It was not dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows . . .
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
Frost explores several aspects of the human experience in his poetry. In “Mowing,” Frost explores the human response to hard work and labor. In these lines from the poem, the speaker describes the purpose and joy that honest and true labor brings him. He explains how his scythe, or farming tool, does not speak of idleness or easy wealth but rather tells of how this job or labor provides the “sweetest dream.” This speaker’s reflection on the accomplishment he feels from hard work clearly connects to the theme of human experience.
The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,
That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,
And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone[.]
The speaker in Frost’s poem “The Tuft of Flowers” identifies the important human experience of isolation versus companionship. The speaker follows a butterfly and sees a tuft of flowers left by the mower. The speaker, believing the mower left the flowers simply because they are beautiful, feels a connection to this mower in their shared appreciation of nature. While the speaker does not work directly with the mower, he shares a kinship with him through this tuft of flowers, their shared appreciation for nature, and their parallel jobs. Through this poem, the speaker identifies the theme of the human experience through finding companionship even when he’s isolated.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat his cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head: . . .
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
In Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” the speaker explores the theme of human experience as he questions the purpose of walls, the effect walls have on people, and if he wants to act as a wall-builder or a wall-breaker. In these lines, the speaker wonders why he and his neighbor fix the wall between them each spring, and he even goes so far as to reassure his neighbor that his apple trees won’t harm the other’s pines. The speaker questions the old practice of keeping a wall, which reveals his inner conflict between desiring isolation and craving companionship. Despite questioning the yearly ritual, the speaker initiates the rebuilding by letting his neighbor know when it’s time to fix the wall.
“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 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.[”]
Frost explores the theme of human experience in the poem “Home Burial” through grief, communication breakdown, and feelings of isolation. Here, the wife/mother character speaks to her husband about how she can’t understand how he could dig their child’s grave so easily and mechanically. She clearly misunderstands his actions as their grief and coping methods differ so drastically. The husband/father digs the grave simply because the digging must be done. In this contrast, their communication breaks down, which only allows misunderstandings and hurt feelings to grow. They are both left feeling isolated in their very different grieving processes.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear . . .
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
In the poem “After Apple-Picking,” Frost explores the theme of human experience through the speaker’s reflection on his life choices and experiences. Here, the speaker comments on his life’s journey by using the apple picking as a metaphor. The speaker seems to mourn his loss of youth, revisiting his life’s choices, pointing out his unfinished tasks, and trying to accept that the end looms near. While this “end” could reference death or simply a retirement from hard labor, the speaker is clearly preparing for the next phase in his life while reflecting on past life choices.
I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labor of his ax,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.
In Frost’s poem “The Wood-Pile,” a woodpile in the middle of the frozen swamp becomes a symbol of life’s natural decline, connecting the poem to the theme of human experience. In these lines, the speaker wonders why the person who labored over this cut wood would simply forget the fruits of his labor and let the wood decay in the swamp rather than serve as fuel for a fire in a home. However, the speaker also seems to recognize that all hard work and experiences will eventually lead to physical decline and death. As the speaker escapes into this natural setting, he cannot escape the human experience of life’s natural deterioration.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” can be interpreted in many ways, but ultimately, the theme of human experience rings in all interpretations. Here, using the metaphor of walking through the woods, the speaker examines how life is full of choices that affect our lives in one way or another. However, the speaker also clearly expresses that he believes that one can never truly know which choices are best and one must choose what feels right at the time, even if that choice seems less popular. The speaker recognizes how life moves and flows forward no matter what, and therefore, he must accept the choices he has made. The last line reveals that the speaker feels content with the path he chose and, as he can never know where the other path could have taken him, finds peace in his decision.
He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
In the poem “Birches,” Frost uses the idea of swinging on birches to examine the theme of human experience as the speaker explores the “swing” of life between youth and adulthood, imagination and reason, and heaven and earth. Here, the speaker reflects on finding the right balance in life between escaping reality and being brave enough to return to earth. The speaker seems to understand that as life can be harsh, one is allowed to escape for a time, as long as one comes back to reality. At the end of this quote, the speaker states that he hopes to reconnect with this life balance.
The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
In the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Frost examines the theme of human experience as the speaker shares a moment of feeling isolated, escaping responsibility, and reflecting on life. In these lines, the speaker starts by celebrating the isolation of this natural space by using affirmative words such as “easy” and “lovely.” The only sounds that intrude on the speaker’s thoughts are produced by the wind and snow. Thus, he is allowed to steep in silence and feel a moment of inner peace and rejuvenation. Yet, as quickly as he notes the loveliness of his surroundings, his thoughts return to the “promises” he must keep, or his responsibilities. At the end, the speaker’s repeated phrase emphasizes that while he enjoys this momentary pause, he accepts that he must return to and dwell in reality.