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Robert Frost's "Bereft"

Updated on January 5, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Robert Frost

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Bereft"

Robert Frost masterfully guides his metaphor to render his poem, "Bereft," a significant American poem. Despite the sadness and seriousness of the poem’s subject, readers will delight in the masterful use of the marvelous metaphor displayed within it.

The speaker in the poem, "Bereft," is living alone and he is sorrowful. He says he has "no one left but God." The odd rime-scheme of the poem—AAAAABBACCDDDEDE— bestows a mesmerizing effect, perfectly complementing the haunting grief of the subject.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Bereft

Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Looking down hill to a frothy shore?
Summer was past and the day was past.
Sombre clouds in the west were massed.
Out on the porch's sagging floor,
Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.
Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.

Reading of Robert Frost's "Bereft"

Commentary

First Movement: A Man Alone in His Life

Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Looking down hill to a frothy shore?

In the first two lines, the poem commences with a question, "Where had I heard this wind before / Change like this to a deeper roar?" The speaker, who is a man alone in his life, is sharply cognizant of sounds; when one is alone, one seems to hear every little sound.

Then the speaker poses another question: "What would it take my standing there for, / Holding open a restive door, / Looking down hill to a frothy shore?" He muses on what such a roaring wind would think of his just standing there quietly holding open his door with the wind shoving itself against it, as he gives a blank stare down to the lake that looks like a hurricane is swirling it up in to billows with a roaring wind.

Second Movement: Funereal Clouds

Summer was past and the day was past.
Sombre clouds in the west were massed.

The speaker then uses the couplet: "Summer was past and day was past. / Somber clouds in the west were massed." His observes that summer is over, and the end of the day begins to represent more than the actual season and day symbolization as the speaker paints metaphorically his own age: his youth is already gone and old age has taken him. He intuits that the funereal clouds are heralding his own expiry.

Third Movement: Sagging Life

Out on the porch's sagging floor,
Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.

The speaker steps out onto the porch that is sagging, and here is where that magnificent metaphor makes its appearance: "Leaves got up in a coil and hissed, / Blindly struck at my knee and missed."

The speaker metaphorically likens the leaves to a snake without even employing the word "snake." He represents the leaves as a snake as he dramatizes their action. The wind whips the leaves up into a coil, and they aim for the speaker’s knee, but before they could strike, the wind lets them drop.

Fourth Movement: Alone Only With God

Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.

The entire scene is sober, as are the clouds that were accumulating in the west. The speaker describes the scene as "sinister": The wind’s deep roar, the sagging porch, the leaves acting snakelike—all calculate as something "sinister" to the speaker.

The speaker then guesses that the dark and sinister scene has been effected because word had gotten out that he is alone—he is in this big house alone…somehow the secret had gotten out and now all of nature was conspiring to remind him of his status.

But even more important than the fact that he is living in his house alone is the fact that he is living "in [hi]s life alone." The appalling secret that he has "no one left but God" is prompting the weather and even the supposedly insensible nature to act in a disturbing manner just because they had that power, just because it is so easy to disturb and intimidate a bereaved individual who is alone in his life. The speaker's circumstance as a bereaved individual appears to move all of nature to collude against his peace of mind.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
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      Linda Sue Grimes 23 months ago from U.S.A.

      Yes, quirky is good term for Frost. One can imagine him reading his poems and giving a little wink at some of his effusions! He called his poem "The Road Not Taken" a very "tricky" poem. We can conclude consequently that Frost was a very tricky poet. Certainly one of the best!

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 23 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Yes, I meant to highlight it in my comment. Quite wonderful imagery and quirky.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
      Author

      Linda Sue Grimes 23 months ago from U.S.A.

      Thanks you, Lori! I love Frost too. I've never found a poem of his that I can negatively criticize. I love this poem especially for its amazing metaphor: "Leaves got up in a coil and hissed, / Blindly struck at my knee and missed."

      I think that metaphor would make a great teaching tool for the teacher instructing a class in the use of that poetic device.

      Thanks again, Lori, for responding. Have a blessed Sunday!

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 23 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      I love Frost and this poem was stunning. I'm a big fan of poets and their work from ages past. I love how you break down the poems and explain them.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
      Author

      Linda Sue Grimes 2 years ago from U.S.A.

      Thank you for your response, Jay. I am glad my Hub helped you understand the poem. The speaker's taking comfort in God is not the main focus of the poem; although it might impact the reader.

      Perhaps readers can take comfort that the speaker does at least admit that he has God, when he says, "Word I had no one left but God." And how can anyone escape the realization that because one has God, one has all the comfort ever needed.

      Certainly Christ, Buddha, and the saints of all religions have shown that "we do not die" and that our souls merely transcend the material plane for the spiritual plane. NDEs are simply our current evidence of that established fact.

      Again, thank you for responding. Have a lovely, blessed day, Jay.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 2 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      This is a well written article about poetry. I have trouble understanding poetry so this really helped. I am concerned about the material perspective of the poem. The speaker seems to believe in a material world and God is no comfort to him.

      What if it could be shown that we do not die, but only transcend into another plane? Research Near Death Experiences (NDEs). Some NDEs have been verified while the person was clinically dead.

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