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An Analysis of Frost's Poem Once by the Pacific

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An Analysis of Frost's Poem Once by the Pacific


Although "Once by the Pacific" is not one of Frost's most commercial poems, that does not mean that it is not one of his best. It appears quite obvious to me by one read through of the poem that it has an apocalyptic theme to it.

Frost uses the first four lines of the poem to give us a mental image of how powerful the ocean water is:

The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in,
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.

We imagine water crashing down upon the shore line wave upon wave, getting bigger and bigger as they continue. Frost personifies the water in line 3 by giving us the idea that the water has an actual mind and can do as it wishes. That we are at the mercy of the ocean as it stands there in its threatening tone and demands respect from us. I think that line 4 is ironic because if we look at biblical history, water has covered the entire earth before (Genesis 7:17-24). Yet Frost approaches this as if it is a new idea, perhaps because we have a hard time comprehending such an unimaginable occurrence as the Great Flood.
The next 3 lines use the image of the clouds in the sky concealing what is to come:

The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell and yet it looked as if ...

When you think about locks being blown forward to cover ones eyes, you think about how difficult it is to see someone's face sometimes, how we miss the full picture. I find it interesting that he uses this analogy because we have so often heard that ones eyes are the windows to their souls. Perhaps Frost believes that our sin can keep us from experiencing the spirit of God just as someone's hair can keep us from seeing into their soul. The eyes can be a very important tool in connecting mankind, why else is eye contact so important?

The next 2 lines go one to perhaps speak of faith or perhaps a lack of faith:

The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;

If you look at a cliff that is connected to a larger body of land, it appears to be safe from harm from the ocean. We think the worst it could do would be to touch the edge of the land, like a hurricane for example. But in reality, the earth is compromised of approximately 75% water. Perhaps the shore could be seen as being your salvation, the cliff as being that of your faith, and the continent is Jesus Christ, the Messiah. What is not made clear here if we were to use this analogy is whether or not Frost believes that your faith can truly be your salvation because if we look at line 7, it says: "and yet it looked as if...", perhaps Frost was not completely sure that what the bible tells is true.

The last 5 lines of the poem clear up a bit of the vagueness in the beginning of it as to what exactly it is that Frost is getting around to:

It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God's last Put out the Light was spoken.

I find it interesting that Frost chooses to use a play on words from the beginning of the bible (Genesis 1:3) to end a poem that is about the last book of the bible, Revelation. Revelation tells us this:

"Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's
name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Revelation 20:14-15
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there
was no longer any sea." Revelation 21:1

I believe that while Frost uses water as being a more powerful and controlling presence than we realize in our safe, naïve world, he also knows who it is that has made and controls the water. Frost is fully aware that when Judgement Day comes it will not be by way of water this time like it was in the Old Testament. This is why he uses the last two lines to say: "Hey! If you think a big ol' flood is bad, you ain't seen nothing yet."

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