This is a seemingly simple poem about small pools created by melting snow, however as in most of his poetry, Frost manages to extract significant implications from this natural phenomenon by mischievously playing with nuances, metre, rhythm and rhyme. Frost makes simple observations on everyday matters – often leading to complex profound imponderables. Some poems have the simplicity a child can grasp, yet they end up with possibilities that could confound a sage. His suggestive meanings plumb fathomless depths.
Manly people mistakenly categorise Frost as a Romantic poet. His poetry is certainly pastoral and bucolic, however his attitude to nature is not necessarily positive. He suggests an indifference, if not a malign or sinister force in nature often indicated by references to “dark” images.
These pools that, though in forests still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and to be summer woods –
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.
The key to any analysis of the written word is often in subtle variations on language, tone, through sound patterns that reinforce the subject and enhance the sense of meaning. Frost’s metrical virtuosity aids meaning and dramatizes the scene.
Words, symbols, images, are riddled with equivocation, nuance, and connotations. He playfully and mischievously delineates the paradoxes, the absurdities and the ironies of life by subtle restrained and controlled satire. Frost moves from observation to reflection to mischievous pondering over life’s mysteries but seldom provides conclusive arguments; he leaves the conclusions up to the reader:
It takes all sorts of in and outdoor schooling
To get adapted to my kind of fooling.
The poem begins with a paean to nature, where the pools “reflect The total sky almost without defect”, but then begins to question the perverse changes brought about by nature. A recurring theme in Frost is discontinuity; that Nothing Gold Can Stay. The water in the pools does not drain away but is soaked up by the roots of trees “to bring dark foliage on”, destroying not only these clear pools but by inference also killing the beautiful flowers as well as creating darkness. By inference this could refer to the loss of innocence experienced by us in the transition from childhood to adulthood.
It may be significant that there is no human protagonist or antagonist present, however the trees become personified with the cautionary and accusatory “let them think twice before they use their powers….”
The conjunction “but” provides emphasis to the word “by” so it is stressed as strongly as “roots”. ,The adjectives “their pent-up buds” and the infinitive verbs, “to blot out and drink up and sweep away” attest to their destructive power. The forcefully stressed “to blot out and drink up” further reinforce a negative connotation.
Further confirmation of Frost’s attempt to emphasise his dark view of nature is in metrical and rhyme variations. The rhyme scheme is fairly regular: a,a b, c, b, c. then: d, d, e, f, e, f with d a para-rhyme. The b’s and e’s are feminine endings in that they finish on a down beat or unstressed syllable.
The variety of metrical variations also disturbs the smooth reading of the poem. The first line is iambic, followed by a spondee (two stressed feet) in lines two and ten - , “to blot out and drink up, breaking the comfort of regular rhythm. Again in line six, “to bring dark foliage on.
The “dark foliage” is a common motif in Frost’s poetry echoed in Stopping by a Woods… and in Mending Wall.
This poem is a good example of Frost’s craftsmanship in exquisite use of sounds of words to effect meaning through the mastery of rhyme, assonance metre and rhythm. Sound is inseparable from meaning.
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