Robert Frost's "Bereft"

Updated on February 20, 2019
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Source

Introduction and Text of "Bereft"

Robert Frost masterfully guides his metaphor to render his poem, "Bereft," a significant American poem. Despite the sadness and seriousness of the poem’s subject, readers will delight in the masterful use of the marvelous metaphor displayed within it. The speaker in the poem, "Bereft," is living alone, and he is sorrowful. He says he has "no one left but God." The odd rime-scheme of the poem—AAAAABBACCDDDEDE— bestows a mesmerizing effect, perfectly complementing the haunting grief of the subject.

(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.")

Bereft

Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Looking down hill to a frothy shore?
Summer was past and the day was past.
Sombre clouds in the west were massed.
Out on the porch's sagging floor,
Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.
Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.

Reading of "Bereft"

Commentary

Frost's "Bereft" displays one the most amazing metaphors of all poetic time: "Leaves got up in a coil and hissed / Blindly struck at my knee and missed."

First Movement: A Man Alone in His Life

Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Looking down hill to a frothy shore?

In the first two lines, the poem commences with a question, "Where had I heard this wind before / Change like this to a deeper roar?" The speaker, who is a man alone in his life, is sharply cognizant of sounds; when one is alone, one seems to hear every little sound.

Then the speaker poses another question: "What would it take my standing there for, / Holding open a restive door, / Looking down hill to a frothy shore?" He muses on what such a roaring wind would think of his just standing there quietly holding open his door with the wind shoving itself against it, as he gives a blank stare down to the lake that looks like a hurricane is swirling it up in to billows with a roaring wind.

Second Movement: Funereal Clouds

Summer was past and the day was past.
Sombre clouds in the west were massed.

The speaker then uses the couplet: "Summer was past and day was past. / Somber clouds in the west were massed." His observes that summer is over, and the end of the day begins to represent more than the actual season and day symbolization as the speaker paints metaphorically his own age: his youth is already gone and old age has taken him. He intuits that the funereal clouds are heralding his own expiry.

Third Movement: Sagging Life

Out on the porch's sagging floor,
Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.

The speaker steps out onto the porch that is sagging, and here is where that magnificent metaphor makes its appearance: "Leaves got up in a coil and hissed, / Blindly struck at my knee and missed."

The speaker metaphorically likens the leaves to a snake without even employing the word "snake." He represents the leaves as a snake as he dramatizes their action. The wind whips the leaves up into a coil, and they aim for the speaker’s knee, but before they could strike, the wind lets them drop.

Fourth Movement: Alone Only With God

Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.

The entire scene is sober, as are the clouds that were accumulating in the west. The speaker describes the scene as "sinister": The wind’s deep roar, the sagging porch, the leaves acting snakelike—all calculate as something "sinister" to the speaker. The speaker then guesses that the dark and sinister scene has been effected because word had gotten out that he is alone—he is in this big house alone…somehow the secret had gotten out and now all of nature was conspiring to remind him of his status.

But even more important than the fact that he is living in his house alone is the fact that he is living "in [hi]s life alone." The appalling secret that he has "no one left but God" is prompting the weather and even the supposedly insensible nature to act in a disturbing manner just because they had that power, just because it is so easy to disturb and intimidate a bereaved individual who is alone in his life. The speaker's circumstance as a bereaved individual appears to move all of nature to collude against his peace of mind.

Robert Frost - Commemorative Stamp

Source

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

    © 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

    Comments

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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Sue Grimes 

      3 years ago from U.S.A.

      Yes, quirky is good term for Frost. One can imagine him reading his poems and giving a little wink at some of his effusions! He called his poem "The Road Not Taken" a very "tricky" poem. We can conclude consequently that Frost was a very tricky poet. Certainly one of the best!

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Yes, I meant to highlight it in my comment. Quite wonderful imagery and quirky.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Sue Grimes 

      3 years ago from U.S.A.

      Thanks you, Lori! I love Frost too. I've never found a poem of his that I can negatively criticize. I love this poem especially for its amazing metaphor: "Leaves got up in a coil and hissed, / Blindly struck at my knee and missed."

      I think that metaphor would make a great teaching tool for the teacher instructing a class in the use of that poetic device.

      Thanks again, Lori, for responding. Have a blessed Sunday!

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I love Frost and this poem was stunning. I'm a big fan of poets and their work from ages past. I love how you break down the poems and explain them.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Sue Grimes 

      3 years ago from U.S.A.

      Thank you for your response, Jay. I am glad my Hub helped you understand the poem. The speaker's taking comfort in God is not the main focus of the poem; although it might impact the reader.

      Perhaps readers can take comfort that the speaker does at least admit that he has God, when he says, "Word I had no one left but God." And how can anyone escape the realization that because one has God, one has all the comfort ever needed.

      Certainly Christ, Buddha, and the saints of all religions have shown that "we do not die" and that our souls merely transcend the material plane for the spiritual plane. NDEs are simply our current evidence of that established fact.

      Again, thank you for responding. Have a lovely, blessed day, Jay.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      3 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      This is a well written article about poetry. I have trouble understanding poetry so this really helped. I am concerned about the material perspective of the poem. The speaker seems to believe in a material world and God is no comfort to him.

      What if it could be shown that we do not die, but only transcend into another plane? Research Near Death Experiences (NDEs). Some NDEs have been verified while the person was clinically dead.

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