mental illness to suicide. The couple's farming endeavors continued to result in unsuccessful attempts. Frost became well adjusted to rustic life, despite his miserable failure as a farmer.

Frost's writing life took off in a splendid fashion, and the rural influence on his poems would later set the tone and style for all of his works. However, despite the success of his individual published poems, such "The Tuft of Flowers" and "The Trial by Existence," he could not find a publisher for his collections of poems.

Relocation to England

It was because of his failure to find a publisher for his collections of poems that Frost sold the New Hampshire farm and moved his family to England in 1912. This moved proved to be life-line for the young poet. At age 38, he secured a publisher in England for his collection, A Boy's Will, and soon after North of Boston.

In addition to finding a publisher for his two books, Frost became acquainted with Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, two important poets of the day. Both Pound and Thomas reviewed Frost's two book favorably, and thus Frost's career as a poet moved forward.

Frost's friendship with Edward Thomas was especially important, and Frost has remarked that the long walks taken by the two poet/friends had influenced his writing in a marvelously positive manner. Frost has credited Thomas for his most famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," which was sparked by Thomas' attitude regarding not being able to take two different paths on their long walks.

Returning to America

After World War 1 broke out in Europe, the Frosts set sail back to the United States. The brief sojourn in England had had useful consequences for the poet's reputation, even back in his native country. American Publisher, Henry Holt, picked up Frost's earlier books, and then come out with his third, Mountain Interval, a collection that had been written while Frost was still residing in England.

Frost was treated to the delicious situation of having the same journals, such as The Atlantic, soliciting his work, even though they had rejected that same work a couple of years earlier.

The Frosts once again became owners of a farm located in Franconia, New Hampshire, which they purchased in 1915. The end of their traveling days were over, and Frost continued his writing career, as he taught intermittently at a number of colleges, including Dartmouth, University of Michigan, and particularly Amherst College, where he taught regularly from 1916 until 1938. Amherst's main library is now the Robert Frost Library, honoring the long-time educator and poet. He also spent most summers teaching English at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Frost never completed a college degree, but over his entire lifetime, the revered poet accumulated more than forty honorary degrees. He also won the Pulitzer Prize four times for his books, New Hampshire, Collected Poems, A Further Range, and A Witness Tree.

Frost considered himself a "lone wolf" in the world of poetry because he did not follow any literary movements. His only influence was the human condition in a world of duality. He did not pretend to explain that condition; he only sought to create little dramas to reveal the nature of the emotional life of a human being.

Questions & Answers

Question: What are the figures of speech in Robert Frost's poem "A Girl's Garden"?

Answer: There are none; the poem is entirely literal.

Question: Does Robert Frost's poem, "A Girl's Garden," use any figures of speech?

Answer: No, it does not. It remains quite literal, without metaphors, similes, etc. It's imagery also remains quite literal, such as "slim-jim arm," "hill of potatoes," and "dung in a wheelbarrow." Not all poems employ figurative language, and many of Robert Frost's remain quite literal without the use of metaphor, simile, etc.

Question: Who is the poet's neighbour in Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden"? What did she tell that poet?

Answer: The speaker of the poem recounts that he had a neighbour lady who liked to tell about how one summer she planted a garden on her family's farm. She reports that she planted only small quantities of several different vegetables. She even planted fruit trees. The speaker/ neighbour was impressed the lady never made the mistake of telling the same story twice to other villagers.

Question: What is the visual imagery of this poem?

Answer: Many of the visual images refer to gardens, such as "garden plot," "dung in a wheelbarrow," "A hill each of potatoes, / Radishes, lettuce, peas, / Tomatoes, beets, beans, pumpkins, corn, / And even fruit trees," and "a cider-apple".

Question: What is the mood or tone of the poem "A Girl's Garden" by Robert Frost?

Answer: The mood is cheerful, so is the tone.

Question: In Robert Frost's poem, "A Girl's Garden," what does the father mean by "slim jim arms"?

Answer: It means slender arms.

Question: In Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden," why did the father want his daughter's garden to be plowed by hand? Did she mind tilling the ground by hand?

Answer: The plot was too small to be plowed by a tractor and plow, plus he said she could build up her small arms by tiling the ground by hand. She was willing to till the ground by hand, and seemed to enjoy it.

Question: In the poem "A Girl's Garden" by Robert Frost, what does the girl ask for from her dad?

Answer: The girl requested from her father a small parcel of land so she could plant and nurture a small vegetable garden.

Question: Do you think this girl in Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden" was a success at farming?

Answer: She was a great success. The garden brought in lots of crops, and she has pleasant memories of her experience.

Question: What does the expression "childlike thing" mean in Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden"?

Answer: The speaker of the poem is an adult woman who is telling about her experience of growing a garden when she was a "girl," that is, when she was a "child." Thus, she is saying that by asking her father for a plot of their farmland on which to grow her garden, she did something that was like a child--the child that she was.

Question: What is the purpose of the poem, "A Girl's Garden" by Robert Frost?

Answer: The speaker of the poem creates a little drama about a neighbor lady who used to retell her story about how one summer she planted a garden on her family's farm.

Question: How can we interpret the last two stanzas of Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden"?

Answer: When the woman sees gardens flourishing, she is reminded of when she was a girl and planted a garden. She never tells the story the same way to the same person twice.

Question: Why does the speaker in Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden" call the girl’s tending her garden “a childlike thing”?

Answer: Because she was a child and did things in a child-like way.

Question: In Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden," why did the father want his daughter's garden to be plowed by hand?

Did she mind plowing with her hand?

Answer: She looked forward to tilling the soil by hand because the plot of land was too small for plowing with a tractor and plow. Her father liked the idea of her strengthening her muscles by tilling the ground by hand.

Question: In Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden," did her father help the girl in making the farm? Why?

Answer: Yes, the father did help his daughter by selecting a parcel of land and helping her get seeds to plant. He likely helped in other ways that are not mentioned. He helped her because he thought it would be a good experience for his daughter, and the hard physical labor would build up her "slim-jim arms."

Question: What does this story tell about the woman, the villagers, and people in general?

Answer: The narration reveals nothing about "people in general" nor "the villagers." It does, however, reveal that the woman likes to reminisce about the time in her childhood when she planted a garden.

Question: What did the girl tell the poet in Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden"?

Answer: It is likely that a neighbor-lady who lived near the poet told him about her experience in planting a garden on her father's farm one summer. Thus, the speaker in the poem is relating his little drama about a neighbor lady who never told the story quite the same way twice, and she never pretended to be going advice.

Question: Who is the poet's neighbor in the poem, "A Girl's Garden"? What did she tell the poet?

Answer: Robert Frost's 'A Girl's Garden' dramatizes a little story often told by the speaker's neighbor, who enjoys telling her little tale about growing and nurturing a garden when she was just a girl.

Question: The girl's method of farming is different from adults, why?

Answer: She tilled the ground, planted the seed, nurtured them, and then harvested the produce. The same method anyone would employ--adult or child.

Question: Why didn't the father in "A Girl's Garden" help the girl with the farm?

Answer: The father helped the girl by providing her the parcel of land on which to plant. It is likely he helped her in other ways, but when writing a poem, a poet chooses which details to highlight depending on what he wishes to express. The point of this poem is to highlight the woman who retells her nostalgic farming story to a number of folks but without repeating the details or offering advice. The speaker is impressed with the ability to offer a story only for the story's sake, and thus he dramatizes it in a poem. Don't look for details that the poet leaves out. Focus on what is there, or else you will miss the charm, beauty, and point of the piece.

Question: Who is the poet's neighbor? What did tell the poet?

Answer: The neighbor is a woman who likes to admire gardens and then recount how she once grew her own garden on a small plot of land that belonged to her family. She has likely narrated her story to all her neighbors, including the poet/speaker, and to other people in the village.

Question: What is the hyperbole in the 8th and 9th stanzas of Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden"?

Answer: She reports that she would then go hide, so no one could observe her running away from the dung smell. She next imparts the information about what she planted. The story-teller reckons that she planted one of everything, except weeds. She then lists her plants: "potatoes, radishes, lettuce, peas / Tomatoes, beets, beans, pumpkins, corn, / And even fruit trees." She further reckons that she planted quite a lot of vegetables and fruits for such a small plot of farmland. She recounts that today a "cider apple tree" is growing there, and she harbors the suspicion that the tree might be the result of her farming experiment that year.

Question: In Robert Frost's poem, "A Girl's Garden", did the father respond positively? How do you know?

Answer: Yes, he did. After she asked him for a garden plot, he said, "Why not?" That means yes, which is a positive response.

Question: Does the poem "A Girl's Garden" by Robert Frost have a rime-scheme?

Answer: Yes, it does. The poem features 12 quatrains displayed in four movements, each quatrain features the rime scheme, ABCB.

Question: Where did the speaker of Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden" plant his garden?

Answer: The speaker did not plant a garden. The speaker's neighbor lady planted a garden when she was a young girl.

Question: In Robert Frost's poem "A Girl's Garden", does the expression "childlike thing" mean the adults would never do that same thing?

Answer: No, it means that the woman in thinking back on her wanting to plant a garden realizes that at the time she was thinking of it in childlike terms. Adults plant gardens but children don't usually do so. For a child to consider panting a garden, she would naturally think of it in childlike terms. For example, she would probably like the idea of seeming grown up by performing a function that adults usually perform, while adults plants gardens simply for the purpose of producing food for the family.

Question: Do you think the girl was a success at farming in the poem, "A Girl's Garden"? Why or why not?

Answer: She was a great success. She harvested several crops, and she possesses many pleasant memories of her experience.

Question: Is Robert Frost's poem, "A Girl's Garden" an example of dramatic, narrative, or lyrical poetry? If so, why?

Answer: The poem is narrative because it tells a story.

Question: What does the expression "childlike thing" suggest?

Answer: The speaker of the poem is a woman who is recounting her experience of growing a garden when she was a "girl," that is, when she was a "child." Thus, she is saying that by asking her father for a plot of their farmland on which to grow her garden, she did something that was like a child--the child that she was.

Question: Who are the characters of the poem "A Girl's Garden"?

Answer: There is only one character in the poem: the woman whose story the speaker is recounting. However, the speaker, in quoting the woman, offers direct quotations that were uttered by the woman's father.

Question: What is the critical situation in Robert Frost's poem, "A Girl's Garden"?

Answer: The poem features a speaker who is recounting a little story he has heard his neighbor lady tell about how as a child, she once asked her father for a small plot of land on their farm on which she could grow a vegetable garden. He is amazed that he has heard her tell that story many times to different people, but she does not do it to offer advice, and she never retells it in the same words.

Question: In Robert Frost's "A Girls Garden," in what ways do you think the girl's method of gardening is different from that of adults?

Answer: It is not different, just smaller in scale.

Question: What was the girl's request to her father in Robert Frost's "A Girl's Garden"? How did the father respond?

Answer: The girls asked for a plot of ground on the family farm, so she could plant a garden. Her father gladly helped her in her endeavor.

Question: In Robert Frost's poem, "A Girl's Garden," there is a line that reads, "she begged the seed." What does it actually mean?

Answer: It means she asked her father for the seeds to plant.

Question: What are the poetic devices?

Answer: The poem is a lyric, playing out in stanzas each with the rime-scheme, ABCB. Otherwise it remains literal.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error at https://owlcation.com/humanities/Rhyme-vs-Rime-An-... . "

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on February 13, 2018:

Robert Frost's talent as a poet is undeniable. His deceptively simple verse has garnered many misinterpretations that have caused him to aver that many of his works, such as "The Road Not Taken," are "very tricky poem[s]." But the attitude of his speakers is also always intense and mostly unconventional. He creates images that stick in the mind of the culture, such as the mending wall, birches, the snowy evening, those two tramps, the busy ants, and of course the forking road.

Thank you, Ram, for your response. Blessings for the day!

Ram on February 13, 2018:

Nice work

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 18, 2017:

Hi, Louise--

Wow, I'm surprised you've never read any of Frost's poems before. He's probably the most famous American poet and his poems appear in a lot of places. Oh, well, glad to have introduced you to him He's a pretty good poet. Have a great day!

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on September 17, 2017:

I've never read any of his poems before, but I enjoyed listening to this poem. I'll search for more of his poem now, thankyou.