The Poetics of Robert Frost - Examples

Three Main Groups
Lyric  My November Guest  Mowing  A Late Walk
Narrative  Out, Out  Love and a Question  Brown's Descent
Dramatic  Death of the Hired Man  Home Burial  The Witch of Coos

 Stanzaic Form
 Couplet  The Secret Sits  The Tuft of Flowers  A Minor Bird
 Tercet (Triplets) Acquainted with the Night  A Star in a Stoneboat  Provide, Provide
 Quatrain  Devotion  Stopping by Woods  Good Hours
 Quintet  My November Guest The Road Not Taken  Bond and Free
.Sestet  Spring Pools The Freedom of the Moon  Closed for Good
 Octave  Nothing Gold Can Stay Two Tramps in Mud Time  Love and a Question

 Fixed Form
 Sonnet  Design  Mowing  The Silken Tent
 Blank Verse  Mending Wall  Birches  Out, Out

 Continuous Form
 Storm Fear  After Apple-Picking  Mending Wall

Frost's quote, "I'd sooner write free verse as play tennis with the net down," applies as well to form as it does to meter. For Frost, both form and meter were fundamental in the crafting of poetry. It's important to know how much it meant to him. Frost wrote,

"There is at least so much good in the world that it admits of form and the making of form. And not only admits of it, but calls for it. We people are thrust forward out of the suggestions of form in the rolling clouds of nature. In us nature reaches its height of form and through us exceeds itself. When in doubt there is always form for us to go on with. Anyone who has achieved the least form to be sure of it, is lost to the larger excruciations. I think it must stroke faith the right way. The artist, the poet, might be expected to be the most aware of such assurance. But it is really everybody's sanity to feel it and live by it. Fortunately, too, no forms are more engrossing, gratifying, comforting, staying than those lesser ones we throw off, like vortex rings of smoke, all our individual enterprise and needing nobody's cooperation; a basket, a letter, a garden, a room, an idea, a picture, a poem. For these we haven't to get a team together before we can play."
Frost wrote a little epigram called "Pertinax,"

Let chaos storm!
Let cloud shapes swarm!
I wait for form.
Form falls into general categories which overlay the terms of structure. Poems are said to be lyric, narrative or dramatic. Thus a poem can be described as a lyric written in couplets, quatrains or sestets (2, 4 or 6 line stanzas). There can be a narrative poem written in blank verse, continuous structure (Birches). There can even be a dramatic narrative which has lyric overtones (Mending Wall). Frost wrote in all these forms.
Read interview - Frost comments on the use of narrative, drama, and use of language. (Click)
Lyric poetry is usually a short poem expressing personal thoughts and feelings. It is meditative. It is spoken by a single speaker about his feelings for a person, object, event or idea. This type poetry was originally sung accompanied by a lyre. Frost is primarily a lyric poet.
My November Guest is a lyric poem written in 5 line stanzas (quintets). The meter is tetrameter, with a rhyming pattern abaab
Mowing is a lyrical sonnet with a very irregular rhyming pattern.
A Late Walk is a ballad-style lyric (tetrameter alternating with trimeter) rhyming the 2nd and 4th lines in quatrains. The indentation sets off the rhymes. (Go back to Table)
Narrative poetry tells a story revealed by a progression unique to itself. There is a rising action, a climax and a falling action.
Out, Out is a narrative in blank verse written in a continuous structure. (No stanzas, no breaks)
Love and a Question is a ballad (see below) written in 8 line stanzas (octaves)
Brown's Descent is a humorous narrative rhyming the 2nd and 4th lines in quatrains. The indentation sets off the rhymes. The meter is tetrameter.
Note: The ballad is a narrative poem with stanzas of two or four lines and sometimes, a refrain. They are written in straight-forward verse, seldom with detail, but always with graphic simplicity and force. Ballads are generally written in ballad meter, i.e., alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, with the last words of the second and fourth lines rhyming. Other Ballads: A Line Storm Song, Wind and Window Flower.
Dramatic poems have speaking characters as in a little play. There can be monologues (1 person speaking), dialogs (2 or more people speaking) and narratives. The Death of the Hired Man is often called a dramatic narrative. Frost usually writes these in blank verse. The speeches follow no stanzaic pattern, but the lines are metrical. Frost's second book North of Boston is most famous for his dramatic pieces. He patterned many of them after Virgil's Eclogues. Frost's dramatic poems comprise some of his best praised work.
(Go back to Table)



To give Form in poetry is to use organization, shapeliness, and fitness to the content of the poem. Form is structure. Frost believed that common verse forms are themselves metaphoric. A blank verse line lays down a direct line of image, thought or sentiment. The couplet contrasts, compares or makes parallel figures, ideas and feelings. The quatrain combines two couplets alternatively. The sonnet gives a little drama in several scenes to a lyric sentiment. There are three types of form in terms of how the poem is laid out on paper:

Stanzaic, Fixed and Continuous. Overlapping these forms, poetry falls into 3 main groups: Lyric, Narrative and Dramatic, as noted above. Frost wrote in all of these forms. (Go back to Table)

Couplets - 2 lines    -     Couplets must rhyme. Frost was very fond of them.
Tercets - 3 lines       -    Used rarely
Quatrains - 4 lines   -     Most commonly used by Frost
Quintets - 5 lines     -     Used occasionally
Sestets - 6 lines      -     Used occasionally
Septet - 7 lines        -     Never used
Octave - 8 lines        -    Used occasionally
       The octave presents a situation and the sestet a comment, or 
       the octave an idea and the sestet an example, or 
       the octave a question and the sestet an answer.
     -   !       -       !       -      !       -    !     -     !
When I /  see birch / es bend / to left / and right  (5 feet, or 5 accents all iambic)

 -        !        -      !        -      !            -     !       -      !
A - gainst / the lines / of straight- /  er dark- / er trees        (ditto)

-   !       -     !        -        !         -          !           -       !
I like / to think / some boy's / been swing - /  ing them        (ditto)

   -        !         -       !         -       !         -        !        -     !
But swing - / ing does-  /  n't  bend /  them down / to stay   (ditto)

Generally Frost lays in his first lines in the meter and form he wants to follow. His variations on that style keep the reader guessing and off guard. By combining tone with meter, the poem becomes easy and conversational. But regardless how tight his poetics are, Frost's intention is to "trip you into the boundless." (Table)

Continuous Form The lines of the poem are written without formal groupings. The only breaks are contained by the meaning, which may be a series of analogies.
Storm Fear - The loose iambic pentameter which establishes itself in the first four lines as the metrical pattern, is intermittently broken into nervous and jerky fragments, as though the speaker interrupted himself to hold his breath, to listen. And the structural nervousness heightens the tension of meaning.
After Apple-Picking - There are irregular rhymes and although the predominant meter is iambic pentameter, there are quite a few irregular lines.
Mending Wall - Here the continuous pattern of the poem mimics the wall - all in one piece. The metrics also mimic the wall with the accents coinciding with the meaning.
Further reading: Visit The Frost Free Library and read "Frost as a Critical Theorist" from Robert Frost on writing by Elaine Barry. Extended essay on Frost's use of form.
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