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Robert Frost's "The Freedom of the Moon"

Updated on May 26, 2018
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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 "The Freedom of the Moon"

Robert Frost's versanelle, "The Freedom of the Moon," consists of two sestets, each with the rime scheme, ABABCC. The poem dramatizes the phases of the moon and makes a statement about human freedom.

(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 speaker in Frost poem demonstrates the complete freedom of humanity by dramatizing the ability of the human mind to use its physical body paradoxically to relocate the moon's positions. The freedom of the moon heralds the greater freedom of humankind.

The Freedom of the Moon

I've tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I've tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I've pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

Commentary

The important possession of free will extends to metaphor making by poets.

First Sestet, First Tercet: Ways of Contemplating the Moon

I've tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.

Beginning his list of ways he has contemplated the moon, the speaker first asserts that he has "tried the new moon tilted in the air." At that phase, the orb was hanging over a little clump of trees alongside a farmhouse. He compares his consideration of the moon at that point to his lady companion's trying a "jewel in [her] hair."

The oddity about the speaker's claim is that he says he considered the "new moon" which is barely visible. And the moon was tilted in the air. It seems more likely that a crescent phase of the moon would lend itself more accurately to being "tilted."

An explanation for this claim is simply that the particular phase was new to speaker; he had been ignoring the moon and when finally he was motivated to observe it, the newness of it prompts him to call it "the new moon."

First Sestet, Second Tercet: Probing the Nature of the Moon's Freedom

I've tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water start almost shining.

The speaker has furthermore probed the nature of the moon's freedom when it was even in a thinner crescent phase; it was "fine with little breadth of luster." He has mused on that phase when he saw it without stars and also when he has seen it with one star, a configuration from which the Islamic religion takes its icon.

The moon at that phase looked like the first burst of water when one turns on a spigot. It was not exactly shining but only "almost shining." The speaker seems to marvel at the unheavenly ways in which the moon at times may assert its freedom.

Second Sestet, First Tercet: Freeing a Captured Orb

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later,
I've pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,

The speaker then proclaims that he has placed the moon "anywhere" he pleased, but that placement always occurred while it was bright, allowing him the vitality to work with it. He then cleverly asserts his true theme that he is focusing on human freedom, not moon freedom, when he avers that he was able to place the moon anywhere he wanted because he was able to ambulate.

His ability to walk allowed him the freedom to wander "slowly on some evening later." He was thus able to "pull[ ] [the moon] from a crate of crooked trees." The trees seemed to be containing the moon as a wooden box would hold onions or melons. But the speaker was able to walk from the tree-contained moon thus metaphorically freeing the captured orb from the tree box.

Second Sestet, Second Tercet: Carrying the Orb to a Lake

And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

After removing the moon from the tree-crate by simply continuing his evening walk, the speaker metaphorically carried the orb to a lake, in which he metaphorically "dropped it in." He then watched awestruck by the "wallow[ing]" image; he observed that like a piece of cloth losing its dye in water, the colors of the moon ran leaching out into the lake water.

The speaker then commits what is usually a grave poetic error; he makes an open ended statement without a hint of support, "all sorts of wonder follow." But this speaker can get by with the ordinarily unforgivable poetic sin because of the great and wide implications that all of his lines heretofore have gathered.

The speaker, because he has given the moon freedom and has also shown that humankind is blessed with an even more profound freedom, has thus declared that all those "sorts of wonder" that "follow" from the possession of that free will and freedom of expression are indeed blessed with a golden freedom. He has revealed the unmistakeable and eternal free will of humankind.

Musical rendition of Frost's "The Freedom of the Moon"

Life Sketch of Robert Frost

Robert Frost's father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist, living in San Fransisco, California, when Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874; Robert's mother, Isabelle, was an immigrant from Scotland. The young Frost spent eleven years of his childhood in San Fransisco. After his father died of tuberculosis, Robert's mother moved the family, including his sister, Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they lived with Robert's paternal grandparents.

Robert graduated in 1892 from Lawrence High School, where he and his future wife, Elinor White, served as co-valedictorians. Robert thEn made his first attempt to attend college at Dartmouth College; after only a few months, he returned to Lawrence and began working a series of part-time jobs.

Elinor White, who was Robert's high school sweetheart, was attending St. Lawrence University when Robert proposed to her. She turned him down because she wanted to finish college before marrying. Robert then relocated to Virginia, and then after returning to Lawrence, he again to proposed to Elinor, who had now completed her college education. The two married on December 19, 1895. Their first child, Eliot, was born the following year.

Robert then made another attempt to attend college; in 1897, he enrolled in Harvard University, but because of health issues, he had to leave school again. Robert rejoined his wife in Lawrence, and their second child Lesley was born in 1899 . The family then moved to a New Hampshire farm that Robert's grandparents had acquired for him. Thus, Robert's farming phase commenced as he attempted to farm the land and continue his writing. His first poem to appear in print, “My Butterfly," had been published on November 8, 1894, in The Independent, a New York newspaper.

The next twelve years proved a difficult time in Frost's personal life, but a fertile one for his writing. The Frosts' first child, Eliot, died in 1900 of cholera. The couple, however, went on to have four more children, each of which suffered from mental illness to suicide. The couple's farming endeavors continued to result in unsuccessful attempts. Frost became well adjusted to rustic life, despite his miserable failure as a farmer.

Frost's writing life took off in a splendid fashion, and the rural influence on his poems would later set the tone and style for all of his works. However, despite the success of his individual published poems, such "The Tuft of Flowers" and "The Trial by Existence," he could not find a publisher for his collections of poems.

Relocation to England

It was because of his failure to find a publisher for his collections of poems that Frost sold the New Hampshire farm and moved his family to England in 1912. This moved proved to be life-line for the young poet. At age 38, he secured a publisher in England for his collection, A Boy's Will, and soon after North of Boston.

In addition to finding a publisher for his two books, Frost became acquainted with Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, two important poets of the day. Both Pound and Thomas reviewed Frost's two book favorably, and thus Frost's career as a poet moved forward.

Frost's friendship with Edward Thomas was especially important, and Frost has remarked that the long walks taken by the two poet/friends had influenced his writing in a marvelously positive manner. Frost has credited Thomas for his most famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," which was sparked by Thomas' attitude regarding not being able to take two different paths on their long walks.

Returning to America

After World War 1 broke out in Europe, the Frosts set sail back to the United States. The brief sojourn in England had had useful consequences for the poet's reputation, even back in his native country. American Publisher, Henry Holt, picked up Frost's earlier books, and then come out with his third, Mountain Interval, a collection that had been written while Frost was still residing in England.

Frost was treated to the delicious situation of having the same journals, such as The Atlantic, soliciting his work, even though they had rejected that same work a couple of years earlier.

The Frosts once again became owners of a farm located in Franconia, New Hampshire, which they purchased in 1915. The end of their traveling days were over, and Frost continued his writing career, as he taught intermittently at a number of colleges, including Dartmouth, University of Michigan, and particularly Amherst College, where he taught regularly from 1916 until 1938. Amherst's main library is now the Robert Frost Library, honoring the long-time educator and poet. He also spent most summers teaching English at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Frost never completed a college degree, but over his entire lifetime, the revered poet accumulated more than forty honorary degrees. He also won the Pulitzer Prize four times for his books, New Hampshire, Collected Poems, A Further Range, and A Witness Tree.

Frost considered himself a "lone wolf" in the world of poetry because he did not follow any literary movements. His only influence was the human condition in a world of duality. He did not pretend to explain that condition; he only sought to create little dramas to reveal the nature of the emotional life of a human being.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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