ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Robert Frost's "The Fear"

Updated on November 24, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Robert Frost at 85

Robert Frost at 85,1959
Robert Frost at 85,1959 | Source

Introduction and Text of "The Fear"

Robert Frost's "The Fear" is a narrative poem from his collection titled North of Boston; the poem consists of 103 lines without a rime-scheme.

(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.")

The poem's atmosphere becomes rather eerie not only because of the darkness late at night and the isolated location of the couple's home but also because of the woman's obsession that she is being stalked by a former lover. She seems to become ever more unhinged as the conversation wears on.

The Fear

A lantern light from deeper in the barn
Shone on a man and woman in the door
And threw their lurching shadows on a house
Near by, all dark in every glossy window.
A horse's hoof pawed once the hollow floor,
And the back of the gig they stood beside
Moved in a little. The man grasped a wheel,
The woman spoke out sharply, 'Whoa, stand still!'
'I saw it just as plain as a white plate,'
She said, 'as the light on the dashboard ran
Along the bushes at the roadside-a man's face.
You must have seen it too.'
'I didn't see it.
Are you sure—'
'Yes, I'm sure!'
'-it was a face?'
'Joel, I'll have to look. I can't go in,
I can't, and leave a thing like that unsettled.
Doors locked and curtains drawn will make no difference.
I always have felt strange when we came home
To the dark house after so long an absence,
And the key rattled loudly into place
Seemed to warn someone to be getting out
At one door as we entered at another.
What if I'm right, and someone all the time—
Don't hold my arm!'
'I say it's someone passing.'
'You speak as if this were a travelled road.
You forget where we are. What is beyond
That he'd be going to or coming from
At such an hour of night, and on foot too.
What was he standing still for in the bushes?'
'It's not so very late-it's only dark.
There's more in it than you're inclined to say.
Did he look like—?'
'He looked like anyone.
I'll never rest to-night unless I know.
Give me the lantern.'
'You don't want the lantern.'
She pushed past him and got it for herself.
'You're not to come,' she said. 'This is my business.
If the time's come to face it, I'm the one
To put it the right way. He'd never dare—
Listen! He kicked a stone. Hear that, hear that!
He's coming towards us. Joel, go in-please.
Hark!-I don't hear him now. But please go in.'
'In the first place you can't make me believe it's—'
'It is-or someone else he's sent to watch.
And now's the time to have it out with him
While we know definitely where he is.
Let him get off and he'll be everywhere
Around us, looking out of trees and bushes
Till I sha'n't dare to set a foot outdoors.
And I can't stand it. Joel, let me go!'
'But it's nonsense to think he'd care enough.'
'You mean you couldn't understand his caring.
Oh, but you see he hadn't had enough—
Joel, I won't-I won't-I promise you.
We mustn't say hard things. You mustn't either.'
'I'll be the one, if anybody goes!
But you give him the advantage with this light.
What couldn't he do to us standing here!
And if to see was what he wanted, why
He has seen all there was to see and gone.'
He appeared to forget to keep his hold,
But advanced with her as she crossed the grass.
'What do you want?' she cried to all the dark.
She stretched up tall to overlook the light
That hung in both hands hot against her skirt.
'There's no one; so you're wrong,' he said.
'There is.—
What do you want?' she cried, and then herself
Was startled when an answer really came.
'Nothing.' It came from well along the road.
She reached a hand to Joel for support:
The smell of scorching woollen made her faint.
'What are you doing round this house at night?'
'Nothing.' A pause: there seemed no more to say.
And then the voice again: 'You seem afraid.
I saw by the way you whipped up the horse.
I'll just come forward in the lantern light
And let you see.'
'Yes, do.-Joel, go back!'
She stood her ground against the noisy steps
That came on, but her body rocked a little.
'You see,' the voice said.
'Oh.' She looked and looked.
'You don't see-I've a child here by the hand.'
'What's a child doing at this time of night—?'
'Out walking. Every child should have the memory
Of at least one long-after-bedtime walk.
What, son?'
'Then I should think you'd try to find
Somewhere to walk—'
'The highway as it happens—
We're stopping for the fortnight down at Dean's.'
'But if that's all-Joel-you realize—
You won't think anything. You understand?
You understand that we have to be careful.
This is a very, very lonely place.
Joel!' She spoke as if she couldn't turn.
The swinging lantern lengthened to the ground,
It touched, it struck it, clattered and went out.

Reading of "The Fear"


First Movement: "A lantern light from deeper in the barn"

The poem begins with the narrator’s description: the husband and wife have returned home after being away for several hours. They are in the barn standing beside their horse and carriage.

The wife claims that she saw a man’s face, “as plain as a white plate,” as they were nearing their farm. She insists she saw it, but her husband retorts, “I didn’t see it. / Are you sure—.” He is interrupted by the wife with “Yes, I’m sure!” To which her husband questions, “—it was a face?”

The wife is uneasy about going into the house without discovering to whom the face belongs: “Joel, I’ll have to look. I can’t go in, / I can’t, and leave a thing like that unsettled.” Joel disagrees that someone is snooping around the house and tries to dissuade her going out and trying to find someone. But she is adamant and cries, “Don’t hold my arm!” To which he replies, “I say it’s someone passing.”

Second Movement: You speak as if this were a travelled road"

The wife then reminds her husband of how isolated their farm is: “You speak as if this were a travelled road. / You forget where we are.” She insists that if anyone is lurking around, it is for the specific purpose of seeing her. Joel then realizes that his wife thinks the man who may be “standing still [ ] in the bushes,” may be a man she once knew.

Joel says, “It’s not so very late—it’s only dark. / There’s more in it than you’re inclined to say. / Did he look like——?” Again, the wife interrupts her husband by saying that he just looked like “anyone,” but she again insists that she has to go look. After he discourages her again, she takes the lantern and tells him to “not to come,” because “[t]his is my business.”

Joel then realizes that he wife thinks this prowler is a man with whom she has had an assignation, and he thinks she is being silly: “In the first place you can’t make me believe it’s—.” Again interrupting him, she says it’s either her former lover or someone he has sent to spy on her.

Third Movement: "You mean you couldn't understand his caring"

Joel derides the idea that this man would care enough to be out snooping around their farm or sending another person in his stead. To which the indignant wife barks, “You mean you couldn’t understand his caring.” She then flatters herself further by adding, “Oh, but you see he hadn’t had enough— / Joel, I won’t—I won’t—I promise you. / We mustn’t say hard things. You mustn’t either.”

Joel insists on accompanying his wife to check for the prowler, and as they advance forward into night, she begins to call out. Finally someone answers her question, “What do you want?” with “Nothing.” The man finally comes forward into the lantern light. She sees that it is not the former lover. Accompanying him is his son. They were simply on their way to “Dean’s” with whom they are to visit for a couple of weeks.

The wife is taken aback; she excuses her intrusion on the couple’s journey by saying, “You understand that we have to be careful. / This is a very, very lonely place.” She calls her husband’s name, lets the lantern drop; hitting the ground, its light goes out.

The Dousing of Desire

The simple narration reveals the vanity of a woman who thinks that her former lover is obsessed with her and her disappointment after she realizes she was wrong. At the end, the symbolic dousing of the lantern as it thumps the ground parallels the dousing of the woman’s burning desire to have this former lover taking pains to see her.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes


Submit a Comment

No comments yet.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)