Nature Imagery in the Works of Robert Frost

March 20, 2022 by Essay Writer

Many of Robert Frost’s poems explore the splendor of the outdoors. In poems such as “A Prayer in Spring” and “To the Thawing Wind,” the speakers show appreciation of nature’s beauty surrounding them. However, “A Servant to Servants” is a contrast to the typical Frostian nature poem. The poem’s speaker, the wife of a hard-working farmer, no longer takes pleasure in her beautiful surroundings. She feels trapped in a life that, to her, seems meaningless, under appreciated by her husband and the hired hands she cooks for. She explains her monotonous daily routine and subtly reveals her desperation. The speaker knows she is falling victim to the insanity that runs in her family, but although she perceives what is happening, she is unable to change her situation.Frost wrote “A Servant to Servants” using iambic pentameter, although he varies the meter, such as in line 20, “Like a deep piece of some old running river.” This, aided by his frequent use of enjambed lines, makes the poem sound more conversational, rather than following a rigid meter. He includes colloquialisms in the woman’s speech so that the reader hears a realistic farm woman. There is no apparent rhyme scheme, also adding to the conversational flavor of the dramatic monologue. A rhyme in a serious poem like “A Servant to Servants” would run the risk of de-emphasizing the poem’s content while calling more attention to the rhyme. This is evident in “Blueberries”, where Frost writes rhymed couplets throughout the poem and cannot help but create a lighter tone. At the start of “A Servant to Servants,” the speaker is conversing with a man who has been camping on her land. She reveals her happiness that he is there and mentions that she had meant to visit him. “I promised myself to get down some day / And see the way you livedŠ / With a houseful of hungry men to feed / I guess you’d findŠ” (3-6) Although she wanted to see how her guest was living, she is trapped by the routine of her endless cooking duties. She didn’t take the initiative to visit him, which reveals that she does not see the possibility of change in her monotonous life. Even a disruption in her schedule for a quick visit was impossible.Then the speaker explains that she no longer feels emotion and has trouble expressing herself, foreshadowing the inevitability of her fate. “I can’t express my feelings any more,” she says. “It’s got so I don’t even know for sure / Whether I am glad, sorry, or anything.” (7, 11-12) She goes on to describe the lake outside her window as an example. It’s evidently a beautiful thing to look at, but she no longer enjoys it. Perhaps the lake represents the freedom that exists in nature‹a freedom the speaker cannot have in her role as an under-appreciated wife and cook. She has to “make [her]self repeat out loud / The advantages it has.” (18-19) This refers back to her statement that because she doesn’t feel emotion, she has to tell herself “how I ought to feel.” (14) She wants to conform to her role, but although she knows what she “should” think and what she “should” feel, she cannot think or feel these things. The lake, just like her life, has lost its beauty.Then, she asks the man how he had heard of their land. Frost does not write the camper’s responses in the poem, unlike conversational poems such as “The Generations of Men” or “The Fear.” There is no need to break up the woman’s monologue with insignificant words of an outsider. “A Servant to Servants” focuses entirely on the speaker’s rambling speech to the camper, who merely provides the audience she needs. Interrupting her stream of consciousness would only disrupt the poem’s flow. However, the woman repeats the man’s answer, making it known that he heard of her land in a fern book. “In a book about ferns? Listen to that! / You let things more like feathers regulate / Your going and coming,” she says, amazed at her guest’s whimsical behavior. (35-7) Again, nature represents freedom. The speaker wishes that she could come and go as she pleased, living in the simplicity of nature, but she is chained to her daily routine.The speaker then reveals some characteristics of her husband, Len. He is an optimist, totally absorbed in his work, believing that their land will be worth something with time, and that his wife will “be all right / With doctoring.” (46-7) However, just as no one appreciates the land, the speaker is likewise unappreciated. She knows that living such a mundane, meaningless life is slowly driving her insane, yet she accepts this. She needs a break “From cooking meals for hungry hired men / And washing dishes after them‹from doing / Things over and over that just won’t stay done,” yet the speaker takes Len’s advice that “the best way out is always through.” (50-2, 56) She knows that there is no escaping her destiny. “As that I can see no way out but through‹ / Leastways for me‹and then they’ll be convinced.” (58-9) She knows that she is beyond the help of doctors and their medicine, but Len is so caught up with his work, “from sun to sun,” that he doesn’t notice his wife’s deteriorating situation.She tells the camper about the indolent hired hands that take advantage of her absorbed husband. The woman resents that she has to continuously cook and clean up after these lazy men, “great good-for-nothings, / Sprawling about the kitchen with their talk / While I fry their bacon.” (76-8) Although she works as hard as her husband, even the hired men don’t appreciate her efforts. She is a “servant to servants.”The speaker then describes the insanity that runs in her family. She had been put into the State Asylum at one point in her life, but feels that the state institution is better than being kept at home. It was the common belief that the asylum was the “poorhouse,” and those who could afford it should care for mentally ill family members. She argues that at the asylum, “they have every means proper to do with, / And you aren’t darkening other people’s lives‹ / Worse than no good to them.” (98-100) Perhaps this is foreshadowing her own situation‹she already feels unnoticed in her work. Also, the speaker comments that “You can’t know / Affection or the want of it in that state,” referring back to her remark that she no longer feels emotion. (101-2) She seems unable to avoid her progressing insanity.The woman’s uncle had been mentally ill, kept in a cage of hickory poles built by his family. Because he would tear up any furniture they tried to give him, “they made the place comfortable with straw, / Like a beast’s stall, to ease their consciences.” (120-1) This physical cage may be symbolic of the speaker’s own cage‹her unsatisfying life and unbreakable routine. Though the family meant well by caring for the speaker’s uncle, they reduced him to the state of an animal. This experience is probably why the woman is in favor of the State Asylum. “I’ve heard too much of the old-fashioned way,” she admits. Her uncle would yell at night, keeping her mother awake. “She had to lie and hear love things made dreadful / By his shouts in the night,” the speaker describes. (131-2) She goes on to say that “they found a way to put a stop to it.” (140) This “way” is not revealed, allowing the reader to imagine what they could have done to quiet the caged man.Although the uncle died before the speaker was born, the cage remained upstairs‹a constant lurking presence of madness. The woman would joke, “It’s time I took my turn upstairs in jail,” again foreshadowing her own insanity. When she finally moved away with Len, she thought the change would make her happy. However, she had merely escaped from one unfavorable set of circumstances to the next. She had her attractive natural surroundings, but “the change wore out like a prescription,” she states ironically. (161) The beauties of nature couldn’t mask unhappiness caused by her situation. However, she seems to accept her impending insanity, speaking in a matter-of-fact tone about such subjects. She says, “I’m past such help‹ / Unless Len took the notion, which he won’t, / And I won’t ask himŠ / I s’pose I’ve got to go the road I’m going.” (163-6)Then, she seems to remember that the camper is listening to her soliloquy. She mentions that she wishes she could live as he does‹to “drop everything and live out on the ground.” (170) She quickly changes her mind, saying that she may not like the night in the outdoors, or the rain. Although her mundane life behind kitchen walls constrains her, she is drawn towards it. There is no escaping the inevitable. She sees herself too weak to live as the camper does. “I haven’t courage for a risk like that,” she explains. She knows the only way out of her seemingly meaningless existence is to break the routine that imprisons her, but she is unable to do it. She knows that she is destined to insanity, yet accepts this without a battle. She even jokes about it when speaking of the hired hands, saying, “I’m not afraid of them, though, if they’re not / Afraid of me.” (85-6) She tells the camper, “The worst that you can do / Is set me back a little more behind. / I sha’n’t catch up in this world, anyway.” (182-4)Finally, the speaker answers the question that the camper had most likely come to ask. “I’d rather you’d not go unless you must.” (185) She wants to see an example of someone living freely‹someone who can travel from place to place, based on locations he reads about in fern books. The camper is a foil to the speaker. While he is capricious, taking what nature gives him, the woman is trapped by routine and looming insanity, unable to change her fate. Because she has no hope for herself, she enjoys thinking about and watching this man taking pleasure in nature that she no longer finds beautiful.A constant symbol in this poem is nature representing freedom. Like her tragic uncle, the speaker is trapped in a cage‹the endless job of cooking for her husband’s hired men. This task will never bring her satisfaction, and yet she has no other options. She is the wife of a farmer, with limited finances and limited opportunity. Although she appreciates the idea of living in freedom like the camper, she knows that for her, this is impossible. Nature has lost its beauty because she knows she will never be the recipient of the freedom it represents. The outdoors used to take “[her] mind off doughnuts and soda biscuit / To step outdoors and take the water dazzle / A sunny morning,” but it no longer has this effect. She has accepted her fate as the wife of a man too absorbed in his work to notice her, and as an unappreciated cook for hired men, a servant to servants.

Read more