by Robert Frost
He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: ‘What is it you see
From up there always—for I want to know.’
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time: ‘What is it you see,’
Mounting until she cowered under him.
‘I will find out now—you must tell me, dear.’
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,
Blind creature; and awhile he didn’t see.
But at last he murmured, ‘Oh,’ and again, ‘Oh.’
‘What is it—what?’ she said.
‘Just that I see.’
‘You don’t,’ she challenged. ‘Tell me what it is.’
‘The wonder is I didn’t see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it—that’s the reason.
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound—’
‘Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,’ she cried.
She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs;
And turned on him with such a daunting look,
He said twice over before he knew himself:
‘Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?’
‘Not you! Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it!
I must get out of here. I must get air.
I don’t know rightly whether any man can.’
‘Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time.
Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs.’
He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
‘There’s something I should like to ask you, dear.’
‘You don’t know how to ask it.’
‘Help me, then.’
Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.
‘My words are nearly always an offense.
I don’t know how to speak of anything
So as to please you. But I might be taught
I should suppose. I can’t say I see how.
A man must partly give up being a man
With women-folk. We could have some arrangement
By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
Though I don’t like such things ’twixt those that love.
Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
But two that do can’t live together with them.’
She moved the latch a little. ‘Don’t—don’t go.
Don’t carry it to someone else this time.
Tell me about it if it’s something human.
Let me into your grief. I’m not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there
Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother-loss of a first child
So inconsolably—in the face of love.
You’d think his memory might be satisfied—’
‘There you go sneering now!’
‘I’m not, I’m not!
You make me angry. I’ll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it’s come to this,
A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.’
‘You can’t because you don’t know how to speak.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn’t know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don’t know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.’
I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed.’
‘I can repeat the very words you were saying:
“Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build.”
Think of it, talk like that at such a time!
What had how long it takes a birch to rot
To do with what was in the darkened parlor?
You couldn’t care! The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretense of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!’
‘There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won’t go now. You’re crying. Close the door.
The heart’s gone out of it: why keep it up.
Amy! There’s someone coming down the road!’
‘You—oh, you think the talk is all. I must go—
Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you— ?’
‘If—you—do!’ She was opening the door wider.
‘Where do you mean to go? First tell me that.
I’ll follow and bring you back by force. I will!—
Summary of Home Burial
- Popularity of “Home Burial”: Home Burial is a famous dramatic narrative about the personal loss of a family and its impacts on their domestic affairs written by Robert Frost, a famous American poet. It was first published in 1930. The poem comprises grief and trauma of a mother over the death of her son. It also illustrates how this incident has shaken her marital relationship. The popularity of the poem, however, lies in the presentation of a true emotional response of a mother.
- “Home Burial” As a Representative of Sorrow: The poem presents a grim picture of the family after losing their only son. The mother is distraught when she sees her son’s grave. The memory of that heart-wrenching incident disturbs her, and her husband fails to understand the reason for her stress. Her husband’s ignorance insights a tensed conversation between them. She dislikes his obliviousness and desires to leave the house. He begs her to express the reason for her indifferent behavior, but she does not and remains inconsolable. She escapes from the suffocating air of the house which continually reminds her of their son’s death. She leaves her home while the husband promises to bring her back using force and they remain in this conflict.
- Major Themes in “Home Burial”: The mental breakdown, the loss of a child and the collapse of a marriage are the major themes in the poem. The poem presents a family disturbed by the death of their son. While the husband accepts the biological sequence of life and the reality of death, the mother is traumatized with intense grief, leaving her mentally ill. Moreover, the communication gap between them restricts them to express their sorrow. The husband wants her wife to express her anger and anxiety, but she blames him for being so composed and for accepting the tragic stroke of life.
Analysis of Literary Devices in “Home Burial”
Literary devices play a pivotal role in shaping a literary piece of work. The writer uses them to bring uniqueness and depth in the simple texts. Robert Frost has also given this poem depth and clarity with the appropriate use of these literary devices. The analysis of some of the devices used in this poem is given below.
- Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /o/ in “If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t” and the sound of /a/ in “Making the gravel leap and leap in air”.
- Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /t/ in “Think of it, talk like that at such a time” and the sound of /s/ in “The way he says they’re in the sunlight on the sidehill”.
- Enjambment: Enjambment refers to the continuation of a sentence without the pause beyond the end of a line, couplet or stanza. For example,
“And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.”
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things with the use of their five senses. For example, “He saw her from the bottom of the stairs”; “and You had stood the spade up against the wall” and “And turned on him with such a daunting look.”
- Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /l/ in “I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed” and the sound of /t/ in “If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t”.
- Metaphor: The poem has a few implied metaphors. It is used to compare objects that are different without mentioning them. For example, “‘Not you! Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it! I must get out of here. I must get air”. Here the home is compared to a trap, and that is how the mother feels after the demise of her son. In the second example, “No, from the time when one is sick to death, one is alone, and he dies more alone” the mother’s grief compared to death.
This literary analysis shows that Robert Frost has beautifully used literary devices to make his poem not only appealing and thought-provoking but also open new dimensions for further interpretations.
Analysis of Poetic Devices in “Home Burial”
Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.
- Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are eight long stanzas in this poem.
- Blank verse: It is a type of verse that does not follow any specific rhyme scheme. This poem is written in a blank verse form.
- Repetition: There is a repetition of the line, “What is it you see” and “like that, like that” which has created a musical quality in the poem
- Refrain: The lines that are repeated at some distance in the poems are called refrain. The line, “What is it you see” is repeated with the same words, it has become a refrain as it has been repeated thrice in the first stanza.
Quotes to be Used
The below verse can be used to help somebody to overcome strong emotions such as anger, pain or grief.
“There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won’t go now. You’re crying. Close the door.
The heart’s gone out of it: why keep it up.”