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Robert Frost is one of the most famous and influential poets in our nation's history. His simple style of writing and constant attention to nature make his poems unique. His poems have captivated thousands and have been analyzed time and time again. Many feel that his poems often times represent emptiness, loneliness, and despair. The poem "Desert Places" could certainly fall into these categories. Robert Frost was a very successful poet with a wife and loving family which begs the question, "Why would Robert Frost choose to write this poem at this period in his life?"
When attempting to answer this question one must first analyze the poem. "Desert Places" is a poem told by a third person observer who initially is focusing on a snowy field. In the third line Frost states, "And the ground almost covered smooth in snow." This starts to paint the image of an empty field being covered by more and more snow. Towards the end of the poem Frost makes reference to the stars. Space between stars is perhaps the biggest empty space we can begin to comprehend. "Desert Places" are demonstrated through the use of a snowy field and outer space. This is the obvious observation but the poem seems to be referring to much more. In line eight the poem Frost writes, "The Loneliness includes me unawares." Albert J. Von Fronk makes an interesting observation in saying, "The poet notes that he, too, is "absent-spirited"; he, too, is "included" in the loneliness." It is not just the animals and snowy field the speaker is accusing of being lonely but them self as well. The field seems to be a metaphor for the speaker's loneliness.
Frost demonstrates that what he feels inside is far most vast than even the stars. Edward Hirsch states it best when he wrote, "He knows a desolation inside that can match and even outdo any desolation that exists apart from him." Hirsch also notes how the very last line of the poem reveals the poem's title. When one reads the title of the poem this time around, one has a very different sense of the meaning. The very worst "Desert Places" are within the speaker and ultimately Robert Frost.
By 1936, astronomers had realized that the hazy balls they sometimes saw in their telescopes, which looked like stars obscured by gas, were actually galaxies (Hibbison).
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Moore also feels that another contributing factor for the loneliness expressed in this poem was the death of Robert Frost's father. Robert Frost's father died of tuberculosis on May 5th, 1885 (Poirier). Robert Frost was eleven years old. Life without one's father cannot be easy and must have been very traumatic for Frost. After his father died his family was left with eight dollars. It is very clear that times were ruff during his childhood.
Robert Frost was married to former schoolmate, Elinor White in 1895 and had six children (Online-literature). In 1914 Frost published his first poems that were internationally recognized. He was now well on his way to stardom. Frost now had a wife, six children, and a well-established career. He was no longer in desperate need of money. Things seemed to be going very well in his life. The question must still be asked, "Why would Robert Frost choose to write this poem at this period in his life?" "Desert Places" was written in 1936. Robert Frost was sixty-two years old when he wrote this poem.
Could Robert Frost of written this poem due to a significant event in his life? In other words, was he feeling this sense of loneliness due to a loss of some kind? Tragically, in 1938 his wife died (Literature Network). This would be very traumatizing for someone and would seem like a very logical explanation for the messages he seems to express in "Desert Places." Loneliness and a sense of emptiness would most likely come into play in anyone's life if this were to happen to them. The problem with this theory is that "Desert Places" was written in 1936, two years before this tragic incident occurred.
Throughout Robert Frost's lifetime, he lost every single one of his children for one reason or another. His first born child named Elliot died in 1900 of Cholera. His third daughter Marjorie developed puerperal fever and died May 2nd, 1934. His daughter Carol committed suicide on October 9th, 1940 (Literature Network). He had three other children that died as well. Two of Frost's children died before he wrote "Desert Places." This very well could have contributed to his lonely feelings within the poem.
Almost all of Frost's poems share similar themes with "Desert Places." Perhaps the most interesting and useful information I found in regard to Robert Frost's literary style was from his biography listed on The Literature Network. Robert Frost suffered from depression and continual self-doubt throughout his life (Literature Network). Not only did Frost suffer from depression but almost his entire family did. It is something that plagued his family throughout their existence. Depression seems to be the most logical explanation for the tone of his poems. I have come to the conclusion that Robert Frost's tragic life in addition to his inherited depression caused him to write "Desert Places" at the period of his life in which he did. It was no single event that caused his feeling of loneliness but rather a multitude of events. Millions of Americans suffer from depression just as Robert Frost did. Depression is a mental state that many cannot help. There are now many ways to treat depression now but unfortunately Robert Frost lived to long ago to benefit from them.
1. Von Frank, Albert J. "A Study of Frost's 'Desert Places.'" 1973. english.uiuc.edu. 26 Nov. 2004. .
2. Frost, Robert. "Desert Places" Responding to Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays, and Essays. 4th edition. Ed. Judith A. Stanford. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2003. Pg 1140.
3. Hibbison, Eric. ""Desert Places": 1936 Scares." 1997. Online posting. vccslitonline.cc.va.us. 27 Nov. 2004. .
4. Hirsch, Edward . "The American Poetry Review." 1997. proquest.umi.com. 27 Nov. 2004. . (Galileo source).
5. Moore , Anissa. "Re: "Desert Places": 1936 Scares." 1998. Online posting. vccslitonline.cc.va.us. 27 Nov. 2004. .
6. Poirier , Richard and Richardson , Mark. "Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays." 1995. ketzle.com. 26 Nov. 2004. .
7. The Literature Network. "Robert Frost." 2000-2004. Online-literature.com. 28 Nov. 2004.