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Elements of Poetry - A Brief Introduction

1. What is Poetry?

It is difficult to define; we have been more successful at describing and appreciating poetry
than at defining it. Poetry might be defined, initially, as a kind of language that says more
and says it more intensely than does ordinary language. William Wordsworth defined
poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, recollected in tranquillity." Poetry
is the most condensed and concentrated form of literature, saying most in the fewest
number of words.

2. Reading the Poem:

a. Read a poem more than once.

b. Keep a dictionary by you and use it.

c. Read so as to hear the sounds of the words in your mind. Poetry is written to be heard:
its meanings are conveyed through sound as well as through print. Every word is therefore

d. Always pay careful attention to what the poem is saying.

e. Practice reading poems aloud. Ask yourself the following questions:

i. Who is the speaker and what is the occasion?

ii. What is the central purpose of the poem?

iii. By what means is the purpose of the poem achieved?

3. Denotation and Connotation:

The average word has three components parts: sound, denotation, and connotation.
Denotation is the dictionary meaning(s) of the word; connotations are what it suggests
beyond what it expresses: its overtones of meaning. It acquires these connotations by its
past history and associations, by the way and the circumstances in which it has been

4. Imagery:

Poetry communicates experience and experience comes to us largely through the senses
(seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, and touching). Imagery may be defined as the
representation through language of sense experience. The word image perhaps most

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often suggests a mental picture, something seen in the mind's eye - and visual imagery is
the most frequently occurring kind of imagery in poetry. But an image may also represent a
sound; a smell; a taste; a tactile experience; and an internal sensation.

5. Figurative Language 1:

Metaphor, Personification, and Metonymy: Figures of speech are another way of adding
extra dimensions to language. Broadly defined, a figure of speech is any of saying
something other than the ordinary way, and some rhetoricians have classified as many as
250 separate figures. Figurative language is language that cannot be taken literally.
Metaphor and simile are both used as a means of comparing things that are essentially
unlike; in simile the comparison is expressed by the use of some word or phrase such as
like, as than, similar to, resembles or seems; in metaphor the comparison is implied - that
is, the figurative term is substituted for or identified with the literal term. Personification
consists in giving the attributes of a human being to an animal, an object, or a concept.
Closely related to personification is apostrophe, which consists in addressing someone
absent or something non human as if it were alive and present and could reply to what is
being said. Synecdoche (the use of the part for the whole) and metonymy (the use of
something closely related for the thing actually meant) are alike in that both substitute
some significant detail or aspect of an experience for the experience itself.

6. Figurative Language 2:

Symbol and Allegory: A symbol may be roughly defined as something that means more
than what it is. Image, metaphor, and symbol shade into each other and are sometimes
difficult to distinguish. In general, however, an image means only what it is; a metaphor
means something other than what it is; and a symbol means what it is and something more
too. Allegory is a narrative or description that has a second meaning beneath the surface
one. Although the surface story or description may have its own interest, the author's major
interest is in the ulterior meaning. Allegory has been defined as an extended metaphor and
sometimes as a series of related symbols.

7. Figurative Language 3:

A paradox is an apparent contradiction that is nevertheless true. It may either be a

situation or a statement ("damn with faint praise"). Overstatement, or hyperbole, is simply
exaggeration but exaggeration in the service of truth. Understatement, or saying less than
one means, may exist in what one says or merely in how one says it Like paradox, irony
has meanings that extend beyond its use merely as a figure of speech. Verbal irony, saying
the opposite of what one means, is often confused with sarcasm and with satire. Sarcasm
and satire both imply ridicule, one on the colloquial level, the other on the literary level. The
term irony always implies some sort of discrepancy or incongruity: between what is said
and what is meant, or between appearance and reality, or between expectation and
fulfillment (dramatic irony and irony of situation). Allusion, a reference to something in
history or previous literature, is, like a richly connotative word or a symbol, a means of
suggesting far more that it says. Allusions are a means of reinforcing the emotion or the

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ideas of one's own work with the emotion or ideas of another work or occasion. Because
they are capable of saying so much in so little, they are extremely useful to the poet.

8. Tone and Musical Devices:

Tone , in literature, may be defined as the writer's or speaker's attitude toward the subject,
the audience, or toward herself/himself. Almost all the elements of poetry go into indicating
its tone: connotation, imagery, and metaphor; irony and understatement; rhythm, sentence
construction, and formal pattern. The poet chooses words for sound as well as for
meaning. Verbal music is one of the important resources that enable the poet to do
something more than communicate mere information. Essential elements in all music are
repetition and variation. The repetition of initial consonant sounds, as in "tried and true,"
"safe and sound," "fish and fowl," "rime and reason," is alliteration. The repetition of vowel
sounds, as in "mad as a hatter," "time out of mind," "free and easy," "slapdash," is
assonance. The repetition of final consonant sounds, as in "first and last," "odds and
ends," "short and sweet," "a stroke of luck," is consonance. The combination of
assonance and consonance is rime. Rime is the repetition of the accented vowel sound
and all succeeding sounds.

9. Rhythm and Meter:

The term rhythm refers to any wave like recurrence of motion or sound. Meter is the kind of
rhythm we can tap our foot to. Metrical language is called verse; non metrical language is

Trochee trips from long to short;

From long to long in solemn sort
Slow Spondee stalks; strong foot yet ill able
Ever to come up with Dactylic trisyllable.
Iambics march from short to long -
With a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

The foot is the metrical unit by which a line of poetry is measured; it usually consists of
one stressed or accented ( ' ) and one or two unstressed or unaccented syllables ( - ).

Name of Foot Name of Meter Measure

Iamb Iambic -'

Trochee Trochaic '-

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Anapest Anapestic --'

Dactyl Dactylic '--

Spondee Spondaic ''

Pyrrhus Pyrrhic --

The secondary unit of measurement, the line, is measured by naming the number of feet
in it. A line that ends with a stressed syllable is said to have a masculine ending and a
line that ends with an extra syllable is said to have a feminine ending. A pause within a
line is called a caesura and is identified by a double vertical line (||). A line with a pause at
its end is called end-stopped line, whereas a line that continues without a pause is called
run-on line or enjambment. The following metrical names are used to identify the
lengths of lines:

Length Name

one foot Monometer

two feet Dimeter

three feet Trimeter

four feet Tetrameter

five feet Pentameter

six feet Hexameter

seven feet Heptameter

eight feet Octameter

The third unit, the stanza, consists of a group of lines whose metrical pattern is repeated
throughout the poem.

The process of measuring verse is referred to as scansion. To scan a poem we do these

three things:

1. we identify the prevailing meter,

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2. we give a metrical name to the number of feet in a line, and

3. we describe the stanza pattern or rhyme-scheme.

10. Patterns of Traditional Poems

Ballad , or literary ballad, is a long singing poem that tells a story (usually of love or
adventure), written in quatrains - four lines alternatively of four and three feet - the third line
may have internal rhyme.

Ballade is French in origin and made up of 28 lines, usually three stanzas of 8 lines and a
concluding stanza, called envoy, of 4 lines. The last line of each stanza is the same and
the scheme is ababbcbc and the envoy's is bcbc.

Blank Verse is made up of unrhymed iambic pentameter lines.

Elegy is a lyric poem written to commemorate someone who is dead.

Epigram is a brief, pointed, and witty poem of no prescribed form.

Free Verse has no identifiable meter, although the lines may have a rhyme-scheme.

Haiku is an unrhymed poem of seventeen syllables derived from Japanese verse; it is

made up of three lines, lines 1 and 3 have five syllables, line 2 has seven.

Heroic Couplet is two lines of rhyming iambic pentameters.

Limerick is a five-line poem in which lines 1, 2, and 5 are anapestic trimeters and lines 3
and 4 are anapestic dimeters, rhymed as aabba. Possible source of origin is Limerick,

Lyric is a poem of emotional intensity and expresses powerful feelings.

Narrative form is used to tell a story; it is usually made of ballad stanzas - four lines
alternatively of four and three feet.

Ode, English in origin, is a poem of indefinite length, divided in 10-line stanzas, rhymed,
with different schemes for each stanza - ababcdecde, written in iambic meter.

Parody is a humorous imitation of a serious poem.

Quatrain is a four-line stanza with various meters and rhyme schemes.

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Sestina consists of thirty-nine lines divided into six six-line stanzas and a three-line
concluding stanza called an envoy.

Sonnet is a fourteen line poem. The Italian or Petrarchan has two stanzas: the first of
eight lines is called octave and has the rhyme-scheme abba abba; the second of six lines
is called the sestet and has the rhyme cdecde or cdcdcd. The Spenserian sonnet,
developed by Edmund Spenser, has three quatrains and a heroic couplet, in iambic
pentameter with rhymes ababbcbccdcdee. The English sonnet, developed by
Shakespeare, has three quatrains and a heroic couplet, in iambic pentameter with rhymes

Tercet is a three-line stanza; when all three lines rhyme they are called a triplet.

Terza Rima consists of interlocking three-line rhyme scheme (aba, bcb).

Villanelle is a fixed form consisting of nineteen lines divided into six stanzas: five tercets
and a a concluding quatrain.

(Definitions and examples in Appendices F, G, & H are from Laurence Perrine,

LITERATURE: Structure, Sound, and Sense; 1978, Shapiro and Beum, A Prosody
Handbook; Miller Williams, Patterns of Poetry; and Lawrence Zillman, The Art and Craft of

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Figurative Language

Easier - Figurative language or speech contains images. The writer or speaker describes
something through the use of unusual comparisons, for effect, interest, and to make things
clearer. The result of using this technique is the creation of interesting images.

Harder - Figurative language is not intended to be interpreted in a literal sense. Appealing

to the imagination, figurative language provides new ways of looking at the world. It always
makes use of a comparison between different things. Figurative language compares two
things that are different in enough ways so that their similarities, when pointed out, are
interesting, unique and/or surprising.



Repeated consonant sounds
"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers"

Repeated Vowel sounds
"The June moon loomed over the horizon"


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Words sound like what they are
"The fire crackled and the popcorn popped."

(Creating pictures for the senses)

(Various kinds of comparison)
A comparison using "Like" or "as"
"She dances like a princess."

An exaggeration
"My date last night was the most beautiful girl in the world."

Making an inanimate object act like a person or animal
"The fog crept in on little cat feet."

A cross reference to another work of art
"My boyfriend dances like King Kong."

Using part of an object to stand for the whole thing
"Have you got your wheels, man?"

An extended metaphor that doesn't make sense at first.
"My compass love for you is true."
(This John Donne conceit makes sense only when we realize he is talking about
drawing compass and he means his love is the center of his universe.)

Something that at first seems to contradict itself
"A little learning is a dangerous thing."
(This line from Alexander Pope requires a bit of thought to realize the key
word is "little". Pope wants us to learn all we can.)

Something represents a completely different thing or idea.
(The sneetches symbolize various prejudice in people.)

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Saying the opposite of what you really mean, for effect
"That was a cool move, man

Figurative Language

Figurative language uses "figures of speech" - a way of saying something other than the literal
meaning of the words. For example, "All the world's a stage" Frost often referred to them simply as
"figures." Frost said, "Every poem I write is figurative in two senses. It will have figures in it, of
course; but it's also a figure in itself - a figure for something, and it's made so that you can get more
than one figure out of it." Cook Voices p235

The Poetics of Robert Frost - Examples

Figurative Language

Putting in the
Metaphor The Silken Tent Devotion To Earthward All Revelation

Simile Mending Wall Stars Going for Water Birches Hyla Brook

The Road Not Stopping by The Pasture &

Symbol Rose Pogonias Come In
Taken Woods Directive

My November Tree at my
Personification Mowing Range-Finding Storm Fear
Guest Window

Take Some- Tree at my

Apostrophe Mending Wall
thing like a Star Window

Stopping by I Will Sing You

Synecdoche The Gift Outright Kitty Hawk Fire and Ice
Woods One-O

Metonymy Out, Out

Allegory or After Apple- The Lockless

The Grindstone Birches Design
Parable Picking Door

Nothing Gold The Tuft of

Paradox The Gift Outright Ghost House Fire and Ice
Can Stay Flowers

A Star in a After Apple- Stopping by The Milky Way is

Hyperbole Etherealizing
Stoneboat Picking Woods a Cowpath

Under My November
Fire and Ice Mowing Hyla Brook Brown's Descent
Statement Guest

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The Road Not
Irony Birches Range-Finding Ghost House Stars

A figure of speech in which a comparison is made between two things essentially unalike. To
Frost, metaphor is really what poetry is all about. He is notably a poet of metaphors more than
anything else. This is so important, we should hear directly from the poet. Frost said," Poetry
begins in trivial metaphors, pretty metaphors, 'grace metaphors,' and goes on to the profoundest
thinking that we have. Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning
another. People say, 'Why don't you say what you mean?' We never do that, do we, being all of us
too much poets. We like to talk in parables and in hints and in indirections - whether from diffidence
or from some other instinct". ... Excerpt from an essay entitled "Education by Poetry" by Robert

The Silken Tent. A woman is admired for her strength and beauty, like a silken tent. Note the
strength of the silk and cedar.
Putting in the Seed. The planting of seed in the garden, in springtime is like making love.
Devotion. The passive but ever-changing shore and the persistent energetic ocean are like a
devoted couple.
To Earthward. The stages of love are like stepping stones to death.
All Revelation. A view of a geode crystal is like the mind probing the universe.

A figure of speech in which a comparison is expressed by the specific use of a word or phrase such
as: like, as, than, seems or Frost's favorite "as if,"

Mending Wall: like an old-stone savage armed
Stars: like some snow-white/ Minerva's snow-white marble eyes
Going for Water: We ran as if to meet the moon ---- we paused / like gnomes
Birches: Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Hyla Brook: Like ghost of sleigh bells

A thing (could be an object, person, situation or action) which stands for something else more
abstract. For example our flag is the symbol of our country. The use of symbols in Frost's poetry is
less obvious. Frost was not known as a Symbolist. Actually, the Symbolists were a late 19th
century movement reacting against realism. Frost rebelled against this movement and preferred to
use metaphors. There are certain signature images that become symbols when we look at Frost's
complete work. Flowers, stars, dark woods and spring (the water kind) are consistent symbols in
Frost's poetry and should be noted here. As with many other poetic devices, Frost had his own way
of keeping the rule and breaking the rule. Cook Dimensions p197

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Frost said, "If my poetry has to have a name, I'd prefer to call it Emblemism," not "Symbolism,"
which is all too likely to clog up and kill a poem." Burnshaw p283

The Road Not Taken: the forked road represents choices in life. The road in this poem is a text
book example of a symbol.
Rose Pogonias: Early in Frost's poetry, flowers become a symbol for the beloved, his wife Elinor.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening: even though there is no one overt symbol in the poem,
the entire journey can represent life's journey. "Dark woods" also become a powerful recurring
symbol in Frost.
The Pasture and Directive. Spring (as in water spring) is very meaningful in Frost's poetry. Spring
represents origin or source, almost in a Proustian sense. Other variations include "brook" Hyla
Brook and West-Running Brook. Water often deals with an emotional state.
Come In: "But no, I was out for stars." The star is one of the chief symbolic images in Frost's

A type of metaphor in which distinct human qualities, e.g., honesty, emotion, volition, etc., are
attributed to an animal, object or idea.

My November Guest: the guest is Sorrow, personified as a woman dearly loved who walks with
Mowing: the scythe whispers
Range-Finding: the spider sullenly withdraws
Tree at my Window: the tree watches him sleep; it has tongues talking aloud
Storm Fear: the wind works and whispers, the cold creeps, the whole storm is personified

A figure of speech in which someone absent or dead OR something nonhuman is addressed as if it
were alive and present.

Take Something Like a Star: the poem begins, "O Star," He addresses the star throughout the
Tree at my Window: He addresses the tree throughout: "Tree at my window, window tree."
Mending Wall: speaking to the stones that make up the barrier, he says, "Stay where you are until
our backs are turned!"

A figure of speech which mentions a part of something to suggest the whole. As in, "All hands on
deck," meaning all sailors to report for duty. Hands = sailors. Frost said, "I started calling myself a
Synecdochist when other called themselves Imagists or Vorticists."

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening: The little journey in the poem represents life's journey.
The Gift Outright: The gift represents the history of the United States.
I Will Sing You One-O: Two clock towers striking One o'clock represent extensions of earthly and
heavenly time.
Kitty Hawk: Man's first flight represents man's yearning for God or heaven.
Fire and Ice: The heat of love and the cold of hate are seen as having cataclysmic power.

A figure of speech that uses a concept closely related to the thing actually meant. The substitution
makes the analogy more vivid and meaningful.

Out, Out: the injured boy holds up his hand "as if to keep / the life from spilling." The literal meaning
is to keep the blood from spilling. Frost's line tells us that the hand is bleeding and the boy's life is
in danger.

Allegory or Parable
A poem in the form of a narrative or story that has a second meaning beneath the surface one.
Frost is notable for his use of the parable using the description to evoke an idea. Some critics call
him a "Parablist."

After Apple-Picking: the apple harvest suggests accomplishment
The Grindstone: the grinding of the blade suggests the idea of judging and recognizing limits
The Lockless Door: a story of self escape
Birches: the climbing suggests the value of learning and experience
Design: the incident suggests a universal design

A statement or situation containing apparently contradictory or incompatible elements, but on
closer inspection may be true.

Nothing Gold Can Stay: green is gold
The Gift Outright: "And forthwith found salvation in surrender."
Ghost House: I dwell in a house that vanished.
Fire and Ice:"But if it had to perish twice"
The Tuft of Flowers: men work together whether they work together or apart.

A bold, deliberate overstatement not intended to be taken literally, it is used as a means of
emphasizing the truth of a statement. This is relatively rare in Frost. He has a penchant for fact and

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A Star in a Stoneboat: A meteorite is found in a field and supposed to be a star which has fallen to
Etherealizing: The idea of reducing ourselves simply to a brain.
After Apple-Picking: Ten thousand thousand fruit to touch.
Stopping by Woods: The woods filling up with snow.
The Milky Way is a Cowpath (title)

The presentation of a thing with underemphasis in order to achieve a greater effect. Frost uses this
device extensively, often as a means of irony. His love poems are especially understated. He
cautions, "Never larrup an emotion."

Fire and Ice: Ice, which for destruction is great, "will suffice."
Mowing: "Anything more than the truth would have seemed to weak" This is almost Frost's
definition of understatement
Hyla Brook: the last line "We love the things we love for what they are."
My November Guest: The speaker appreciates the November landscape, but leaves it to his
"guest" to praise.
Brown's Descent: After falling down an ice crusted slope, Farmer Brown still clutching his lantern
says, "Ile's (oil's) 'bout out!"

Verbal irony is a figure of speech when an expression used is the opposite of the thought in the
speaker's mind, thus conveying a meaning that contradicts the literal definition. Dramatic irony is a
literary or theatrical device of having a character utter words which the the reader or audience
understands to have a different meaning, but of which the character himself is unaware. Irony of
situation is when a situation occurs which is quite the reverse of what one might have expected.
Often, Frost's use of irony convey's one meaning by word and syntax, and another by the tone of
voice it indicates. The tone contradicts the words. Frost's irony is usually tricky because it is so

Birches: Dramatic irony the wish to get away from earth may not be granted too soon
Range-Finding: Irony of situation when the spider is disturbed by a bullet but finds it unimportant.
The Road Not Taken: Verbal irony - the speaker knows he will tell the old story "with a sigh" of a
choice that "made all the difference."
Ghost House: Irony of situation when daylight falls (usually night falls) into a place that was
supposed to be dark in order too keep things for survival.The cellar was a storeroom filled with
things to get you through the winter. In this case, daylight is dissolution of the proper and good use
of the place. Wild raspberries now grow where fruit used to be stored. This poem is full of irony.
Stars: Minerva, the goddess of wisdom but her eyes are without the gift of sight.

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Imagery may be defined as the representation through language of sense experience. Poetry
indirectly appeals to our senses through imagery. Imagery is more incidental to a poem than
metaphors, symbols and theme and they are often confused. Nevertheless, an image should
conjure up something more than the mere mentioning of the object or situation. A mistake often
made is to take every image as though it were a symbol or metaphor. Frost called that "pressing
the poem too hard." Starting with the examples below, see how many you can find in each poem.

The Poetics of Robert Frost - Examples


Once by the
Visual After Apple-Picking Birches October Good Hours

An Old Man's Stopping by

Auditory After Apple-Picking Mowing The Runaway
Winter Night Woods

To a Young
Olfactory After Apple-Picking To Earthward "Out, Out" Unharvested

The Exposed
Gustatory After Apple-Picking To Earthward Blueberries A Record Stride

The Death of the The Witch On Going

Tactile After Apple-Picking Moon Compasses
Hired Man of Coos Unnoticed

The White-
Organic After Apple-Picking Storm Fear Birches Spring Pools
Tailed Hornet

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Once by the
Kinesthetic After Apple-Picking Bereft Ghost House A Late Walk

There are 7 different kinds of imagery:

Visual imagery - something seen in the mind's eye

After Apple-Picking - magnified apples appear and disappear...every fleck of russet showing clear
Once by the Pacific - the clouds were low and locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
Birches - the iced branches shed "crystal shells"
October - Enchant the land with amethyst
Good Hours - the cottages up to their shining eyes in snow

Auditory imagery - represents a sound

After Apple-Picking - the rumbling .. of load on load of apples coming in.
Mowing - the scythe whispering to the ground
The Runaway - the miniature thunder... the clatter of stone
An Old Man's Winter Night - the roar of trees, the crack of branches, beating on a box
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - the sweep of easy wind and downy flake

Olfactory imagery - a smell

After Apple-Picking - Essence of winter sleep in on the night, the scent of apples
Note: just the mention of "the scent of apples" does not make it an image, but when connected to
"essence of winter sleep" the scent gains vividness.
To Earthward - musk from hidden grapevine springs
Out, Out - the sticks of wood "sweet scented stuff"
Unharvested - A scent of ripeness from over a wall...smelling the sweetness in no theft.
To a Young Wretch - the boy takes the tree and heads home, "smelling green"

Gustatory imagery - a taste

After Apple-Picking - although not specifically mentioned, the taste of the apples is implied
To Earthward - I craved strong sweets no joy but lacks salt

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Blueberries - the blueberries as big as your thumb...with the flavor of soot
A Record Stride - the walking boots that taste of Atlantic and Pacific salt
The Exposed Nest - A haying machine passes over a bird nest without "tasting flesh"

Tactile imagery - touch, for example hardness, softness, wetness, heat, cold

After Apple-Picking - the fruit to "Cherish in hand"
Moon Compasses - "So love will take between the hands a face.."
The Death of the Hired Man - Mary touches the harplike morning-glory strings and plays some
The Witch of Coos - the bed linens might just as well be ice and the clothes snow
On Going Unnoticed - You grasp the bark by a rugged pleat,/ And look up small from the forest's

Organic imagery - internal sensation: hunger, thirst, fatigue, fear

After Apple-Picking - My instep arch not only keeps the ache, It keeps the pressure of a ladder
Storm Fear - My heart owns a doubt, It costs no inward struggle not to go
Birches - It's when I'm weary of considerations/ And life is too much like a pathless wood, etc
The White-Tailed Hornet - "To stab me in the sneeze-nerve of a nostril"
Spring Pools - the trees drinking up the pools and along with it, the flowers

Kinesthetic imagery - movement or tension

After Apple-Picking - "I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend."
Bereft - Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,/ Blindly struck at my knee and missed.
Ghost House - the black bats tumble and dart
A Late Walk - the whir of sober birds, is sadder than any words
Once by the Pacific: "Shattered water ...Great waves looked over others coming in,"

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Frost is often noted as a metricist. He said, "I would sooner write free verse as play tennis with the
net down." Metered verse has prescribed rules as to the number and placement of syllables used
per line. The meter of any poem is based on the predominant or prevailing meter. It is not required
that every line be the same number and pattern. As in other poetics, Frost followed the rules and
broke the rules.

The Poetics of Robert Frost - Examples


The Rose The Rabbit I Will Sing You

Dimeter Dust of Snow Gathering Leaves
Family Hunter One-O

Flower Nothing Gold Neither Out Far

Trimeter Reluctance Departmental
Gathering Can Stay Nor In Deep
Stopping by My November The Road Not
Tetrameter Going for Water Devotion
Woods Guest Taken
Pentameter The Runaway The Silken Tent Mending Wall Birches
with the Night
For Once

The English language falls naturally into iambic patterns of accent or stress. Meter governs the
placement of accents and the length of the line. Meter can be diagramed to examine these
elements, which is called scansion. We scan the poem to discover the placement of accents. This
helps us to read the poem correctly. Meter has a great influence on the flow and rhythm of the
poem. Remember the TV advertisement where Ringo Starr asks, "Too many syllables?" Knowing
how to manipulate meter is the essence of song-writing and rap (for those of you into that scene). A

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knowledge of meter helps one to write good sentences, especially in speech-writing. Meter makes
it flow.

In poetry, Meter is determined by how many "feet" are written per line. Look at the foot at the end of
your leg. A "foot" is the basic unit of measure, usually containing 2 or 3 syllables, a combination of
accented and unaccented. A foot must have an accent. It's like music, the accent is used instead of
the beat to make the rhythm. Say the lines below out loud and listen to the accents:

Dimeter: the line has two feet (the WAY a CROW)

Trimeter: the line has three feet (NA-tures first GREEN is GOLD)
Tetrameter: the line has four feet (whose WOODS these ARE i THINK i KNOW)
Pentameter: the line has five feet (SOME-thing there IS that DOES-n't LOVE a WALL )
Hendecasyllabics has 11 syllables per line. It is very unusual and Frost wrote only one poem in this

English meters are almost always one of these 5 patterns.

1) Iambic: 2 syl - first unaccented, second accented ( - !) in LEAVES no STEP (two iambics)
2) Trochee 2 syl - first accented, second unaccented ( ! - ) SOME-where AG-es (two trochee)
3) Spondee: 2 syl - both accented ( ! ! ) TWO ROADS. even though there are two accents, a
spondee is one foot.

In an Iamb, two syllables make up a "foot" (picture the foot at the end of your leg). Each step you
take puts a "foot" down, a series of feet form the line of poetry. It's just like walking. This is what
makes the rhythm. Frost often walked as he mentally composed his poetry. The footsteps made the
beat. Get up and walk and say "whose WOODS these ARE i THINK i KNOW. That's perfectly

4) Anapest: 3 syl - first and second unaccented, third accented ( - - !)
with a SIGH. (one anapest)

5) Dactyl: 3 syl - first accented, second and third unaccented (! - - )

one trav - el / (er)

These three syllables make up a "foot", but the triplet is more like your finger.
Your finger is in three pieces.

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 18

Frost said, "There are only two meters "strict and loose iambic." In his terms, strict would be 1-2-3
(above) and loose would be 4-5. Iambic meter includes the trocaic inversion and spondee. Anapest
and dactl are considered variations of iambic meter.

Let's try to scan it. Remember there can be differences in the way we hear the poem.
First I always count the syllables in each line. The "meter" of the poem will be the prevailing meter.
Frost almost never wrote one meter throughout. Say this outloud but don't exaggerate the accents
too much - it is supposed to be conversational. Stop and listen after the slashes to what you
pronounced and you should hear it. The slash separates the feet in scansion. The Road Not Taken
is written in tetrameter - 4 feet per line.

The Road Not Taken

! ! - ! - - ! - !
Two roads / di verged / in a yel / low wood .......4 feet:
(spondee) (iambic) (anapest) (iambic)

- ! - - ! - ! - !
And sor / ry I could / not trav / el both........ 4 feet
( iambic ) (anapest) (iambic) (iambic)

- ! ! - - - ! - !
And be / one trav el / er long / I stood .........4 feet
(iambic) (dactyl) (iambic) (iambic)

- ! - ! - ! - - !
And looked / down one / as far / as I could .......4 feet
(iambic) (iambic) (iambic) (anapest)

- ! - ! - - ! - !
To where / it bent / in the un / der growth.......... 4 feet
(iambic) (iambic) (anapest) (iambic)

Anapest meter is quicker and lighter than iambic. The spondee on TWO ROADS reinforces the
equal value of each road, just as the poem says. Frost liked getting this sort of thing to work out.
Watch how his metrics reinforce the meaning of the poem. In some pieces, Frost deliberately mixes
the meter from line to line for dramatic effect, as in Storm Fear where the short lines reinforce the
fury of the storm. Frost created beautiful images in his poetry, with lovely rhymes and humanistic
philosophy. Isn't it is just amazing that the number of syllables work out too!

The only way to learn meter is to do it! It takes some work, but there is no faking it. Remember that
we can hear the poem differently, but Frost was a great master at making you say his lines in a

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 19

certain way. The sense of his poems drive the sound so that most of us say the poem intuitively
with the accents in the right place.

Frost remarked over and over, "There are only two meters in English, strict and loose iambic." (He
was speaking of iambic (strict) and the anapest and dactyl triplet variations (loose). The stresses
should come naturally from within the word itself, as if one were speaking common English. Frost
said, "Meter alone is too limited and monotonous to convey meaning through sound. The
possibilities for tune from the dramatic tones of meaning struck across the rigidity of a limited meter
are endless." This is what makes Frost's poetry memorable.

Example: Birches: "It's when I'm weary of considerations." This line is perfect iambic pentameter,
with an extra metrical (feminine) ending. ( it's WHEN i'm WEAR - y OF con - SID - er - A (tions).
There are 5 metrical beats on the line. The tune of the line impels extra stress on the word weary.
The meaning and context make you say the line in a "tune" over the meter. Say it outloud in a
natural way and hear the way weary stands out.

The Poetics of Robert Frost - Examples


Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 20

Three Main Groups

Lyric My November Guest Mowing A Late Walk

Narrative Out, Out Love and a Question Brown's Descent
Dramatic Death of the Hired Man Home Burial The Witch of Coos


Stanzaic Form

Couplet The Secret Sits The Tuft of Flowers A Minor Bird

Tercet (Triplets) Acquainted with the Night A Star in a Stoneboat Provide, Provide
Quatrain Devotion Stopping by Woods Good Hours
Quintet My November Guest The Road Not Taken Bond and Free

.Sestet Spring Pools The Freedom of the Moon Closed for Good

Octave Nothing Gold Can Stay Two Tramps in Mud Time Love and a Question

Fixed Form

Sonnet Design Mowing The Silken Tent

Blank Verse Mending Wall Birches Out, Out
Continuous Form Storm Fear After Apple-Picking Mending Wall


Frost's quote, "I'd sooner write free verse as play tennis with the net down," applies as well to form
as it does to meter. For Frost, both form and meter were fundamental in the crafting of poetry. It's
important to know how much it meant to him.

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 21

Frost wrote, "There is at least so much good in the world that it admits of form and the making of
form. And not only admits of it, but calls for it. We people are thrust forward out of the suggestions
of form in the rolling clouds of nature. In us nature reaches its height of form and through us
exceeds itself. When in doubt there is always form for us to go on with. Anyone who has achieved
the least form to be sure of it, is lost to the larger excruciations. I think it must stroke faith the right
way. The artist, the poet, might be expected to be the most aware of such assurance. But it is really
everybody's sanity to feel it and live by it. Fortunately, too, no forms are more engrossing,
gratifying, comforting, staying than those lesser ones we throw off, like vortex rings of smoke, all
our individual enterprise and needing nobody's cooperation; a basket, a letter, a garden, a room, an
idea, a picture, a poem. For these we haven't to get a team together before we can play."

Frost wrote a little epigram called "Pertinax,"

Let chaos storm!

Let cloud shapes swarm!
I wait for form.

Form falls into general categories which overlay the terms of structure. Poems are said to be lyric,
narrative or dramatic. Thus a poem can be described as a lyric written in couplets, quatrains or
sestets (2, 4 or 6 line stanzas). There can be a narrative poem written in blank verse, continuous
structure (Birches). There can even be a dramatic narrative which has lyric overtones (Mending
Wall). Frost wrote in all these forms.

Lyric poetry is usually a short poem expressing personal thoughts and feelings. It is meditative. It
is spoken by a single speaker about his feelings for a person, object, event or idea. This type
poetry was originally sung accompanied by a lyre. Frost is primarily a lyric poet.

My November Guest is a lyric poem written in 5 line stanzas (quintets). The meter is tetrameter,
with a rhyming pattern abaab
Mowing is a lyrical sonnet with a very irregular rhyming pattern.
A Late Walk is a ballad-style lyric (tetrameter alternating with trimeter) rhyming the 2nd and 4th
lines in quatrains. The indentation sets off the rhymes.

Narrative poetry tells a story revealed by a progression unique to itself. There is a rising action, a
climax and a falling action.

Out, Out is a narrative in blank verse written in a continuous structure. (No stanzas, no breaks)
Love and a Question is a ballad (see below) written in 8 line stanzas (octaves)
Brown's Descent is a humorous narrative rhyming the 2nd and 4th lines in quatrains. The
indentation sets off the rhymes. The meter is tetrameter.

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 22

Note: The ballad is a narrative poem with stanzas of two or four lines and sometimes, a refrain.
They are written in straight-forward verse, seldom with detail, but always with graphic simplicity and
force. Ballads are generally written in ballad meter, i.e., alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and
iambic trimeter, with the last words of the second and fourth lines rhyming. Other Ballads: A Line
Storm Song, Wind and Window Flower.

Dramatic poems have speaking characters as in a little play. There can be monologues (1 person
speaking), dialogs (2 or more people speaking) and narratives. The Death of the Hired Man is often
called a dramatic narrative. Frost usually writes these in blank verse. The speeches follow no
stanzaic pattern, but the lines are metrical. Frost's second book North of Boston is most famous for
his dramatic pieces. He patterned many of them after Virgil's Eclogues. Frost's dramatic poems
comprise some of his best praised work.

To give Form in poetry is to use organization, shapeliness, and fitness to the content of the poem.
Form is structure. Frost believed that common verse forms are themselves metaphoric. A blank
verse line lays down a direct line of image, thought or sentiment. The couplet contrasts, compares
or makes parallel figures, ideas and feelings. The quatrain combines two couplets alternatively. The
sonnet gives a little drama in several scenes to a lyric sentiment. There are three types of form in
terms of how the poem is laid out on paper:

Stanzaic, Fixed and Continuous. Overlapping these forms, poetry falls into 3 main groups: Lyric,
Narrative and Dramatic, as noted above. Frost wrote in all of these forms

Stanzaic: A division of a poem made by arranging the lines into units separated by a
space, usually of a corresponding number of lines and a recurrent pattern of meter and
rhyme. A poem with such divisions is described as having a stanzaic form. The division of
lines can be:
Couplets - 2 lines - Couplets must rhyme. Frost was very fond of them.
Tercets - 3 lines - Used rarely
Quatrains - 4 lines - Most commonly used by Frost
Quintets - 5 lines - Used occasionally
Sestets - 6 lines - Used occasionally
Septet - 7 lines - Never used
Octave - 8 lines - Used occasionally

Fixed: A form of poetry in which the length and pattern are prescribed by previous usage
or tradition, such as a sonnet. In English poetry, the sonnet is the primary fixed form.The
limerick is also a fixed form. Frost never published this limerick he wrote just for fun:

Mary had a little lamb

His name was Jesus Christ
And God, not Joseph, was the ram

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 23

But Joseph took it nice.

The Sonnet.

A fixed form consisting of 14 lines of five-foot iambic pentameter having a rhyme

scheme. In the English (or Shakespearean sonnet), the 14 lines are grouped in
three quatrains (with six alternating rhymes) followed by a detached rhymed
couplet which is usually epigrammatic.

In the Italian (or Petrarchan sonnet), the 14 lines are divided into an octave of two rhyme-
sounds arranged abba abba and a sestet of two additional rhyme sounds which may be
variously arranged.

the octave presents a situation and the sestet a comment, or

the octave an idea and the sestet an example, or
the octave a question and the sestet an answer.

Robert Frost wrote many sonnets, however most of them could be called irregular,
not exactly following the rules of either form. Frost followed the rules and broke the
rules. He demonstrated technical skill and freedom of his material. His sonnets
include Into My Own, A Dream Pang, The Vantage Point, Acceptance, Once by the
Pacific, Meeting and Passing, Putting in the Seed, The Oven Bird, Range-Finding,
Acquainted with the Night, A Soldier, The Investment, The Birthplace, The Master

Blank Verse.

Unrhymed iambic pentameter. Frost wrote quite a bit of blank verse, which is not
the same as free verse (tennis with the net down). Blank verse is metrical (Review
Meter). Using Birches as an example, we can see how structured it is:

- ! - ! - ! - ! - !
When I / see birch / es bend / to left / and right (5 feet, or 5 accents all iambic)

- ! - ! - ! - ! - !
A - gainst / the lines / of straight- / er dark- / er trees (ditto)

- ! - ! - ! - ! - !
I like / to think / some boy's / been swing - / ing them (ditto)

- ! - ! - ! - ! - !
But swing - / ing does- / n't bend / them down / to stay (ditto)

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 24

Generally Frost lays in his first lines in the meter and form he wants to follow. His variations on that
style keep the reader guessing and off guard. By combining tone with meter, the poem becomes
easy and conversational. But regardless how tight his poetics are, Frost's intention is to "trip you
into the boundless."

Continuous Form

The lines of the poem are written without formal groupings. The only breaks are contained by the
meaning, which may be a series of analogies.

Storm Fear - The loose iambic pentameter which establishes itself in the first four lines as the
metrical pattern, is intermittently broken into nervous and jerky fragments, as though the speaker
interrupted himself to hold his breath, to listen. And the structural nervousness heightens the
tension of meaning.
After Apple-Picking - There are irregular rhymes and although the predominant meter is iambic
pentameter, there are quite a few irregular lines.
Mending Wall - Here the continuous pattern of the poem mimics the wall - all in one piece. The
metrics also mimic the wall with the accents coinciding with the meaning.

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 25


Sound devices, also known as "musical devices" make poetry a special art form. Frost called his
poems "talk-song" as a means of conveying his slant on the musical qualities of poetry. The 19th C.
Romantics, especially Poe, Coleridge and Swinburne carried musical delight in their poetics to an
extreme. Frost deplored this along with the lush exuberance of nineteenth century poetry. Frost
coined the idea of "the sound of sense" turning back to Wordsworth and Emerson as models even
while creating his own special style. Frost used everyday speech rhythms and plain language to
make poetry. Nevertheless, his poems are full of traditional sound devices that enrich his poetry. As
far as Frost was concerned, music did not mix with poetry. One thing he deplored was setting his
poems to music. Poems are made and meant to be spoken.

The Poetics of Robert Frost - Examples

Sound Devices

Nothing Gold Stopping by The Black

Assonance Ghost House The Silken Tent
Can Stay Woods Cottage
Looking for a
Nothing Gold Tree at my The Vantage
Consonance Mowing Sunset Bird in
Can Stay Window Point
Nothing Gold Stopping by
Alliteration Storm Fear Mending Wall The Silken Tent
Can Stay Woods
Nothing Gold Stopping by The Tuft of
Rhyme Devotion The Runaway
Can Stay Woods Flowers
The Sound A Patch of
The Runaway Spring Pools Home Burial Storm Fear
of Sense Old Snow

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 26

Acquainted with
Tune Provide, Provide Design Birches
the Night

It is not difficult to find alliteration, assonance and consonance in almost any Frost poem. We
present examples only as a means to show you how to find them. The use of these devices is part
of the craftsmanship of poetry - this is what makes language sound beautiful. Frost was a master of
sound. He said, "The sound is the gold in the ore."

In a taped discussion with Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren entitled "Conversations on the
Craft of Poetry," (1959) Frost made an interesting statement: "One of the things that I notice with
myself is that I can't make certain word sounds go together, sometimes they won't 'say.' This has
got something to do with the way one vowel runs into another, the way one syllable runs into
another. And then I never know -- I don't like to reason about that too much. I don't understand it,
but I've changed lines because there was something about them that my ear refused. And I
suppose it has something to do with vowels and consonants.... I don't want any science of it."

As with all poetic devices Frost used, he did not sit and plan them out. He instinctively knew how
he wanted his poems to sound. As a result of his excellent intuition, these things are there for us to
find. Frost enjoyed writing rhymed poetry, but he also wrote blank verse, which is unrhymed iambic
pentameter. Almost every poem written by Frost is highly metrical.

The relatively close juxtaposition of the same or similar vowel sounds, but with different end
consonants in a line or passage, thus a vowel rhyme, as in the words, "same day." Assonance
does not occur simply by having the same vowel spelling, eg. lost and most. Say the words
outloud. Tip: Assonance begins with a vowel and it governs vowels.

Nothing Gold Can Stay: only so; ... Note: the words "nothing gold" is not assonance. Nothing is
pronounced "nuth-ing" and gold is pronounced gold/old, that is with a long o.
The same applies to "can stay."
Stopping by Woods: ... the sweep / Of easy wind ... (long e's)
Ghost House: black bats (a's) (alliteration and assonance)
The Black Cottage: should sugar in the natal dew. (L 122) (alliteration and assonance)
The Silken Tent: sunny summer (alliteration and assonance)

The repetition of the same consonant sounds at the end of stressed syllables, but with different
vowel sounds, within or at the end of a line, such as "bad and sod", (d's) or "whe n furnaces burn",
(n's). Tip: Consonance begins with a consonant and it governs consonants.

Nothing Gold Can Stay: dawn goes down (n's) (alliteration and consonance)
Mowing: sound beside the wood (d's);

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 27

Tree at my Window: could be profound (d's); Mine with inner (n's) Note: here the stressed
consonant sound (n) is inside the word. Although the vowel is the same as spelled, it is a different
sound. The rule applies.
Looking for a Sunset Bird in Winter: died of cold (d's), thought....alight, sweet and swift (t's) and
The Vantage Point: : slope where the cattle keep, (p's);

The repetition of the initial sounds (usually consonants) of stressed syllables in neighboring words
or at short intervals within a line or passage, usually at word beginnings, as in "Jesse Jackson,"
who by the way, uses alliteration almost to excess. He is a very powerful orator who understands
the use of all these sound devices. Again, alliteration depends on sound, not spelling, thus chime
and cease are NOT alliterative. Used effectively, alliteration should create a connection or contrast
between ideas.

Nothing Gold Can Stay: Green is gold (g's) ; Her hardest hue to hold (h's) ; dawn goes down to day
Stopping by Woods: the only other sound's the sweep (o's and s's)
Storm Fear: When the wind whispers (w's) (alliteration and assonance) , the cold creeps (c's)
Mending Wall: old-stone savage
The Silken Tent: sunny summer (alliteration and assonance)

The repetition of the accented vowel sound and all succeeding sounds, as in old - cold, make -
wake, feign - rain.

What is important in Rhyme is the pattern of rhymes and the pairing of them against the meaning.
Frost delights in pairing words that rhyme in an uncommon context and that have not been
commonly used in poetry. He wouldn't waste his time rhyming life/wife. His rhymes still surprise the
reader for both their sound quality and their associations. Frost used many variations of rhyme
patterns. His most brilliant is "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," in which he rhymes 3 out
of the 4 lines in each stanza and then interlocks the unrhymed word as the primary rhyme in the
next stanza. In spite of this technical mastery, the poem is very fluid and effortless. You will almost
never see a forced rhyme in Frost's poetry.

Rhymes are diagramed to show the pattern, such as aaba which describes the first stanza of
Stopping by Woods: know - though- here - snow. Certain verse forms have prescribed rhyme
patterns such as sonnets. Again, Frost followed the rules and broke the rules. He showed his
technical ability but took freedom with his materials.

Frost liked using couplets - two lines of rhyming verse. He believed they were symbolic of life, of
things having two aspects of reality: good and bad, light and dark, etc. He often used the form of
Heroic Couplets - a poem consisting of a series of couplets with the thought complete in each of
the two lines (usually ended by punctuation)

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 28

Rhymes are said to be masculine and feminine depending on where the accent falls, thus

Masculine endings:
snow having only 1 syllable is accented making it masculine
be-low is accented on the last syllable making it masculine

Feminine ending:
sea-son is accented on the second to last syllable making it feminine

To rhyme a word like sea-son you need a word like reason, or treason. Frost made whole poems
with rhyme patterns of alternating feminine and masculine endings, as in "Reluctance." Note how
he indents to set off the endings:

Ah, when to the heart of man

Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

The extra syllable at the end of the feminine ending is considered "extra-metrical" and is not
counted for metric purposes. Thus the above stanza is written in trimeter - 3 accents per line. The
feminine ending creates a particular sound when used as a pattern.

Nothing Gold Can Stay: gold/hold, flower/hour etc - poem written in couplets
Stopping by Woods: See above - interlocking rhyme
The Tuft of Flowers: written in Heroic Couplets - see above
Devotion: two couplets written with feminine endings
The Runaway: The rhyming scheme of this poem is always noted in essays

There are 6 lines : aba cbc (fall-colt-wall head-bolt-fled) (note: colt-bolt)

then 7 lines : abc c abc
then 8 lines : aa b cc b dd

The Sound of Sense

This is a term coined by Frost and most importantly governs his theory of sound. Frost best
explained the concept in two letters he wrote when his first books of poetry were published, one
written to his friend John Bartlett on July 4, 1913 and the other to Sidney Cox on January 19, 1914.
(Worth reading in full, Selected Letters) Here are some excerpts: ..the sound of sense is "the
abstract vitality of our speech." "The best place to get the abstract sound of sense is from voices
behind a door that cuts off the words." Sounds.."are summoned by the audile imagination and they

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 29

must be positive, strong and definitely and unmistakenly indicated by the context." (sense). We get
"cadences by skillfully breaking the sounds of sense with all their irregularity of accent across the
regular beat of the meter." Frost's use of the sound of sense leads to his special interpretation of
tone. Still seems confusing, doesn't it. William Pritchard explains this idea very well in his book,
"Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered" pages 78-100.

My best attempt to explain it is that Frost writes in such a way that he makes you say the poem a
certain way. If you would have 3 people prepare to read a poem, and bring them in one by one to
recite it, you would find they all say it the same way, providing they spent the time to prepare it. The
meaning and intonation emanates from within. Here are some examples:

A Patch of Old Snow: the last line "If I ever read it." That last line is inevitably tossed off quizically
with the voice lowered. That tone leads the reader to the extended analogy that the news may be
as temporal as a patch of snow.
The Runaway: "Sakes, it's only weather" sakes is heavily accented, followed by ON-ly and it's tone
is gentle disdain. The last lines "Whoever it is that leaves him out so late / When other creatures
have gone to stall and bin / Ought to be told to come and take him in." Frost said he wrote those
lines for the aggreived tone of voice.
Spring Pools: "Let them think twice" a tone of gentle admonishing. The voice lifts and the finger
wags a bit.
Home Burial: "Don't, don't, don't, don't," she cried. "I'm not, I'm not." "If -- you -- do!" All those
emotions come through the words - the terror, fear, anger, denial, and anger again. The voice
inevitably builds those emotions into the words. There is no way to read Home Burial in a flat voice.
Storm Fear: Come Out! Come Out! -- The word "out" shouts a mighty challenge. The sound is fed
by the meaning and context of the poem. The voice imediately drops, "It costs no inward struggle
not to go./ Ah, No!" - the no comes back emphatically.

Frost often invited his readers to listen for the tune. This is one of those enigmatic terms he used
on the podium. Frost explained that there is a metric beat and a rhythm beat, but the tune is the
third thing. Frost strongly disagreed with the notion that poetry should be musical, but he did
believe that poetry had it's own tune, which may be the closest thing he ever acknowledged. He
once demonstrated how to count the 5 beats (of iambic pentameter) with your fingers and then play
the tune on top of that. See the example in "Birches" below.

Frost wrote, "All that can be done with words is soon told. So also with meters - particularly in our
language where there are virtually but two, strict and loose iambic ...The possibilities for tune from
the dramatic tones of meaning struck across the rigidity of a limited meter are endless." This is
what makes Frost's poetry memorable.

Acquainted with the Night: after reading it, Frost said, "All for the tune. Tune is everything." On
another occasion, "Listen for the tune."
Provide, Provide: after reading it Frost said, " There's plenty of tune to that."
Design: Frost said, "That one hasn't any tune at all."

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 30

Birches: "It's when I'm weary of considerations." This line is perfect iambic pentameter, with an
extra metrical (feminine) ending. ( it's WHEN i'm WEAR - y OF con - SID - er - A (tions). There are
5 metrical beats on the line. The tune of the line impels extra stress on the word weary. The
meaning and context make you say the line in a "tune" over the meter.


There are numerous and sometimes conflicting text book definitions of tone:

"The poet's or persona's attitude in style or expression toward the subject, e.g., loving, ironic, bitter,
pitying, fanciful, solemn, etc. Tone can also refer to the overall mood of the poem itself, in the
sense of a pervading atmosphere intended to influence the readers' emotional response and foster
expectations of the conclusion." (Glossary of Poetic Terms from BOB'S BYWAY)

"The writer's or speaker's attitude toward his subject, his audience, or himself; the emotional
coloring, or emotional meaning, of a work." (Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry by
Laurence Perrine)

"The word tone in literary discussion is borrowed from the expression tone of voice. Tone is the
manner in which a poet makes his statement; it reflects his attitude toward his subject. Since
printed poems lack the intonations of spoken words, the reader must learn to "hear" their tones
with his mind's ear. Tone cannot be heard in one particular place since it reflects a general attitude,
it pervades the whole poem." (Poems: Wadsworth Handbook and Anthology by C. F. Main & Peter
J. Seng)

"Tone expresses the poet's attitude toward his audience. We all experience tone in everyday life. A
speaker's placing of emphasis, his tone of voice, his facial expression, even his gestures all help
the hearer to determine the speaker's meaning and attitude." (The Order of Poetry, An Introduction
Bloom, Philbrick and Blistein)

Mata Kuliah : Poetry / Suyarmanto 31

None of the text book definitions of tone given above seem to resolve the exact meaning of the
term. It continues to present a difficulty for this writer to understand the term exactly and to relate it
to Frost's poetry as we have done with meter, metaphor and rhyme. When Frost spoke and wrote
about his poems, he always mentioned tone. As with many of his theories, he had his own twist.
Tone is the central idea of Frost's "sound of sense." To him, it meant voice tones.

When Frost explained his theory of the sound of sense, he said tone is what comes through a
closed door when people are speaking out of earshot. We cannot understand the exact words, but
the tones of voice tell us what is going on. You can tell if the voice is pleading, demanding or
doubtful. These living voice tones can be heard in Frost's poems.

Frost explained, "It's tone I'm in love with; that's what poetry is, tone." "That tone is everything, the
way you say that 'no.' (Job in The Masque of Reason) I noticed that - that's what made me write
He said he wrote the last lines of The Runaway just for the "aggrieved tone of voice." In Spring
Pools, you can see the finger wag a bit as the speaker says, "Let them think twice.."

"Everything written is as good as it is dramatic...Sentences are not different enough to hold the
attention unless they are dramatic...All that can save them is the speaking tone of voice some how
entangled in the words and fastened to the page for the ear of the imagination." (Frost in Preface to
A Way Out)

Frost believes that tone gives variety. He said, "you've got to get dramatic." It is therefore hard
sometimes to identify an overall tone in a Frost poem because he is consciously changing them.
Frost wrote poetry in a speaking voice and the tone(s) are essential to the drama. This applies just
as well to The Death of the Hired Man as to Nothing Gold Can Stay.

These examples were given by Frost himself to explain his use of tone:

A Patch of Old Snow

There's a patch of old snow in a corner,

That I should have guessed

Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is specked with grime as if

Small print overspread it.
The news of a day I've forgotten --
I I ever read it.

Frost explained the first stanza is "merely ordinary and bookish." He relied on the reader's
recognition of the snow and blow-away newspapers and the transient nature of news. The first 6
lines set up the situation for the last two where he makes you drop your voice to expose the irony
of the last line ... "If I ever read it." That is classic Frostian tone and sound of sense. Frost imparts

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the tone through the sense or meaning of the ongoing situation. If you get several people to read it,
you will hear that they all read the last line alike. Frost has a way of making the reader say the lines
in a certain way.

Frost believed it was the tone and the sound of sense which conveyed art in poetry. Poetry should
be about things we recognize, things common in experience, BUT delightful in the uncommon way
a thing is said: "All the fun's in how you say a thing." He wanted the living sound of speech to come
off the printed page and into the reader's ear or audile imagination.

Here is another example Frost gave of changing tones:

The Pasture
I'm going out to clean the pasture spring; (light, informing tone)
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away ("only" tone - reservation)
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may): (supplementary, possibility)
I sha'n't be gone long. -- You come too. (free tone, assuring) (after thought, inviting)
"Rather well for me" --

I'm going out to fetch the little calf (Similar, free, persuasive, assuring
That's standing by the mother. It's so young, and inviting tones in second stanza)
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha'n't be gone long. -- You come too.

And more from Frost, "The visual images thrown up by a poem are important, but it is more
important still to choose and arrange words in a sequence so as to virtually control the intonations
and pauses of the reader's voice. By the arrangement and choice of words on the part of the poet,
the effects of humor, pathos, hysteria, anger, and in fact, all effects, can be indicated or obtained."

Now if we think again about the definitions of tone, we can say: tone, as Frost used it, does
indicate the emotional intent of the poet, the speaker and the overall attitude of both. The textbook
definitions speak to the ultimate result of the use of tone, while Frost actually addresses how this is
accomplished with the use of voice tones. Frost was not interested in idioms and intonation to be
quaint. He consciously wrote the sound of talk including vernacular tones in order to expand his
poetry and to convey meaning to the reader.

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Frost's Style

Of all his poetic elements, Frost's style seems the hardest to pin down. Actually one cannot pin it
down, but something could be said to further our un-enlightenment. Let's begin with what Frost said
about style in a letter to his friend Louis Untermeyer dated March 10, 1924

Dear Old Louis:

Since last I saw you I have come to the conclusion that style in prose or verse is that which
indicates how the writer takes himself and what he is saying. Let the sound of Stevenson go
through your mind empty and you will realize that he never took himself other than as an
amusement. Do the same with Swinburne and you will see that he took himself as a wonder. Many
sensitive natures have plainly shown by their style that they took themselves lightly in self-defense.
They are the ironists. Some fair to good writers have no style and so leave us ignorant of how they
take themselves. But that is the one important thing to know: because on it depends our likes and
dislikes. A novelist seems to be the only kind of writer who can make a name without a style: which
is only one more reason for not bothering with the novel. I am not satisfied to let it go with the
aphorism that the style is the man. The man's ideas would be some element then of his style. So
would his deeds. But I would narrow the definition. His deeds are his deeds; his ideas are his
ideas. His style is the way he carries himself toward his ideas and deeds. Mind you if he is
down-spirited it will be all he can do to have the ideas without the carriage. The style is out of his
superfluity. It is the mind skating circles round itself as it moves forward. Emerson had one of the
noblest least egotistical of styles. By comparison with it Thoreau's was conceited, Whitman's

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bumptious. Carlyle's way of taking himself simply infuriates me. Longfellow took himself with the
gentlest twinkle.

Now that Frost explained it, do we understand his style?! Here's another excerpt from
Frost's lecture before the Winter Institute of Literature at the University of Miami, in 1935. The talk
was entitled "Before the Beginning and After the End of a Poem":

Frost said, "In the creative act, a certain impulse or state of mind precedes the writing of the
poem. Next comes what Stevenson called 'a visitation of style', a power to find words which will
somehow convey the impulse."

Certainly an essential element of Frost's style is his choice of words or diction. He uses everyday
words you would use in conversation. Frost writes his sentences with meter and rhythm to enhance
their beauty. He also uses many poetic devices adding to the craftsmanship of the poem.

In 1931, Isidor Schneider called Frost's style "gnomic." William Rose Benet said, "Frost is no
transcendentalist." Cleanth Brooks wrote Frost's character or poetic mask may be described as
"the sensitive New Englander, possessed of a natural wisdom; dry and laconic when serious;
genial and whimsical when not; a character who is uneasy with hyperbole and prefers to use
understatement to risking possible overstatement." Possibly, Brooks explains best in Frost's own
criteria: "style is the way he carries himself toward his ideas and deeds."

Let's try to identify another poet's style. T. S. Eliot can certainly be termed a disillusioned urban
aristocrat. Emily Dickinson, a introspective soul, a house hermit, perhaps a bit mad, and terribly
connected to an inner world. Does this fit? "Style is the way he carries himself toward his ideas
and deeds." Ernest Hemingway's style was that of the adventurer, soldier of fortune.

We know what "style" means in terms of one's dress. Style embellishes one's persona and signals
the observer what to expect - what is in character. A poet's style can be like that too. Frost said, "It
is the mind skating circles round itself as it moves forward." You have to think of that carefully - the
mind making figure eights, spins and displays, showing off prowess.

Frost is the rural Yankee who writes about everyday experiences - his own experiences, but he
was one who saw metaphorical extensions in the everyday things he encountered. The
experiences are his subject matter along with the rural setting of New England nature, seasons,
weather and times of day. This raw material accounts for one of the enduring qualities of his poems
because these things are timeless - they are still in our consciousness - still a part of our lives.
Regardless of subject and setting, Frost's metaphorical extensions and his mastery of form are his
true genius.

Frost believed that the subjects of poetry should be "common in experience," that it should speak
of familiar things everyone recognizes, BUT "uncommon in expression."

"All the fun's in how you say a thing."

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Poetry should not try to tell us something we don't know, to reform us, or even teach us. To Frost,
the poem should cover familiar ground, but say it in an unfamiliar way. If the poet succeeds, "the
poem will keep its freshness like a metal keeps its fragrance."

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