Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

Robert Frost: A poet of sadness? Essay by Jamie Tuohy

The following essay is an essay I’ve written on the  poetry of Robert Frost. The question asks if he is ‘a poet of sadness’ and of course you can agree or disagree. Naturally, I think EVERYONE WILL AGREE, but if you strongly (and rather strangely) feel that he is a happy-go-lucky sort of guy, then you have to be absolutely certain that you have information to back it up. This goes for all questions; you can put forth any argument you want (within reason) and as long as you have the references/quotes to back it up, you will do fine! REMEMBER: P.Q.E!!

  • The question asks us to write an introduction and tells us to address themes and their impact.
  • This is essentially a personal response, but it is important to ADHERE TO THE QUESTION THROUGHOUT.
  • State the theme and GIVE YOUR PERSONAL RESPONSE TO IT, with references and quotes.
  • This is a very good question, because it’s quite broad, but nevertheless, it’s imperative to answer the question exactly as the examiner wants us to.
  • All you have to do is answer the question! You know everything – now you have the chance to show it all off! GO FOR IT AND GOOD LUCK!
  • I’ll re-stress the futility of learning this essay off by heart or simply plagiarizing it – it will do you no favours! The more you learn off, the more you feel obliged to use it. That’s all well and good, until you realise it’s irrelevant to the question. ATTEND TO THE QUESTION THROUGHOUT, AS I KEEP ON SAYING!
  • Look at it’s structure, make bullet points and of course; add to it and make it better – ensuring you leave that examiner in awe!
  • The Leaving Cert is a game – you’re competing for points. Play the game. Impress the examiner and make their job easier for them. The have the 60 marks for you, just write a nice essay and you’ll get them. Here’s how to:


Jamie Tuohy

Write an introduction to the poetry of Robert Frost using the above title.

Your answer should address themes and the impact of his poetry on you as a reader. Support your points with reference to the poems you have studied.

“I have looked down the saddest city lane”

The poetry of Robert Frost is often tinged with sadness; a poet with a deep appreciation for the natural scene, yet duly aware of the harsh realties of life. This line from “Acquainted with the Night” highlights Frost’s isolation and his sense of alienation – sentiments which are expressed throughout his poetry. His poetry arises from an exploration of ordinary events and places, but is steeped in meaning and pathos. While on the surface, poems like “The Tuft and Flowers” and “Mending Wall” can be read on a literal level, upon closer examination, we realise that the poetry of Robert Frost is highly metaphorical, aswell as thought provoking and philosophical. His poetry has such an effect on me he has an amazing ability to elicit a wide variety of emotions within me, ranging from shock to sadness. His use of accessible language, or “the sound of sense” as he referred to it himself, combined with his masterful use of tone allows the reader to engage with each poem and establish a connection with it. Robert Frost is indeed a poet of sadness – one who expresses the horror of a young child’s death; “Out, Out” and comments on the transience of life in “After Apple Picking”, but also one who offers us insights into the meaning of life which captivate and intrigue us.

The harsh and dark realities of life are expressed in Frost’s poem “Out, Out”. This is a deeply shocking and sad poem which was inspired by the tragic death of a young boy. Admittedly, I found this poem unsettling, as Frost’s description of the farm accident is explicit and brutal. Frost says “the buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard”. Immediately, Frost conveys the dangerous, unforgiving nature of the saw through his use of onomatopoeia. Throughout the poem, there is sense of tension and drama, which culminates in a horrifying image of the boy trying to protect himself from the saw’s wrath. He says “holding up the hand, half in appeal, but as if to keep the life from spilling out”. In my opinion, this line highlights the tragedy of the accident, which is further exemplified by the fact that he was “a boy doing a man’s work”. I feel that Frost is warning us of the perils of growing up too quickly, as it is perceptible that this child has lost their innocence too early. It’s a heartbreaking and poignant poem and the idea that even though we share this earth, we are essentially alone here, is also communicated in the closing lines. The reaction of the neighbours is somewhat disturbing, as they simply “turn to their affairs” after this awful tragedy. This poem evokes immense sadness and sympathy in me, as Frost captures the rhythm of life and work but also the fragility and brevity which underline it.

This sense of isolation and loneliness is also evident in “Acquainted with the Night”. This Shakespearean sonnet displays Frost’s disconnection with the city and furthermore showcases his disillusionment and bewilderment towards it. Frost is a poet of sadness, and in this poem, he is exploring his own psyche. Immediately, Frost paints the city as a rather austere and bleak place, saying “I have walked out in rain – and back in the rain”. The constant rain, in my opinion is representative of how Frost views the city – as a grim and depressing place, void of any optimism or life. The monotonous and depressing tone elucidates the loneliness felt by the poet. Frost describes how “an interrupted cry came over houses from another street”. However, there is no connection between Frost and the unknown speaker – there is “no goodbye” or any form of contact. Undoubtedly this is a moving and sad poem but personally, I feel that there is also an important message to it and that is that when we are feeling isolated or alone, it’s important to turn to someone. When we are walking in darkness par se, we shouldn’t be “unwilling to explain”, or ignore an “interrupted cry” – we should reach out. Once again, Frost presents us with a poem which leaves us feeling despondent and dejected; however, he also provokes out thought and sets us thinking about life.

Notwithstanding the fact that the majority of Robert Frost’s poetry on our course explores themes of isolation and sadness, there are poems in which he expresses his complete union with and love for nature. “The Tuft of Flowers” is a beautiful poem which examines the fellowship of man. It reads like a narrative and contains a plethora of memorable line and arresting images. The poem opens with Frost saying “I went to turn the grass after one who had mowed it in the dew before sun”. Immediately, Frost creates that familiar sense of detachment and loneliness which pervades his poetry. His use of the pronoun “I” suggests a personal connotation and it is evident that Frost, himself, feels abandoned and bewildered. However, Frost suddenly feels different, upon the arrival of a butterfly and he creates a beautiful image when he says “but he turned first and led my eye to look at a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook”. Frost wonderfully describes how the arrival of a butterfly set him thinking about “questions that have no answer”, and I feel that this image embodies the sentiment of this poem. Nature has the ability to connect us to each other –through a fellowship. My favourite line from this poem is “men work together, whether they work together or apart”. It doesn’t matter that the poet and the mower never met, because they are connected through nature. “The Tuft of Flowers” is a fantastic poem that awakens a sense of wonder and awe in me towards the outstanding abilities of the natural scene.

What makes the poetry of Robert Frost so appealing is the way in which he raises questions that still hold a relevance to a modern day reader. “Mending Wall” offers us valuable insights into the human experience and describes how two farmers meet to repair a wall that was damaged by hunters. He says “we kept the wall between us as we go, to each thee boulders that have fallen to each”. I think that this is an extremely effective line as it portrays how the two men are bound by tradition and convention. Each farmer only looks after what is on his side of the wall and the old neighbour tells the poet that “good fences make good neighbours”. I enjoy this poem, because it displays Frost’s capacity for independent thought. He challenges his neighbour, saying “why do they make good neighbours?”. Personally, I feel that Frost is saying boundaries are superfluous and have no solid basis – with merely a cliché as their justification. It is notable that the poem is written in blank verse. I think that the unstructured nature of this poem is a reflection on its sentiment. Frost believes that barriers and boundaries confine and so the free verse style of this poem, is an expression of independent thought. The sadness exposed within this poem is a different one to the sadness of “Out, Out” or “Acquainted with the Night”. In this poem, it is sad that the farmer cannot think for himself, but instead clings to what his father taught him. I think that he is to be pitied, and this is reflected through Frost’s somewhat mischievous tone, as he refers to the farmer as “an old stone savage”.

This necessity for independent thought and moreover self sufficiency is also explored in “Provide, Provide”. This poem also expresses the ficklety of time is tinged with sadness, however I enjoy it for its tongue and cheek sardonic tone. In the opening stanza, Frost says “the witch that came was once the beauty Abishag”. This is a striking line because the beauty Abishag is juxtaposed with the ageing woman. Likewise, the “picture pride ofHollywood” is used to convey superficiality and shallowness. These two images remind me that everything fades and certain truths are timeless and immutable. There is something quite sad and concrete about this – the transient nature of youth and beauty is unavoidable. However, Frost’s use of tone is an appealing aspect of this poem. He says “die early and avoid the fate” and if you are to lead a long life then “make the whole stock exchange your own”. It’s perceptible that Frost is speaking sarcastically and there is a pervading tone of cynicism throughout. However, like all of his poems, this poem can be read on a metaphorical level and beneath the cynicism lays truth and reason. By telling us “what worked for them might work for you”, I feel that he is ironically warning us of the perils of over dependence and imitation and urging us to be self reliant and original.

Robert Frost often writes about nature and in “Design”, he communicates the destructiveness of nature. It is a Petrarchan sonnet which presents us with the dark face of the natural world. The octave is dominated by the image of the spider engulfing a moth. Frost says “I found a dimple spider, fat and white on a white heal-all”. This is a paradoxical image as we usually associate white with innocence and purity, however in this instance, it’s representative of death and deception. In my eyes, Frost portrays the unforgiving qualities of nature and the harshness associated with it. However, in the sestet there is a change in mood. Frost questions how such a thing could happen. He says “what brought the kindred spider to that height then steered the white moth thither to the night”. In my opinion, this line showcases how this was meant to happen. It’s almost like the flower and the spider have conspired to trap the moth, underlining how everything that happened was by ‘design’. There is an underlying pessimism and scepticism to this poem as Frosts questions whether or not life is predestined and led by design, saying, “what but design of darkness to appal? If design govern in a thing so small.” “Design” is a poem that evokes sadness and shock in me, but also opens my eyes to the harsh realities of the world and offers us insights into the human experience.

This relation between nature and the human experience is most evident in “After Apple Picking” While this poem expresses how man’s connection with nature can be inspiring and fulfilling, it’s underpinned by a pervading sadness as the poet is nearing death. Frost says “but I am done with apple picking now, essence of winter sleep is on the night: I am drowsing off”. Frost uses apple picking as a metaphor for life’s experiences and the archetypal imagery of winter connotes death. It appears to me that Frost is now lethargic and it’s obvious he’s had “too much apple picking now”. I do, however, get the impression that Frost is inspired by nature as “the magnified apples that appear and disappear” suggest is imagination and creativity are in some way; ‘harvested’ by nature. The day’s work from morning to night is symbolic of the journey through life to death. This is a highly sensual and emotionally evocative poem as I feel sympathy and sadness for Frost as a “long sleep” is “coming on”.

The poetry of Robert Frost is so memorable because he uses accessible language and explores relevant themes which still hold significance for a modern day reader. He cannot be described simply as just a poet of sadness. While his poetry is undoubtedly poignant and at times heartbreaking in its depiction of tragedy, the poetry of Robert Frost offers us so much more. It is thought provoking, evocative and highly appealing. He writes about nature, not merely for itself, but moreover for the insights it can give us into the human experience. Through his poetry, Robert Frost does indeed show an awareness of the darker side of life and we often see his mental nadir come to the fore in poems like “Acquainted with the Night”, but it can also be a celebration of life and nature and the unity therein. Robert Frost sets me thinking about “questions that have no answer” and his belief that “poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom” is directly applicable to his work. Robert Frost is a poet of sadness, a poet of nature, a poet who equally shocks and inspires but essentially, Robert Frost is a poet to remember!



7 thoughts on “Robert Frost: A poet of sadness? Essay by Jamie Tuohy

  1. APE_TUXEDO says:

    This is fantastic, you really do know your poetry, only one criticism, are you able to do anything about your font ? the white on black, really makes it hard to concentrate on the writing.. but other than that you’re brilliant. THANKS ! 😀

    • Hey there! Thanks for your lovely comment! I really appreciate it! Is it hard to read?! You could always copy and paste the text onto Word for yourself?! But I think I can change the background to make it black writing on white! Will try! Thank you! 🙂

      • APE_TUXEDO says:

        Al-right thanks for the idea ! You don’t have to change it.. :p also, I told my english teacher about your blog, so she decided to print out some of your work, the Hamlet soliloquy question, and this here.. Anyway. Big success since she can’t teach, everyone thought the notes were really good, please continue to produce more ! If you could do a sample essay maybe :p haha THANKS AGAIN ! 😀

  2. APE_TUXEDO says:

    Well I believe that a question on Hamlet the character is coming up in the pre, So I was wondering if you could give any tips, or maybe an answer ? 😀 Thanks in advance !

  3. An elaborate article… I’m stunned! Most articles I have been looking through are total crap. I mean seriously, they are not even factually correct. Thank goodness, your article is and I book-marked it for later!

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