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Explication of Robert Frost's Mowing

By jesushchristy Apr 19, 2011 724 Words
There was never a sound beside the wood but one,A
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.B
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;C
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,Aextra syllable Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—B
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.Dextra s. / emphasis It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,Eemphasis
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:Cemphasis
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weakD
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,F
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowersE
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.G
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.Femphasis My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.Gemphasis  
Robert Frost

The speaker of the poem is the mower himself. It cannot be determined from the sonnet whether or not the speaker is actually male or female. His age is also undetermined, but we can assume that he is at least young enough to wield a scythe. After long periods of time, a scythe can easily fatigue someone, so I envision a man who is no older than fifty at the most. He has a high level awareness for nature and also believes in the poetry of nature. He does not seem to be addressing anyone in particular. It’s possible that he is only speaking to himself.

My response to the speaker is neither positive nor negative since he is performing a neutral action of “mowing.” If there are negative aspects to this errand that he is doing then it is not made apparent in the sonnet. A scythe is no longer commonly used to do mowing so this places the reader in a certain time period. It is difficult to say, but this might also place us in Europe since the scythe is still used in some places today.

Reading the poem aloud helps emphasize the “silence” that Frost is trying to convey in his sonnet. The continuous pulse of “s” sounds is used making the poem sound like a whisper in itself. Frost makes sure not to put words that begin with an “s” close to each other, but spreads them out rather evenly through the poem. The point of this whisper is to demonstrate the only sound that the mower is hearing. He does not consider the sound magnificent, but rather a low murmur that the scythe makes as it works as demonstrated by the last line. Frost also describes it’s sound as “no dream” as if to say that the work itself was rewarding enough. It was not necessary to apply a more romantic meaning. The rhyme scheme of this poem is ABC ABD ECD FEG FG. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I don’t believe Frost was following a rhyme scheme albeit it is apparent that he is paying attention to rhyme. In a way, his lack of metered rhyme also contributes to the silence he is trying to convey. The only musical mechanism used in this particular sonnet is the “s” sound.

The back and forth motion of the scythe is occasionally achieved by the ordering of words within the poem. For instance, “perhaps it was something” and “something perhaps.” Frost also uses the word “whisper” four times in the poem, giving it a repetitive feel.

On the lines that I have bolded in the poem, Frost takes liberty with the sonnet form and creates an emphasis on the words he is trying to express. “Did not speak” punctuates that the scythe only whispered and didn’t speak. It did not proclaim itself as something to be noticed. “Of the gift of idle hours” is highlighted to show the reader that this “dream” was not the product of boredom or recreation. It was a reward from hard work. “Fay and elf” further supports that notion since a fay and elf are both imaginary creatures and are directly in contrast to the concrete ideals of work. “That labor knows” further articulates that this dream is rooted in work and concludes the notion with “and left the hay to make.”

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