Analysis of ”The Wood Pile” by Robert Frost
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Robert Frost’s poem, “The Wood-Pile”, focuses on a man who adventures himself in a frozen swamp. Away from home, he fears the environment surrounding him. Until a small bird, flies ahead of him and draws his attention on a decayed woodpile. This marks a turning point in the poem. The man, hypnotized by the wood pile, feels more comfortable because he knows humans were here before him. He enters in some sort of communion with nature. In his line by line analysis of Frosts poem “On the Woodpile”, J.Donald Crowley states that home is a place where one feel’s comfortable and lives peacefully with his self. Through his poem, Frost explains home is an abstraction lost and gained through several stage of life, which requires harmonic relations with nature and our surroundings.
No doubt the speaker’s sentiments of fear and insecurity, added to the fact he is lost, makes him feel away from home, he doesn’t show any interest for nature. Fear is a recurring theme in the poem. A point on which Crowley agrees: “his fearful response to that landscape” (Crowley, page 1). The speaker is frightened of the woods. Winter and cold are the cause of this. Everything is “frozen” (Frost, line 1), there are no sign of life, everything is static around him. He didn’t appreciate walking in the snow “One foot went through” (Frost, line 5). It may not be a dangerous situation, but the idea of instability, of the ground not holding beneath one’s feet, adds a touch of insecurity to the mood of the poem. Although it is not explicitly said, there are a few things about this person that are evident from the situation. For instance, he seems to be a contemplative person, the sort of person who would take a walk without having a clear goal in mind.
For a moment he wants to go back, but something urges him to go deeper, marking the conflict in his mind “turn back from here No, I will go on further and we shall see” (Frost, line 2-3). He decides to go beyond his limits even if he feels uncomfortable walking on the snow “save where now and then” (Frost, line 4). The speaker doesn’t know what he wants. On the contrary, Crowley point of view is that courage is making him continue his journey through the swamp: “immediately answered to by the courage” (Crowley, page 2). The use of “we” (Frost, line 3) implies that the speaker, though he is walking alone, he thinks of himself as being bound to some greater being, perhaps nature or God. On the other side Crowley analysis lead him to say the use of “we” refers to the speaker and his fear, a point I disagree with. Furthermore he being lost doesn’t improve his situation “Tall slim trees Too much alike too mark I was here or somewhere else” (Frost, lines 7-8-9).
The terrain lacks character. Additionally, they formed a pathway; and impel the speaker to walk on one single course. It seems like this uniform environment drives the speaker crazy. It is not friendly enough for him to feel home, and he is quite aware of that: “just far from home” (Frost, line 9). Crowley bears with my analysis, by saying the word “just” points up the severe, even terrifying, limits of his knowledge” (Crowley, page 3).
As stated earlier, home is an abstraction lost and gained through several stage of life. The bird plays an important role; he provides a guided tour of the swamp to the speaker, who is going to look at it from a different aspect. The bird adds some confusion in this uniform environment, the abundant use of “who”, “what”, “that” referring to the bird or the speaker in lines 11-13 refer to the interaction happening with the bird. It is a sign of hope for the speaker because he knows he isn’t the only one out here. However the bird appears to fear humans; probably because they usually hunt him; and the white feather on his tail is a symbol of surrender. He is being “careful” (Frost, line 10) with the narrator. The speaker acts with the bird as if it was human. He is upset of the bird because it said “no word to tell me who he was” (Frost, line 12). This reveals the speaker’s lack of communication; he must have turned crazy being alone in the swamp.
This comes at a point where gently mocks the bird for being too self-centered, for thinking that the whole world would be interested in its “feathers” (Frost, line 14). The bird seeks comfort by hiding behind the woodpile, likely to hide from the speaker. But unexpectedly the man’s attention is drawn by the pile of wood. We can convey the speaker is a person who has the leisure and the curiosity to follow whatever path his imagination leads him too. Going into details my analysis approaches Frost’s poem differently, but doesn’t disagree with Crowley’s. But we indeed both said the bird opened the speaker’s eyes on his situation, recognizing his homelessness in this environment.
Unquestionably, the title of the poem “The Wood-Pile”, clearly announces it will be the main focus of the poem. The wood pile and the speaker enter in some sort of communion. It facilitates the establishment of harmonic relation between the speaker and nature. He will learn about his self by exploring the nature (It is a recurrent aspect in Frost’s poetry). The accumulation of “and” (Frost, 23-25) gives an acute description of the pile of wood “four by four by eight” (Frost, 24). The wood pile comforts him. It’s the proof of human presence in this area. He describes the woodpile as old. Flowers are growing around it. So the woodpile is sort of a life nest. It’s a symbol of rebirth. Even if it is dead, the wood still has a purpose. It’s a cycle of life the speaker comes to understand, whereas in the beginning of the poem his life seemed linear. Pursuing this further we notice his speech changed. In the beginning he was lost, had no reason to live. But suddenly the woodpile triggered a mystery in him.
For a moment, his quest was to look for the man who cut the wood, and left here to rot. It’s like if he finally gave a purpose to his life. Furthermore the speaker also lingers on the cooperation between man and environment. Without wood man couldn’t have survived for all these centuries. The last three stanzas are very powerful, “leave it here far from a useful fireplace To warm the frozen swamp as best it could With the slow smokeless burning of decay” (Frost, line 38-39-40). Usually wood is used in fireplaces to heat homes. But here the context has totally changed. The frozen swamp became the speaker’s home, and instead of a fire decaying it, time will disintegrate it. On the other hand Crowley looked at the woodpile from a more physical/mathematical aspect I clearly don’t understand. While I said the speaker finally feels home at the end of the poem, Crowley thinks the poem ends on the same tone it started, with a speaker even more confused. He attributes this to the regain in confidence the speaker experienced temporarily while discovering the woodpile.
In short, the speaker negative attitude in the beginning of the poem resulted with sentiments of fear. The wood pile opened a complete new way of looking at nature in the speaker’s mind. It is based on the establishment of harmonic relations, and cooperation between man and nature. This triggered a rebirth in the speaker character, and he felt the frozen swap was a new home to him. Looking at recurrent themes in Frost’s poetry, such as trees, self knowledge through exploration of nature would provide a broader understanding of his poetry.
Frost, Robert. “The Wood-Pile”. The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry.
Jay Parini. New York. Columbia University Press. Page 310. Print.
Crowley, J.Donald. “On The Wood-Pile”. Internet :