20 October 2009
Robert Frost’s West Running Brook: A Couple’s Convoluted Conversation
In West Running Brook, Robert Frost utilizes the metaphor of the brook, repetitive syntax, mysterious diction and contrasting imagery to emphasize the importance of effective communication between the sexes, the subordination of a woman by her husband, and the futility of fighting against the natural flow of existence. The conversation between Fred and his wife illustrates the epitome of a typical flaw in marital relationships: the misinterpretation of distinct stated words. Critics such as Swennes affirm that the couple maintains “love and mutual understanding” (364). However, throughout the poem, the husband imposes his ideas of life upon his wife. Swennes deduces that there was “no attempt to hide feelings” between Fred and his wife, yet the entire dialogue confounds the husband with puzzling diction and the wife does not show offense to her husband’s mocking (371). The majority of the poem is from the male speaker’s perspective, of how life means nothing and there is no point going against the ‘current’ of the brook. Fred, the main speaker in West Running Brook, dictates the symbolism of the brook to his wife. The tone of the husband is serious and negative throughout his reflection on life and existence, while the wife maintains an amusing and light tone. The wife tries to tell her husband of her pregnancy, while he talks philosophically about the constant struggles of life. The husband overrules the wife in the conversation, and talks of their place in the universe, while cutting down his wife’s attempts to get him to understand. Main themes raised include the short lifespan of humans, the importance of communicating efficiently, the subordination of women by their own husbands, and that any effort leads to nothing in life. Frost runs the poem as a normal conversation, with free verse structure, repetitive syntax, without any rhyme scheme, and internal rime within stanzas. The woman speaker uses the vehicle of the brook as a metaphor to get her husband to understand that she is expecting. The woman links herself and Fred together in lines 10-12 through the use of caesura and internal rime: “I can with you—and you with me—” and “Because we’re—we’re— I don’t know what we are. / What are we?” Playfully toying with the same words, the wife shows their strength together as a successful couple unified by the fact that they “go by contraries” against the norm of society. She emphasizes the word “we’re” and asks her husband what he thinks of their marriage as a method of getting her husband engaged in the conversation and to listen to the message she attempts to deliver. She stammers, insinuating that her nervous tone considering her insecurity in how her husband will take the news of her pregnancy. The wife starts to drop hints at the fact that she is having a baby. The first clue is in stating “we three” referring to Fred as the role of father, the woman speaker as mother, and the brook as the future child (15). Fred does not pick up the hint, and she continues onward in lines 16 through 18 using imagery to foreshadow their role as protective parents: We’ll build
Our bridge across it, and the bridge shall be
Our arm thrown over it asleep beside it.
The wife attempts to unify herself to her husband, and warm him up to the idea of having a child. She remains ambiguous with her wording, but uses nurturing diction to imply that they will make a new structure over the brook, and protect the baby with their arms, yet the husband still does not grasp the point. Her light and comforting tone unfortunately is not forceful or clear enough, thus her husband digresses on the idea with his own interpretation of the brook. Fred misinterprets his wife’s view as the brook as a metaphor for his future child, and tries to make some sense of the brook in his own way. According to Heuston, Fred...