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Robert Frost's "War Thoughts at Home"

Updated on October 8, 2017
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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

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Commentary

Robert Frost's rediscovered "poem" is a collection of seven stanzas, which appears to be more a list of notes rather than a poem, as the title clearly reveals.

Robert Frost's "War Thoughts at Home" consists of seven "notes," with the rime scheme ABCCB in each.

First Note: "On the back side of the house"
The speaker describes a house: "On the back side of the house / Where it wears no paint to the weather / And so shows most its age." This "back side" seems to take the brunt of the bad weather; as a result of all this tumultuous weather, the paint has worn off, and this side of the house "shows most its age." It is on this weather-beaten side of the house that a bunch of blue jays starts to rustle about. The speaker claims that the jays "rage / And flash in blue feather."

Second Note: "It is late in an afternoon"
The speaker continues to describe a bleak atmosphere. The time is late afternoon, and it looks as if it will be snowing soon; there is a gray look to the scene, a time when there may be present a blue jay or a crow or more likely still, "no bird at all."

Third Note: "So someone heeds from within"
The speaker introduces a woman inside the house who has heard the birds' racket, and she goes to the window. She is old and as weather-beaten as the house, "A little bent over with care." She has been sewing so she gets up from her chair carefully placing her sewing aside so she won't drop it on the floor.

The term "bird war" is employed, and for the first time the list begins to reveal the nature of its claim to be thoughts of war. The reader might feel that the house has already demonstrated a kind of war with the weather; then the birds reveal of kind of war. And now enters a human being who might add war thoughts.

Fourth Note: "The sewing in her lap"
The third and fourth stanzas are connected by sharing the same sentence. The woman comes to the window to see the birds, but the birds "cease for a space / And cling close in a tree." The reader is to believe that they see this woman's face staring at them and they cease their "war."

Fifth Note: "And one says to the rest"
Then one bird begins to speak: "We must just watch our chance / And escape one by one—/ Though the fight is no more done / Than the war is in France." Frost is said to have copied this list into a copy of his published North of Boston in 1918. Thus, the war is World War I. The bird says that they can escape this human if they lay low and leave one at a time, but he admits that the fight is not over yet, just as the fight in France is not over yet; although, the war in Europe did end by September of 1918.

Sixth Note: "Than the war is in France!"
In the sixth stanza, the speaker repeats the line, "Than the war is in France!" But it is unclear whose words these are. The bird said that same line, but now the same line appears unattributed. Then the speaker is telling the reader what the woman is thinking: "She thinks of a winter camp /Where soldiers for France are made."

Again, it is not clear. Where is the winter camp? Is it in the United States, which only entered the war a year earlier? Is it in France? There is nothing to clarify why this woman would know these things. Perhaps the reader is to assume that she has a relative who was sent to this war, but the reader cannot determine so. Then the woman pulls "down the window shade" which "glows with an early lamp."

Seventh Note: On that old side of the house"
The seventh stanza simply gives a description of what one would see if one were looking out back from "that old side of the house." This sounds strange, because in the opening stanza, it seemed that the weather had been responsible for making the house look old, but now the speaker actually calls that side "that old side of the house."

One has to wonder how one side might be any older than the other sides. And what one sees there is a line of old sheds that give the appearance of railroad cars that have "lain / Dead on a side track" for a long time.

Final Comment
This "poem" seems to be most aware of itself as trying to be poetic. It is for this reason that critics and scholars should understand that it is not a poem at all, but merely a list of thoughts. And, in fact, Frost did not publish this poem. This list of thoughts was found among his archival materials, jotted down on a flyleaf of his book, North of Boston.

As a poem, this list is seriously flawed. Robert Frost would probably be embarrassed that people are fawning over it as an important Frostian find. It is merely a list that seems to wax profound trying to compare a bird fight to the war in France. But it is obviously not meant to be a finished poem. Frost's best works demonstrate how much better than this he was.

Brief bio of Robert Frost

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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