Love Is...A Silken Tent?
Love is...A Temporary Appearance of Comfort and Support?
When reading The Silken Tent by Robert Frost, a warm, fuzzy feeling known as love penetrates the senses through not only the diction the narrator uses, but also the figures of speech, tone, metaphors (whether or not implied), symbolism , and the paradoxical use of the image of a tent to describe the woman he loves, and the love he feels for her. From the first verse through the last, the image of a soft and tender love is created to convey the knowledge shared between two lovers that is willingly given and taken, yet compulsively performed due to the love that binds them together. One question left unanswered is whether their love is sustainable until death do they part.
“She is as in a field a silken tent” is the opening metaphor of the woman he (the narrator ) loves first being compared to a silken tent. She’s soft, pliable, and tender, yet she gives comfort, support, and shelter. As in a field is a connotation of roughness, a comparison to her being in different surroundings. An additional interpretation could suggest their love is a temporary shelter from the world, no matter their individual locations, and their promises to always be there for each other. But, do they follow through?
“At midday when a sunny summer breeze” uses tone to further express gentleness, or a caring caress, at just the right moment, and delivers a connotation of continuance at the same time. Who wouldn’t want a sunny summer breeze at midday to continue? It’s a gentle reminder of what’s waiting for him in her arms, and is the first suggestion of the narrator’s longing for the woman who’s promised to be his.
As an implied metaphor , “Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent” speaks of her warmth, and her desire for him in terms of a willingness to submit. The image of dried dew suggests ‘after the tears’ (was there an argument?) while the ropes give a connotation of strength, or a bond that can’t be broken. Perhaps it means they are willing to submit to each other, to please each other until satisfied, in more ways than one. Not only in terms of a physical or sexual relationship, but more in terms of give and take, or a 50/50 share in the relationship. Meaning, their submissiveness to each other is based on mutual respect, and is understood to be more than mere appearance.
“So that in guys it gently sways at ease” is used to symbolize the strength of their bond, their love, and denotes a calm ease in the fluctuations of their life with a loving bond. If it weren’t for this calm and ease in the fluctuations of life and love, would their love, their bond, be as strong? It’s only through the appearance of the calm ease in accepting fluctuations that a silken tent could have been used to symbolize the woman he loves, and the love he has for her.
With “And its supporting central cedar pole”, the abstract diction serves to symbolize the steadiness and support that their love provides. The use of the word cedar is a connotation to strength, durability, stability, lightweight, and resistance to damage or rot; everything a person wants in a relationship with someone they love deeply. A central pole symbolizes the center of their world in which everything else revolves around, and is supported by, the love they have for each other.
To paraphrase “That is its pinnacle to heavenward”, would be to say – Love is the climax of intimacy – an implied metaphor which explains the height of their love, and where, he feels, it takes them. In addition, this line of the poem has to be interpreted in context with the entire poem. What the narrator is trying to convey in this line is the idea of loves intimate climax existing beyond the appearance of a physical attraction, and then continues into the next line, “And signifies the sureness of the soul” which would then have to mean true love can only exist by understanding what love really is. When understood as a concrete diction, the line would be describing the confidence the narrator has in knowing he loves the right woman, as if there could be no other.
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“Seems to owe naught to any single cord” is an abstract diction with an allusion to having no regrets, no remorse. If “Seems to owe naught” means there’s no evidence of obligation, “to any single cord” would then mean to any other ties that bind. The use of the word, ‘seems’, creates an allusion of uncertainty. Why is the narrator suddenly uncertain, and what is he uncertain of?
The first half of, “But strictly held by none, is loosely bound” is an allusion to the previous line of no regrets, no remorse, and the second half reinforces the symbolism in the ropes gently swaying in the summer breeze while supporting a cedar pole. In other words, she isn’t forced to stay with him, or to keep her promises of love. Perhaps it also means they are only temporary lovers, not husband and wife, yet. Is the narrator concerned his lover may change her mind?
The line “By countless silken ties of love and thought” contains a tone of compassion for every living thing on earth, no matter if it’s a person, place, or thing. The countless silken ties is best seen as an allusion to the previous two lines where there’s no evidence of obligation, but is now an image of obligatory, yet tenderly assumed, behavior toward nature - which is understood through the next line of “To everything on earth the compass round”. This simple, yet abstract, diction implies compassion for everything on earth no matter where they are, or where the element is from. These lines, together or apart, tell the reader the reason the narrator loves the woman he speaks so highly of. Their love is much more than a physical attraction of mutual sensations and pleasures.
When taken together, the final three lines can be understood as an implied metaphor for the unpredictable, yet at times impulsive, love and longing that can be seen and felt between two lovers. The kind of love and longing that can be seen and felt much more easily than understanding the knowledge behind the love they share. The first of the final three lines, “And only by one’s going slightly taut” could be seen as an abstract diction of the narrator’s physical reaction to sexual desire. While the second line, “In the capriciousness of summer air” not only alludes to the second line of the poem, it also alludes to the erratic thoughts that cross the narrator’s mind, throughout the day, of the woman he loves and longs to be with at that precise moment. The final line, “Is of the slightest bondage made aware”, would then have to be interpreted as concrete diction describing the narrator’s perception of his loving relationship. In other words, the final three lines would be saying – The unpredictable longings of love serve to remind one of the choice made to be bound to another.
When examined separately, the final three lines give the allusion of a completely different story. What does it mean when the narrator says, “And only by one’s going slightly taut”? Is he referring to the tent? Or, to himself? Let’s consider he’s speaking of the tent – the woman he loves. This level of diction would suggest a closed opportunity. Anger, perhaps? If he’s speaking of himself, is he referring to his own anger? Or, is it a physical response? Let’s assume he’s referring to a lover’s spat, no matter which of them is angry at the moment. What is meant by, “In the capriciousness of summer air”? In the second line, where summer is first mentioned, the tone suggested a connotation of warmth, gentleness, or a caring caress at just the right moment. Here, where summer follows a closed opportunity, the implied metaphor would have to be pointing toward feminine fickleness, or a touch of sarcasm toward the woman he supposedly loves. With a closing line stating, “Is of the slightest bondage made aware” the implied metaphor would suggest the tent, or his love for the woman in his life, isn’t as strong as previously thought.
The final interpretation of the poem, then, would suggest the temporary, yet oscillating, status of love is based on the appearance of submissiveness each lover shows toward the other. The appearance, then, would be proven through acts of support, comfort or compassion toward each other rather than through the temporary appearance of physical proof, or, in other words, sexual desire.
© 2011 Rafini
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