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Robert Frost's "Hyla Brook"
Robert Frost was a master writer of "tricky poems"; he claimed that "The Road Not Taken" was a tricky poem, but many of his others are just as tricky, including "Hyla Brook."
Frost's "Hyla Brook" consists of fifteen lines with the rime scheme, ABBACCADDEEFGF. The poem resembles a Petrarchan sonnet but instead of an octave, it has a nonave that sets up the situation, while the sestet complements it.
The Nonave: "By June our brook's run out of song and speed"
The opening line suggests that the speaker and his family are the proud owners of a brook that runs through their farm. The brook, which is similar to a creek, for most of the year when rainfall is sufficient flows merrily along.
But during a drought, a brook or creek might dry up completely and only the dry channel bed be visible. The speaker begins by acknowledging the fact that, "By June our brook's run out of song and speed."
After the rains of spring have subsided and with the onset of summer, the once fast flowing brook that babbled cheerfully along has slowed and quietened. Then later on into mid- and late-summer, either of two situations might occur.
(1) The brook may dry up completely, "gone groping underground," in which case all the frogs would also have escaped to wetter grounds, or (2) if the year had not yet produced drought conditions, the brook would have "flourished and come up in jewel-weed."
The speaker notes that "jewel-weed" is easily bent by a breeze, "Even against the way the waters went." Even when a breeze blows in the opposite direction from that which the brook flows, the "weak foliage" is "bent," as a result of having proliferated with all of the rainfall.
Sestet: "Its bed is left a faded paper sheet"
In the sestet, the speaker describes the brook after it has dried up. Its bed has then "left a faded paper sheet / Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat." During a dry spell, the water empties out of the brook, gone underground as the speaker asserts early in the nonave.
The dried leaves that lie in the dry channel bed "stuck together by the heat" remind the speaker of an empty sheet of paper. The speaker realizes that the brook in this dried out condition would be unrecognizable to anyone who had not seen it in its normal water-flowing state.
The speaker in addition knows that brooks which make an appearance in many songs and poems never resemble real brooks in those creative forms. Nevertheless, to this speaker, the love of this particular brook always remains as strong as when it is filled with flowing waters and professes the Hyla frogs and their croaking sounds that remind him of "a ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow."
The speaker then offers a profound observation as he frames it philosophically, "We love the things we love for what they are."
Readers sometimes miss the subtle "either/or" position that the speaker places in his descriptive tribute to his beloved brook and interpret the poem as describing only a "dry" brook. But clearly, the speaker offers two situations for the brook.
In line 3, he begins the first with the term "either" and then he says a word about the dried up brook, but then in line 7, he adds the second situation, "or," then describes what happens when the season has not been dry. By picking up and continuing the description of the dry brook in the sestet, the speaker is being a bit sly, and the result is another tricky poem.
Reading of Frost's "Hyla Brook"
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes