Romeo and Juliet Prologue Analysis, Line by Line

If you are struggling to make sense of the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, try this handy line-by-line analysis.

We start first with the prologue in its entirety and a quick summary of the facts. Then, we move on to a translation and explanation of each line individually. To make things easier, the prologue is repeated in full again at the end of the analysis.

This analysis may make writing essays a bit easier as well.

The Prologue to Romeo and Juliet

Two households, both alike in dignity

(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-marked love

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, naught could remove,

Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage—

The which, if you with patient ears attend,

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

  • The prologue is a sonnet with 14 lines of iambic pentameter in an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme

  • It sets the scene for the play by hinting at most of the action to come

  • It describes the setting and basic conflict in the first stanza of four lines

  • The next four-line stanza describes the young lovers and their dilemma

  • The third stanza tells how the family feud will finally end in tragedy, and explains the focus of the play

  • The last two lines remind the audience that there is more to come when the play is acted onstage

Rhyme Scheme and Iambic Pentameter

The rhyme scheme, as you may note, is ABAB, and all lines are in iambic pentameter. Note how the lines have been broken up to show the meter:

[1] Two house / holds, both / alike / in dig / nity (A)

[2] (In fair / Vero / na, where / we lay / our scene), (B)

[3] From an /cient grudge / break to / new mu / tiny, (A)

[4] Where ci / vil blood / makes ci / vil hands / unclean. (B)

Review Iambic pentameter and Romeo and Juliet sonnets.

Two high-class families have been fighting for years in the city of Verona, Italy. They are soon to become embroiled in violence again. Their old grudges will erupt in bloodshed and stain their hands.

Two families, both equally respected

Note the perfect iambic pentameter of this line: Two HOUSE/ holds BOTH / a LIKE / in DIG /ni TY. The two households referred to here are the Capulets and Montagues.

The Montagues and The Capulets

Both families are equally high in rank within the city of Verona. Remember that in the time period of the play, a “household” might include extended family, friends, and servants. So, the two households could make up a large part of the population of a smaller town.

A complete discussion of the line: Two households both alike in dignity,

In the pleasant city of Verona, where this play will take place

Verona is in northern Italy. The play is intended to take place in the 14th or 15th century. That would be about 100 years in the past, to Shakespeare’s audience.

This line simply makes clear that the setting of the play will be in Italy, not England.

An old grudge and simmering resentment between the two families will burst into new violence.

The Capulets and Montagues have a long-standing feud that affects everyone in town. Even their servants hate each other. Though this feud has not erupted in violence for awhile, it will soon do so.

The very first scene of the play (the one that follows this prologue) is a brawl that starts because of some harsh words between the servants of both families.

The violence of the fighting between these families puts blood on the hands of civilians.

The Montagues and Capulets get blood on their hands, when they should really be avoiding this kind of low-class brawl.

A Double Meaning

Consider the play on words here with the two uses of the word “civil.” Even though they are supposed to be “civil” or seemly, decent, and well-behaved families, not soldiers, they still shed blood and are guilty of violence.

Also think of the image created by hands being unclean and stained with blood. These two things are examples of the poetic use of language in this prologue.

Rhyme Scheme and Iambic Pentameter

Note the rhyme scheme that continues according to the pattern of a sonnet. The iambic pentameter continues as well, even though it is not marked.

[5] From forth the fatal loins of these two foes (C)

[6] A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, (D)

[7] Whose misadventured piteous overthrows (C)

[8] Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife. (D)

Two lovers are born from these warring families. Their death will cause the Montagues and Capulets to finally end their feud.

These two enemies bore children.

“From forth the fatal loins” is a reference to birth. Loins is another word for the area between the legs. A baby comes forth from its mother’s loins.

Referring to them as “fatal” implies immediately that the outcome may be deadly for the child or parent. “These two foes” are the Montagues and the Capulets.

In the next line, we are to discover that there will be two children, one from each family.

Two lovers are born from the families. Their love is doomed by fate because of their birth to warring families.

“Star-crossed” is the phrase that implies fate. The stars, or fates, are against the lovers from the start, as if their astrology dooms them. We can assume that one child will be a boy, and one will be a girl, and that they will fall in love.

We do know that Romeo is the boy born into the Montague family and Juliet is the girl born into the Capulet family.

What does “Take Their Life” Mean?

“Take their life” can be read two ways: to take life from (or be born), or to take life away from (or kill). In other words, the prologue gives you a hint about how this play will end, with the lovers taking their own lives.

“Take their life” means, on the surface, that these two children gain life from their mothers. However, since we know that both Romeo and Juliet commit suicide, the phrase “take their life” has a double meaning that foreshadows later events.

Whose struggles and defeats should inspire our pity.

This line is likely placed to enhance the rhythm of this sonnet. Its meaning is somewhat ambiguous. Misadventures are bad adventures, or bad experiences. Piteous implies that we should feel great sympathy for the lovers.

The Meaning of “Misadventured Piteous Overthrows”

The word “overthrows” refers to a lesser-known definition of the word. It is: “a removal from power, a defeat or downfall.” In this case, “overthrows” refers to their attempts to thwart the hatred between the families and turn it to love.

In their love, Romeo and Juliet rebel against the family feud. Thus, the lovers will have bad experiences worthy of pity and eventually be defeated. However, keep in mind that we have to stretch pretty far to come up with this interpretation.

When the lovers die, the Montagues and Capulets finally stop fighting.

The death of Romeo and Juliet is pre-determined with this line. The audience now knows how the story will end. The two lovers will die and the families will end the feud because of this.

Also note the double meaning of burying strife with death. When the lovers die, they are buried. The conflict between the families dies as well, and is buried along with Romeo and Juliet.

Rhyme Scheme and Iambic Pentameter

This third set of four lines is the third stanza. Note the rhyme scheme continues with the sonnet pattern:

[9] The fearful passage of their death-marked love (E)

[10] And the continuance of their parents’ rage, (F)

[11] Which, but their children’s end, naught could remove, (E)

[12] Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage (F)

The fear-filled and thrilling story of how the lovers died, and how that death was the ONLY thing that could end the feud, these are the things we will perform onstage today. The play will tell the story of how the feud was ended by the death of the two young lovers.

The thrilling story of their doomed love that will cause them to die

“Fearful passage” is a poetic way of saying the progress of their love is full of fear. In Shakespeare’s time, this also meant a story was thrilling to the audience.

Their love is marked for death from the very beginning. We are again reminded that the end of the story will be tragic. We begin the play by knowing the end of the story.

What we don’t know is HOW that end will come about.

And the anger that continues between the lovers’ parents…

This line depends on the next line to make it complete. But, it begins by telling us that the story will include the continuing anger between the families. It implies that this “rage” will negatively affect everyone.

The real meaning comes in the next line.

The anger was so strong that, except for the death of their children, nothing could take it away.

Shakespeare has a tendency to reverse the order of words. In this line, that is most apparent. What it says is: only the death of the children could take away the rage. “Naught” means nothing.

So when we read “naught could remove” it means “nothing could remove.”

This line combines with the line before it in order to make sense.

The complete meaning, then, is: The continuing feud between the Montagues and Capulets will only be ended because of the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.

Nothing else would be strong enough to end the hate.

Is what we will perform for you here on this stage.

The chorus is now telling the audience that the whole story just laid out will be performed on the stage.

“Two hours traffic” means that for the next two hours, the performers will come and go onstage to enact the story. It is somewhat odd that the line says two hours.

In general, Shakespeare’s plays were much longer than two hours. They often lasted several hours or even an entire afternoon. This anomaly is interesting to people who wish to look deeper.

Rhyme Scheme and Meaning

Note that the last two lines rhyme with each other, creating a final couplet as required by the format of a sonnet.

[13] The which, if you with patient ears attend, (G)

[14] What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. (G)

This couplet has a simple meaning. It tells the audience that “If you pay attention to the play, everything will become clear. All the details missed in the prologue will be revealed in the performance.”

This performance, if you will listen carefully and be patient

The play will tell the whole story, if the audience will watch closely. “Attend” means to pay attention. We know that the audience does more than listen, but Shakespeare chooses to use the word ears, implying that listening to the words will be important. This makes sense because of the poetry of the play.

The actors will work hard to perform this story and fill in any details this prologue leaves out.

“What here shall miss” means: What has not been said here in this prologue. The chorus explains that the upcoming play will cover many more events that were mentioned.

Using the words “toil” and “strive” implies that the performers will be taking great care to demonstrate the story. The key thing to keep in mind is that the entire prologue is a setup to this final line.

This line is the introduction to the play, preparing the audience to get ready and pay attention.

The Prologue to Romeo and Juliet

[1]– Two households, both alike in dignity (A)

[2]– (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene), (B)

[3]– From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, (A)

[4]– Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. (B)

[5]– From forth the fatal loins of these two foes (C)

[6]– A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, (D)

[7]– Whose misadventured piteous overthrows (C)

[8]– Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife. (D)

[9]– The fearful passage of their death-marked love (E)

[10]- And the continuance of their parents’ rage, (F)

[11]- Which, but their children’s end, naught could remove, (E)

[12]- Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage— (F)

[13]- The which, if you with patient ears attend, (G)

[14]- What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. (G)

Romeo and Juliet Epilogue Analysis

The epilogue to Romeo and Juliet is spoken by Prince Escalus at the very end of the play. After the bodies of Romeo and Juliet have been discovered, Friar Laurence makes a full confession explaining the series of events.

Lord Montague and Lord Capulet clasp hands and promise to make peace. They also swear to raise two beautiful statues in Verona’s town square as monuments to their children. Prince Escalus then speaks the famous lines:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings.

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.

Some shall be pardoned, and some punishèd.

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

The Romeo and Juliet Epilogue: Poetic Structure

The epilogue to Romeo and Juliet is similar to a Shakespearean sonnet in both meter and rhyme scheme.

Shakespearean sonnets have 14 lines with a specific rhyme scheme and meter. The typical rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Shakespearean sonnets are written in iambic pentameter.

The epilogue to Romeo and Juliet is written in iambic pentameter. It has a rhyme scheme of ABAB CC. However, it is only six lines long, so it cannot officially be called a sonnet. A line-by-line analysis will yield a more complete understanding of the poetic devices and deeper meaning of the words..

In some performances, he faces the audience and delivers he epilogue as a soliloquy. A soliloquy is a speech given by a character that is addressed directly to the audience. The other characters onstage cannot hear the speaker.

In other performances, the director may choose to have Prince Escalus deliver the speech as a monologue. A monologue CAN be heard by the other characters onstage. It is a speech intended to be addressed to the characters themselves.

Need a reminder about the difference between monologue and soliloquy?

A glooming peace this morning with it brings,

This morning brings a sad and gloomy kind of quietness to us now.

At the start of the epilogue, the Prince of Verona (Prince Escalus) begins to speak the closing lines of the play. He says that peace comes this morning, but that it is a sad and gloomy kind of quiet.

The best way to understand the meaning of this line is to rearrange the order of the words. Thus, the Prince of Verona is saying:

This morning brings a sad and gloomy kind of quietness to us now.

Demonstration of iambic pentameter in this line:

A GLOOM ing PEACE this MOR ning WITH it BRINGS

Note the pattern of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

Need a reminder about iambic pentameter? Check out Three Sonnets in Romeo and Juliet or watch the video below.

The sun for sorrow will not show his head.

Even the sun is too sad to show its face

The Prince says that sun itself wont’t even come out form behind the clouds. The image is one of a cloudy, overcast morning. The sun is hidden behind the clouds. One can picture all the families and townspeople gathered by the stone monument in the graveyard, under a gloomy, clouded sky.

Romeo and Juliet are both dead, and the sun itself is also sad for all the events that have occurred. Even the sun has sorrow for the young couple who died tragically.

A demonstration of iambic pentameter in this line:

The SUN for SO rrow WILL not SHOW his HEAD.

Notice that there are 10 syllables in the entire line, divided into five pairs.

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things

Go out from here now, and talk more about all these very sad events.

Prince Escalus tells everyone to leave the graveyard now. They are to “go hence”– meaning go out from here, probably back to their homes. He says that there will be more talk about these events.

It is not entirely clear whether the townspeople should talk amongst themselves, or whether the Escalus will talk with each of them to determine justice. The next line implies that there will be some conversations to determine who is really responsible.

A demonstration of iambic pentameter in this line:

Go HENCE to HAVE more TALK of THESE sad THINGS

This is a good and easy example because every word in this line is a different syllable. That makes it mush easier to look at the meter of the line.

Some shall be pardoned and some punished.

Some of the people involved with be forgiven, and some of the people will be punished (by the law)

There are many characters who could be implicated in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Friar Laurence has already made his confession and been pardoned by the Prince of Verona.

The Nurse helped Romeo and Juliet to have their wedding night before Romeo’s banishment. After that, the Nurse advises Juliet to Marry Count Paris and forget all about Romeo. Her role in the tragedy is one that could be punished.

The Montague and Capulet families are also responsible because they continued the feud.

A demonstration of iambic pentameter in this line:

Some SHALL be PAR don’d AND some PUN ish ED

Note that in this line, the stress on the end of the word punished changes how it sounds. I seems to draw the word out and add emphasis.

For never was a story of more woe

This story (of Juliet and Romeo) is the saddest story that has ever been told- there has never been a story that is this sad.

Prince Escalus is saying that this story is one of the saddest stories that has been told. The story is certainly sad because there are so many points at which the tragedies could have been prevented.

Romeo and Juliet might have lived if Tybalt had not killed Mercutio. If Friar John had delivered the letter to Romeo in Mantua, Romeo would have known that Juuliet was only sleeping.

The Prince does not name specific incidents, he simply refers to the overall tragedy.

A demonstration of iambic pentameter in this line:

For NEver WAS a STOry OF more WOE

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

This story of Juliet and Romeo (is the saddest story ever told)

In the last line, the lovers are named again. This restates the love between the two young people and reminds the audience of the events of the play.

It’s not a complete recap of the play, but the epilogue still serves to review and put closure on the story.

A demonstration of iambic pentameter in this line:

Than THIS of JULiet AND her ROmeO

The Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene: Analysis and Explanation

What Is the Balcony Scene in Romeo and Juliet?

The famous balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet occurs in act two, scene two of Shakespeare’s well-known play. Within the balcony scene there are several very important events that take place. Each one builds the intensity of the passionate attraction between these two iconic lovers.

What Happens in the Balcony Scene?

Romeo climbs the Capulet family’s garden wall, and sees Juliet alone on her balcony. Unaware that Romeo is nearby, Juliet sighs and speaks her feelings of love out loud. Romeo declares himself to Juliet, and she warns him of the danger of being there. Romeo and Juliet swear their true love to each other, plan a secret marriage, and finally say good night.

To recap, the key events in order are:

  • Romeo sees Juliet
  • Juliet thinks she is alone
  • Romeo declares himself
  • Juliet warns of danger
  • Romeo and Juliet swear their love
  • Romeo and Juliet plan their secret marriage
  • Romeo and Juliet finally say good night

Why Is the Balcony Scene so Important?

In Romeo and Juliet, the balcony scene solidifies the bond of love for both characters. In the scene, Romeo and Juliet are completely alone for the first time. There is tension because of the danger that they may be discovered, but that simply adds to the excitement of the scene.

The balcony scene is critically important to the development of the plot of the play because it is during this scene that the lovers’ secret marriage is decided. Juliet will not give up her honor. Sher insists on marriage, or no relationship at all. Romeo is happy to pursue a wedding, and intends to enlist the help of Friar Laurence.

This development puts a central plot point in place. The marriage of Romeo and Juliet creates complications that drive the intensity of the conflicts in the rest of the play.

Famous Quotes in the Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene

The Romeo and Juliet balcony scene contains some of the most familiar quotes from the play. Contained in this scene are several famous lines.

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

Perhaps the most misunderstood of all of Shakepeare’s quotes, this line appears very early in the balcony scene. Juliet is NOT asking where Romeo is. She is asking why he has to be Romeo, a Montague.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…

This philosophical statement is uttered by Juliet as she tries to come to terms with the fact that the man she loves is part of her family’s most hated rival clan.

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

Romeo speaks these famous words as soon as he sees Juliet standing alone on her balcony, framed within the shape of her bedchamber window.

Parting is such sweet sorrow…

When the lovers do, at last, say good night, it is after several goodbyes and returns. It is very late and they have made secret plans to be married.

Summary of the Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene

First, Romeo climbs over the wall of the Capulet orchard. He’s escaping the taunts of his friends, who simply do not understand his infatuation with Juliet. Romeo speaks disdainfully of them, saying “He jests as scars who never felt a wound.”

Almost immediately, Romeo sees Juliet leaning on her balcony. He speaks of her beauty as he listens to her speak her thoughts of love aloud. Juliet thinks she is in private, so she talks freely of her love for Romeo. Romeo, after several worrisome moments, announces himself, and swears his love. He startles Juliet, and she warns him how dangerous it is for him to be in the Capulet garden.

Next, Romeo swears his love clearly, and asks for Juliet’s feelings in return. She acknowledges that she loves him, but says she will accept only honorable love and a marriage proposal. Romeo implies that he want to marry her, and the two make secret plans for the following day. They finally part, and Romeo states that he will go immediately to find Friar Laurence to arrange the wedding details.

Analysis of the Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene

The balcony scene serves to develop the characters of Romeo and Juliet so that the audience can begin to sympathize and identify with the young people.

It also builds a certain amount of tension and danger with the constant threat of discovery. Not only does Juliet warn Romeo about the danger, but she also protects him form being discovered by the Nurse. The Nurse calls Juliet several times during the scene, giving the audience the feeling that they may be discovered at any time. This add suspense throughout the scene.

There is more to the scene than just the content. There are some complex poetic elements as well. The famous balcony scene is 210 lines long, and composed entirely in blank verse. Blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter. In the balcony scene, both Romeo and Juliet speak all their lines in this distinctive meter.

Romeo Says “He jests at scars that never felt a wound”

The scene begins with Romeo climbing into the Capulet family garden. He states that his friends can not understand his feelings because they have never been in love. That’s what Romeo means when he starts the scene with the line:

He jests at scars that never felt a wound.

Romeo continues with his monologue. He describes Juliet’s beauty with powerful metaphors and begins to build up his courage so that he might speak to her.

A Metaphor: Juliet Is the Sun

Then, Romeo sees Juliet on the balcony. He stops, and exclaims how beautiful she is. He uses the metaphor of the sun to describe how light and lovely she appears to him. He continues to expand on the metaphor by describing that the moon would be jealous of Juliet (the sun) because Juliet, as the sun, is much more beautiful than the moon itself.

Romeo. But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief,

That thou her maid art far more fair than she.

Romeo Wants to Speak, but Does Not Dare

Romeo looks up at her, and says that Juliet is his love. He wishes she knew how much he loves her. He notes that she is not speaking out loud, but the look in her eye shows that she might feel the same love for him. He is overcome with nerves, and holds back because he feels he is being too bold.

Romeo. It is my lady, O, it is my love!

O, that she knew she were!

She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?

Her eye discourses; I will answer it.

I am too bold, ’tis not to me she speaks:

Another Metaphor: Juliet’s Eyes are Bright Stars

Romeo compares Juliet’s eyes to stars in a complicated way. He says that the stars have business to do elsewhere, so they have asked Juliet’s eyes to shine in heaven. Her eyes, as stars, shine so brightly that even the birds will think that is it daytime.

Romeo. Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,

Having some business, do entreat her eyes

To twinkle in their spheres till they return.



…her eyes in heaven

Would through the airy region stream so bright

That birds would sing and think it were not night.

Romeo Calls Juliet an Angel

Romeo says that Juliet is just like an angel, because she stands on the balcony above his head. He says she is just as magnificent as an angel flying above in the air.

Romeo. O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art

As glorious to this night, being o’er my head

As is a winged messenger of heaven



When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds

And sails upon the bosom of the air.

Juliet believes she is alone in the garden. She stands on the balcony and talks to herself. She is thinking about Romeo and about how much she loves him. She is very conflicted, though, because Romeo is a Montague. The Montagues are the sworn enemies of the Capulets.

What “Wherefore Art Thou” Really Means

Juliet asks herself, WHY?? Why does the man she loves have to be Romeo Montague? In this line, Juliet is not asking where Romeo is. She is simply asking why must he be Romeo Montague?

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

So, you can see this line has nothing whatsoever to do with where Romeo is. Juliet has no idea that he is in the garden below her. She is just talking to herself, and wishing that Romeo could be some other name- or some other family.

Juliet Admits Her Feelings

Juliet speaks to the air, but imagines she is speaking to Romeo. She tells him to deny his family and get rid of his name. If he will not, then she will denounce her own name, and leave her family behind for him.

Juliet. Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

Romeo makes a quick aside, wondering if he should listen more to Juliet’s private thoughts, or if he should speak and announce his presence.

Juliet Considers the Meaning of a Name

Then, Juliet continues to muse aloud on her love, and the nature of names. She is, in essence, saying that the name of Montague is her enemy, not Romeo himself.

Juliet.‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.

She goes onto say that the name is not any part of the actual person. A name is just a word, not the thing itself. Juliet cries out her deep desire that Romeo would have some other name.

Juliet.What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

A Rose By Any Other Name

Using the example of a rose, Juliet says a rose would be just as lovely if it had a different name–any other name, just like Romeo.

Juliet.What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

She extends the example with Romeo:

Juliet.So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title.

Juliet Offers Her Love

At the end of this section, Juliet repeats her wish for Romeo to abandon his name, in exchange for her true love.

Juliet.Romeo, doff thy name,

And for that name which is no part of thee

Take all myself.

Romeo makes himself known to Juliet and she is startled. She asks who it is that has been hiding in the dark. Juliet is wanting to know who the person is that has been listening to her thoughts and words:

Juliet. What man art thou that thus bescreen’d in night

So stumblest on my counsel?

Romeo, cleverly, reveals himself and also answers Juliet’s earlier wishes. He says that he cannot tell his name, because he knows the name is her enemy. He says the name is hateful to him, also. If he had his name written on a piece of paper, he would rip it to shreds. That’s how much he hates the name.

Romeo. By a name

I know not how to tell thee who I am:

My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,

Because it is an enemy to thee;

Had I it written, I would tear the word.

Juliet recognizes Romeo’s voice, and asks hi if he is, indeed, Romeo Montague.

Juliet. My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words

Of that tongue’s utterance, yet I know the sound:

Art thou not Romeo and a Montague?

Romeo immediately demonstrates his willingness to let go of his name. This also implies that he is ready to receive Juliet’s love as well. He says he will be neither Romeo nor a Montague, if either one of those names makes Juliet unhappy. He does this very simply, by saying in response to her question:

Romeo. Neither, fair saint, if either thee dislike.

Juliet asks Romeo how he got into the garden, and why he has come there. Take note of the word “wherefore” again here. It clearly means “why” in this case, too.

Juliet is asking why Romeo would climb the difficult walls and place himself in so much danger. She’s asking why she would take the risk of being killed if her family finds him in the garden with her.

Juliet: How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?

The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,

And the place death, considering who thou art,

If any of my kinsmen find thee here.

Romeo Is Not Afraid

Romeo says he came to garden on the light wings of love, because even heavy stone walls cannot hold love out. He says that love will try to do everything that is possible. He is not afraid of Juliet’s family because he has so much love.

Romeo. With love’s light wings did I o’er-perch these walls;

For stony limits cannot hold love out,

And what love can do that dares love attempt;

Therefore thy kinsmen are no let to me.

Juliet is afraid that Romeo will be killed. Romeo says he is more afraid of a bad look from Juliet than any other danger- even twenty swords could not frighten him as much as her disapproval. Likewise, he also says that if she looks at hims sweetly, he will be immune, or protected, from their hatred.

Juliet. If they do see thee, they will murder thee.

Romeo. Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye

Than twenty of their swords: look thou but sweet,

And I am proof against their enmity.

Romeo Would Rather Die than Live Without Juliet’s Love

Of course, Juliet does not want this, and she says so clearly. Romeo reassures her that he can hide here in the dark.

He adds that he doesn’t even care if they find him, as long as Juliet loves him. He would rather die by violence from the Capulets than try to live without her love.He would not want his death delayed at all, if he had to live without the true love of Juliet.

Juliet. I would not for the world they saw thee here.

Romeo. I have night’s cloak to hide me from their sight;

And but thou love me, let them find me here:

My life were better ended by their hate,

Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love.

Juliet has a famous monologue in this part of the scene. This is a complex monologue that bears analysis all by itself. As a part of this scene, though, the monologue can be broken into several parts.

Juliet’s Monologue: She Swears Her Love

First she playfully says that she would like to stand on ceremony and deny what she has spoken, but she cannot.

Juliet. Thou know’st the mask of night is on my face,

Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek

For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night

Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny

What I have spoke: but farewell compliment!

Juliet then asks for Romeo’s answer as to whether or not he loves her. She says she will play hard to get, if necessary- but only so that Romeo will come closer.

Juliet. Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say ‘Ay,’

And I will take thy word: yet if thou swear’st,

Thou mayst prove false; at lovers’ perjuries

Then say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,

If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully:

Or if thou think’st I am too quickly won,

I’ll frown and be perverse an say thee nay,

So thou wilt woo; but else, not for the world.

Finally, Juliet completely admits that she loves Romeo. She is worried that her behavior is not ladylike, and knows that she should be more reticent. But, she says, her love is true and strong. She also comments that she gave her feelings before she knew that Romeo was nearby.

Juliet. In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond,

And therefore thou mayst think my ‘havior light:

But trust me, gentleman, I’ll prove more true

Than those that have more cunning to be strange.

I should have been more strange, I must confess,

But that thou overheard’st, ere I was ware,

My true love’s passion: therefore pardon me,

And not impute this yielding to light love,

Which the dark night hath so discovered.

Romeo Swears by the Moon

Romeo responds by swearing on the moon, but Juliet stops him. Juliet says that the moon is not reliable. She does not want Romeo’s love to be inconsistent. She does not want his love to be like the moon

Romeo. Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear

That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops—

Juliet. O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,

That monthly changes in her circled orb,

Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

Juliet Makes Romeo Her God

So, Romeo asks what he should use to swear his love, and Juliet says that he can swear upon himself, because he is a god to her. She says she will believe anything he says in that case.

Romeo. What shall I swear by?

Juliet. Do not swear at all;

Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,

Which is the god of my idolatry,

And I’ll believe thee.

Romeo. If my heart’s dear love—

Juliet Tries to Say Good Night

Juliet now seems to have second thoughts about staying out in the dark with Romeo. She swears that she adores Romeo, but has not joy in their rash actions, so she tries to say goodnight. She swears her love in subtle words, and shows that she has hope for the future.

As a side note, it is this set of lines that give a hint as to the time of year the play takes place. Juliet mentions that their new love may blossom in the summer. In another scene, Juliet’s birthday is said to be a little ways in the future, on Lammastide, which is August 1st.

Juliet. Well, do not swear: although I joy in thee,

I have no joy of this contract to-night:

It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;

Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be

Ere one can say ‘It lightens.’ Sweet, good night!

This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,

May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.

Good night, good night! as sweet repose and rest

Come to thy heart as that within my breast!

Romeo Asks For Juliet’s Vow

Romeo will not let Juliet go so easily. He tries to keep her near him, and asks for her to exchange her love’s vow with his.

Romeo. O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?

Juliet. What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?

Romeo. The exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.

Juliet Swears Her Devotion

Juliet now gives her lover the words he has been longing to hear. She says her love for him is as infinite as the sea.

Juliet. My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite.

Juliet’s nurse calls from within, and Juliet must go. She promises to return quickly, and tells Romeo:

Juliet.Stay but a little, and I will come again.

It is Juliet who first speaks the idea of marriage. She tells Romeo that it must marriage for her, or nothing at all. Juliet insists on an honorable match. She will give Romeo everything she has if he will marry her. If he will not, she tells him to leave her alone to grieve, and, presumably, die.

Juliet. —

If that thy bent of love be honourable,

Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow,

By one that I’ll procure to come to thee,

Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite;

And all my fortunes at thy foot I’ll lay

And follow thee my lord throughout the world.



But if thou mean’st not well,

I do beseech thee—

To cease thy suit, and leave me to my grief:

Romeo agrees quite readily to this plan, and with a few interruptions fro the Nurse, the two lovers have it settled. Juliet goes inside, only to reappear a few seconds later.

Juliet. Romeo!

Romeo. My dear?

Juliet. At what o’clock to-morrow

Shall I send to thee?

Romeo. At the hour of nine.

The very next morning, at nine o’clock the marriage will be arranged, and the lovers plan to be husband and wife only a few hours after they meet.

Finally, the two lovers say good night, and part company. Romeo plans to seek out Friar Laurence immediately to request his services and arrange the wedding.

Juliet. ‘Tis almost morning; I would have thee gone:

And yet no further than a wanton’s bird;

Who lets it hop a little from her hand,

Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,

And with a silk thread plucks it back again,

So loving-jealous of his liberty.

Romeo. I would I were thy bird.

Juliet. Sweet, so would I:

Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.

Good night, good night! parting is such

sweet sorrow,

That I shall say good night till it be morrow.



Romeo. Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast!

Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest!

Hence will I to my ghostly father’s cell,

His help to crave, and my dear hap to tell.

How to Say “I Love You” in Tagalog: Filipino Words and Terms of Endearment

If you’re looking to impress your Filipina wife/girlfriend or Filipino husband/boyfriend, or perhaps, you want to express love to your children, parents, friend, or family member, then use some of these common terms of endearment in Tagalog. They’ll be floored!

Filipinos believe in a true, everlasting love that will ride out the highs and lows of even a rollercoaster-ride-like relationship. There’s something about our culture that makes us expect love and makes us want to give even more love in return. This means that we’re believers in love in its truest, purest, and yes, even cheesiest form!

So get ready, and start studying these Filipino words and expressions about love!

1. “Mahal kita”

This is the most common way to say “I love you” in Tagalog. You can use this with a romantic partner or a family member. You will hear this phrase exchanged between parents and children as well as between lovers and spouses.

2. “Iniibig kita”

This is an archaic phrase that also translates to “I love you,” but it is now outdated. I would not recommend using this. It is a phrase you might come across in old literature and is reserved for very serious lovers. It should not be used to express love between family members.

3. “Mahal din kita”

This phrase means “I love you too.”

4. “Mahal na mahal kita”

“I love you very much.” Reserved for when you want to place extra emphasis on how you feel about someone.

Wish-heart

This is a commingling of the words “wish” and “heart.” The origins are unclear, but the meaning of the word is similar to the word “sweetheart.”

Ni

This word is short for honey. It is a very common term used by parents or grandparents to address their children or grandchildren.

Mahal

This word simply means “love.” This is very commonly used by couples who are dating or by married couples. It is sweet and simple.

Mahal kong anak

This term means “my beloved child,” but it is a bit dramatic. To affectionately refer to your children, opt for “iho” (when addressing a son) or “iha” (when addressing a daughter).

Old-Fashioned Terms of Endearment

These are only used in poems and songs, but are otherwise obsolete.

  • Giliw (dear)
  • Irog (dear one)
  • Sinta (darling or sweetheart)

You never know when the love of your life will ask you a question in their native tongue. Surprise them by responding with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’—or something in between!

Robert Frost’s “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things”

In “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things,” featuring six rimed quatrains (ABCB rime scheme in each), the speaker focuses on a house that has burned, leaving only its chimney visible.

(Please note: The spelling, “rhyme,” was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see “Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.”)

The Need of Being Versed in Country Things

The house had gone to bring again

To the midnight sky a sunset glow.

Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,

Like a pistil after the petals go.

The barn opposed across the way,

That would have joined the house in flame

Had it been the will of the wind, was left

To bear forsaken the place’s name.

No more it opened with all one end

For teams that came by the stony road

To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs

And brush the mow with the summer load.

The birds that came to it through the air

At broken windows flew out and in,

Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh

From too much dwelling on what has been.

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,

And the aged elm, though touched with fire;

And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;

And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

For them there was really nothing sad.

But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,

One had to be versed in country things

Not to believe the phoebes wept.

The speaker in this Robert Frost poem muses on the connection between the natural world and the human world, as Frost’s speakers often do.

First Quatrain: Observing a Burned-Out Home

The house had gone to bring again

To the midnight sky a sunset glow.

Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,

Like a pistil after the petals go.

The house had burned at midnight, but the event is a not a recent one, as the reader learns in subsequent quatrains. The speaker imagines that the burning house caused the midnight sky to erupt in a similar flame.

The speaker fashions a flower image. But the leaves of the flower have all blown away while the pistil still remains. The pistil, of course, is represented by the chimney that is still standing in the rubble of the house’s remains.

Second Quatrain: An Abandoned Farm

The barn opposed across the way,

That would have joined the house in flame

Had it been the will of the wind, was left

To bear forsaken the place’s name.

In the second quatrain, the reader learns that this is a farm and not only the house was disturbed by the blaze, but the barn might have been destroyed as well, if the wind had not shifted. Interestingly, the speaker frames that information by saying, “Had it been the will of the wind,” the barn “would have joined the house in flame.”

By asserting that the wind has “will,” the speaker is assigning nature an attribute that typically, human beings do not, in fact, believe it has. Such an attribution reveals that the speaker senses a close connection between the human world and the world of nature.

If the wind has will, it has a very important human attribute. By using its will and refusing to destroy the barn, the wind left the barn in place, “To bear forsaken the place’s name.”

Third Quatrain: No Longer an Active Farm

No more it opened with all one end

For teams that came by the stony road

To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs

And brush the mow with the summer load.

The speaker then descends into melancholy, reporting that even though the barn is still standing and still reporting the name of the farm, it is not still functioning as it did before: the teams of horses that performed work on the farm no longer enter and exist the barn.

Fourth Quatrain: Refocusing on the House

The birds that came to it through the air

At broken windows flew out and in,

Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh

From too much dwelling on what has been.

The speaker refocuses on the house, dramatizing the flight of birds in and out of the broken windows. The bird flight elicits from him another possible human vis-a-vis nature knot-point of emotional connection.

The sound of the birds flying in and out of the house reveals a “murmur” that reminds the speaker of a human “sigh,” and he likens that sound to “too much dwelling on what has been.” The speaker does not state directly that the feelings of the birds and the feelings of the human are the same, but by the close juxtaposition, he implies a connection.

Fifth Quatrain: Happened Long Ago

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,

And the aged elm, though touched with fire;

And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;

And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

Revealing that the house fire occurred some time back—probably a year at least, the speaker then remarks, “Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf.” The lilac has come out in bloom again, despite the fire, and the “aged elm” has its leaves again even though they were “touched with fire.”

The speaker mentions the pump and a fence post wire to further indicate the loneliness of the abandoned farm. Those objects, however, just sit there, not even garnering a qualifying comment from the speaker.

Sixth Quatrain: Melancholy Despite the Birds

For them there was really nothing sad.

But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,

One had to be versed in country things

Not to believe the phoebes wept.

Demonstrating his grown-up, mature attitude, the speaker reveals that he knows these creatures of nature find nothing here about which to be sad. He even admits that the birds “rejoiced in the nest they kept.”

But still, the speaker just cannot shake the feeling that despite the fact that he is well “versed in country things,” somewhere deep inside his being, he seems to sense that “the phoebes wept.” Perhaps, he still “need[s]” further lessons in understanding those “country things.”

Robert Frost’s father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist, living in San Fransisco, California, when Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874; Robert’s mother, Isabelle, was an immigrant from Scotland. The young Frost spent eleven years of his childhood in San Fransisco. After his father died of tuberculosis, Robert’s mother moved the family, including his sister, Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they lived with Robert’s paternal grandparents.

Robert graduated in 1892 from Lawrence High School, where he and his future wife, Elinor White, served as co-valedictorians. Robert thEn made his first attempt to attend college at Dartmouth College; after only a few months, he returned to Lawrence and began working a series of part-time jobs.

Elinor White, who was Robert’s high school sweetheart, was attending St. Lawrence University when Robert proposed to her. She turned him down because she wanted to finish college before marrying. Robert then relocated to Virginia, and then after returning to Lawrence, he again to proposed to Elinor, who had now completed her college education. The two married on December 19, 1895. Their first child, Eliot, was born the following year.

Robert then made another attempt to attend college; in 1897, he enrolled in Harvard University, but because of health issues, he had to leave school again. Robert rejoined his wife in Lawrence, and their second child Lesley was born in 1899 . The family then moved to a New Hampshire farm that Robert’s grandparents had acquired for him. Thus, Robert’s farming phase commenced as he attempted to farm the land and continue his writing. His first poem to appear in print, “My Butterfly,” had been published on November 8, 1894, in The Independent, a New York newspaper.

The next twelve years proved a difficult time in Frost’s personal life, but a fertile one for his writing. The Frosts’ first child, Eliot, died in 1900 of cholera. The couple, however, went on to have four more children, each of which suffered from mental illness to suicide. The couple’s farming endeavors continued to result in unsuccessful attempts. Frost became well adjusted to rustic life, despite his miserable failure as a farmer.

Frost’s writing life took off in a splendid fashion, and the rural influence on his poems would later set the tone and style for all of his works. However, despite the success of his individual published poems, such “The Tuft of Flowers” and “The Trial by Existence,” he could not find a publisher for his collections of poems.

Relocation to England

It was because of his failure to find a publisher for his collections of poems that Frost sold the New Hampshire farm and moved his family to England in 1912. This moved proved to be life-line for the young poet. At age 38, he secured a publisher in England for his collection, A Boy’s Will, and soon after North of Boston.

In addition to finding a publisher for his two books, Frost became acquainted with Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, two important poets of the day. Both Pound and Thomas reviewed Frost’s two book favorably, and thus Frost’s career as a poet moved forward.

Frost’s friendship with Edward Thomas was especially important, and Frost has remarked that the long walks taken by the two poet/friends had influenced his writing in a marvelously positive manner. Frost has credited Thomas for his most famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” which was sparked by Thomas’ attitude regarding not being able to take two different paths on their long walks.

Returning to America

After World War 1 broke out in Europe, the Frosts set sail back to the United States. The brief sojourn in England had had useful consequences for the poet’s reputation, even back in his native country. American Publisher, Henry Holt, picked up Frost’s earlier books, and then come out with his third, Mountain Interval, a collection that had been written while Frost was still residing in England.

Frost was treated to the delicious situation of having the same journals, such as The Atlantic, soliciting his work, even though they had rejected that same work a couple of years earlier.

The Frosts once again became owners of a farm located in Franconia, New Hampshire, which they purchased in 1915. The end of their traveling days were over, and Frost continued his writing career, as he taught intermittently at a number of colleges, including Dartmouth, University of Michigan, and particularly Amherst College, where he taught regularly from 1916 until 1938. Amherst’s main library is now the Robert Frost Library, honoring the long-time educator and poet. He also spent most summers teaching English at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Frost never completed a college degree, but over his entire lifetime, the revered poet accumulated more than forty honorary degrees. He also won the Pulitzer Prize four times for his books, New Hampshire, Collected Poems, A Further Range, and A Witness Tree.

Frost considered himself a “lone wolf” in the world of poetry because he did not follow any literary movements. His only influence was the human condition in a world of duality. He did not pretend to explain that condition; he only sought to create little dramas to reveal the nature of the emotional life of a human being.

Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

Robert Frost was indeed a very tricky poet. As he has actually called his “The Road Not Taken” a very tricky poem, he likely became aware that many of his poems were tricky.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is likely one of his trickiest. It seems so simple: a man stops along the road by a woodland to watch the latter fill up with snow. But what the man thinks as he watches, and what he says as he muses fills up the poem with many questions.

Readers are left to wonder a great deal about the speaker’s motivations as he reports what he sees and thinks. From a simple poem, many thoughts can result from speculation about why the man stopped in the first place to how he finally snapped out of his obvious trance as he observed the beauty of the scene.

Critics who glean contemplated suicide from the poem take it much too far, but still the poem is replete with nuance especially in the repeated line, ” . . . miles to go before I sleep.” Does the second repetition mean exactly the same as the first? Readers can only speculate. But they can enjoy the simplicity of this poem anyway.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s 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.

Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” seems simple, but its nuanced phrase, “And miles to go before I sleep,” offers much about which to speculate.

First Stanza: Stopping to Muse

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” paints a portrait of a man riding a horse (or perhaps the horse is pulling a buckboard-style wagon in which the man is riding), and he stops alongside the road next to a woods to watch the snow fall.

The poem is quite literal but also quite suggestive; for example, in the first stanza, the speaker makes a point of expressing the fact that the owner of the woods will not see him, because the owner lives in the village. There is no indication of why this is important. Is he glad the owner won’t see him? If the owner could see him, would he not stop?

Second Stanza: What the Horse Thinks

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

In the second stanza, the speaker reveals to his readers what he thinks his horse must be thinking, and he decides that the horse must think this an odd thing to do with no house nearby, just “a woods and frozen lake” while it is getting dark. And after all, this is “the darkest evening of the year,” meaning it is the first day of winter.

So the reader/listener is left to wonder why he speculates about what the horse thinks. Does he really care that horse thinks it is odd? Or is it the speaker who really thinks it odd and therefore projects his thoughts onto the horse?

Third Stanza: Soft Wind and Flakes of Snow

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

However, in the third stanza, the reader is given at least a partial answer to the question about why the speaker thinks the horse thinks it odd: the horse shakes his head and his harness rattles. But when the speaker explains the horse’s shaking head, he again projects his own thoughts onto the horse: the speaker thinks the horse shook his head to ask if the rider has made some error along the ride.

Again, the reader is left to wonder why the speaker thinks that the horse would rattle his harness to ask this. Then the speaker suddenly seems to be brought back to the scene by noticing that the only other sound he hears beside the horse’s harness is the soft wind and flakes of snow whirling about him.

Fourth Stanza: Promises and Mile to Go

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 final stanza, the speaker actually describes the scene as “lovely, dark and deep.” This “lovely, dark and deep” remains the only description of the woods. Most of the poem is taken up in speculation about who might see him or what the horse might think. But with line 13, the reader learns that the speaker simply thinks the woods are “lovely, dark and deep.”

Then the speaker concludes with the final three lines stating that he has made promises to others and he must keep those promises and that he has many more miles to travel before he can “sleep.” In these final lines, the speaker is offering a reason why he should get going and stop dallying here by these woods.

But the reason remains wide open to interpretation from the most simple to the most sinister. Perhaps the speaker is simply saying he has to get home because he has people waiting for him and things to do, and his home is many miles away.

By repeating the line, “[a]nd miles to go before I sleep,” the speaker sets up an intrigue that cannot be assuaged by the reader or the critic alike. The poem, however, does not support the contentious notion that the speaker is contemplating suicide, as some have speculated. On the other hand, there seems to be no reason that speaker seemed to snap out o his hypnotic trance brought about by the beauty of the scene: the dark and deep woods filling up with snow has been alluring. But the speaker suddenly and without obvious provocation is yanked back to the reality of his having many miles to travel before getting back to the place where he has “promises to keep.”

The poem does suggest many questions: Why does the speaker mention that the owner of the woods won’t see him? Why does he speculate about what his horse must think? Why does he repeat the last line? Why did he stop in the first place? These questions cannot be answered by the poem, and because Robert Frost called his poem, “The Road Not Taken,” “a tricky poem,” reader will likely wonder if he also thought of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as a tricky poem.

Robert Frost’s father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist, living in San Fransisco, California, when Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874; Robert’s mother, Isabelle, was an immigrant from Scotland. The young Frost spent eleven years of his childhood in San Fransisco. After his father died of tuberculosis, Robert’s mother moved the family, including his sister, Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they lived with Robert’s paternal grandparents.

Robert graduated in 1892 from Lawrence High School, where he and his future wife, Elinor White, served as co-valedictorians. Robert thEn made his first attempt to attend college at Dartmouth College; after only a few months, he returned to Lawrence and began working a series of part-time jobs.

Elinor White, who was Robert’s high school sweetheart, was attending St. Lawrence University when Robert proposed to her. She turned him down because she wanted to finish college before marrying. Robert then relocated to Virginia, and then after returning to Lawrence, he again to proposed to Elinor, who had now completed her college education. The two married on December 19, 1895. Their first child, Eliot, was born the following year.

Robert then made another attempt to attend college; in 1897, he enrolled in Harvard University, but because of health issues, he had to leave school again. Robert rejoined his wife in Lawrence, and their second child Lesley was born in 1899 . The family then moved to a New Hampshire farm that Robert’s grandparents had acquired for him. Thus, Robert’s farming phase commenced as he attempted to farm the land and continue his writing. His first poem to appear in print, “My Butterfly,” had been published on November 8, 1894, in The Independent, a New York newspaper.

The next twelve years proved a difficult time in Frost’s personal life, but a fertile one for his writing. The Frosts’ first child, Eliot, died in 1900 of cholera. The couple, however, went on to have four more children, each of which suffered from mental illness to suicide. The couple’s farming endeavors continued to result in unsuccessful attempts. Frost became well adjusted to rustic life, despite his miserable failure as a farmer.

Frost’s writing life took off in a splendid fashion, and the rural influence on his poems would later set the tone and style for all of his works. However, despite the success of his individual published poems, such “The Tuft of Flowers” and “The Trial by Existence,” he could not find a publisher for his collections of poems.

Relocation to England

It was because of his failure to find a publisher for his collections of poems that Frost sold the New Hampshire farm and moved his family to England in 1912. This moved proved to be life-line for the young poet. At age 38, he secured a publisher in England for his collection, A Boy’s Will, and soon after North of Boston.

In addition to finding a publisher for his two books, Frost became acquainted with Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, two important poets of the day. Both Pound and Thomas reviewed Frost’s two book favorably, and thus Frost’s career as a poet moved forward.

Frost’s friendship with Edward Thomas was especially important, and Frost has remarked that the long walks taken by the two poet/friends had influenced his writing in a marvelously positive manner. Frost has credited Thomas for his most famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” which was sparked by Thomas’ attitude regarding not being able to take two different paths on their long walks.

Returning to America

After World War 1 broke out in Europe, the Frosts set sail back to the United States. The brief sojourn in England had had useful consequences for the poet’s reputation, even back in his native country. American Publisher, Henry Holt, picked up Frost’s earlier books, and then come out with his third, Mountain Interval, a collection that had been written while Frost was still residing in England.

Frost was treated to the delicious situation of having the same journals, such as The Atlantic, soliciting his work, even though they had rejected that same work a couple of years earlier.

The Frosts once again became owners of a farm located in Franconia, New Hampshire, which they purchased in 1915. The end of their traveling days were over, and Frost continued his writing career, as he taught intermittently at a number of colleges, including Dartmouth, University of Michigan, and particularly Amherst College, where he taught regularly from 1916 until 1938. Amherst’s main library is now the Robert Frost Library, honoring the long-time educator and poet. He also spent most summers teaching English at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Frost never completed a college degree, but over his entire lifetime, the revered poet accumulated more than forty honorary degrees. He also won the Pulitzer Prize four times for his books, New Hampshire, Collected Poems, A Further Range, and A Witness Tree.

Frost considered himself a “lone wolf” in the world of poetry because he did not follow any literary movements. His only influence was the human condition in a world of duality. He did not pretend to explain that condition; he only sought to create little dramas to reveal the nature of the emotional life of a human being.

Robert Frost and the Sound of Sense in his Poems

Just about everyone who loves and reads poetry knows a line or two of Robert Frost, but do they know what the sound of sense is? Some of his most famous poems are highly quotable and slip off the tongue with ease but not many know that this most hard working of poets had a theory that helped him construct his poems.

To judge a poem’ Robert Frost wrote,’ apply the one greatest test. You listen for the sentence sounds.’

Robert Frost developed his own idea of what good poetry should sound like from thinking deeply about the English language and especially the way people spoke it in their everyday dealings. He was interested in human sounds, in the way a bird lover or musician might be drawn to the way a bird sings.

But he was also strongly traditionalist so he believed that these sounds should only be expressed in regular meter, predominantly iambic pentameter. Sentences to Frost were not only words but a kind of music formed in the ‘cave of the mouth.’

They are only lovely when thrown and drawn and displayed across the spaces of a footed line.’

He didn’t have much time for the radical modernists – poets like T.S.Eliot, Wallace Stevens and later e.e.cummings.

‘Tennis with the net down is not tennis,‘ he famously said about those who broke too freely with historical convention. Poetry should be written in strict iambic or loose iambic according to Frost.

But it took him a long time to establish this sound of sense and sell it to America and eventually the English speaking world. A struggling farmer and teacher for many years, he left the USA for England in 1912, hoping to make a breakthrough with his poetry. It worked. His first book, A Boy’s Will was published a year later and with the help of the pioneering Ezra Pound he began to establish a solid name for himself.

When he returned to the USA a few years later he had enough material for a second book, North of Boston, which brought him the recognition he craved.

In this article I want to look into Frost’s sound of sense and try to understand what that means in his poetry. I’ve chosen three of his poems: Mending Wall, Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening and Directive.

Frost’s sound of sense is a challenge to many readers who care for his poems and isn’t universally accepted in the world of the critic.

The abstract sounds within words are very much bound up with regional pronunciation and idiosyncratic delivery – an American from Georgia state reading a Frost poem would sound very different to someone from the north of England for example.

What impresses me is the fact that Frost strongly believed in reading poetry out loud so that these sounds could be heard and the sentences come alive.

Poets who prefer free verse shun the idea of traditional iambic meter as the sole means of frameworking sentences. They see poetry not so much as a traditional tennis court but as a huge expansive field where experimental sports are played and new rules made. For many young poets writing today sound is important but ideas and poetic textures take priority.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun,

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the 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:

‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

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.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me~

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Let’s go a bit deeper into Robert Frost’s sound of sense by looking at some of his poetry, and remembering that here was a poet who loved to cause a bit of mischief and steal the show whenever he could.

Mending Wall is a good starting place and works on many different levels. On the one hand it’s nothing but a simple story of two farmers mending a dividing wall, on the other it’s a metaphor for the boundaries that we as humans build between each other.

In the opening four lines the narrator sets the scene, alongside an old dry stone wall on a farm, the stones collapsed, strewn around. He’s talking to himself, maybe shaking his head because the frost has caused the wall to fall in places.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Who or what could love a wall? These initial words are puzzling and imply that the weather (or a force of nature or God) has no respect for walls and the work of man.

Frost’s sound of sense is apparent in the simple language he uses and the moods each line creates within each clause. If you read it through you’ll notice many words are single syllable…love, sends, spills, pass, work, made ….even whole lines have single syllable words.

Line 10:

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

an echo of an actual New England farmer talking with a colleague perhaps?

As the poem progresses the story broadens. The narrator, the speaker, is joined by another – a neighbor, and they walk the wall, mending as they go. Then they reach some pine and apple trees, where the wall could be left as no wall?

Here Frost becomes mischievous. The neighbor is from old farm stock, unimaginative, ‘like an old-stone savage armed‘ and won’t entertain ideas of what to wall in or wall out.

Good fences make good neighbors’ is all the neighbor says, repeating the phrase his father and likely his ancestors have always said.

There are many poetic devices in Frost’s work but like many modern poets he wouldn’t have been a slave to them. He was more interested in capturing ‘dramatic tones of meaning…across the rigidity of a limited meter…’ and striving to get ‘tune’ into his sentences.

Assonance

occurs when vowel sounds are the same in words that are close together. In Mending Wall for example lines 9 and 10,read:

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

Consonance

same sound consonants – occurs in lines 13 and 14:

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

Alliteration

same sounding letters starting words, close together – you’ll find in lines 32 and 40:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know….

and again:

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

When asked if he thought himself a Nature poet Frost replied:

‘There’s always something else in my poetry.’

That something else is usually wrapped up in a metaphor and given to the reader to unpack and interpret in any way they want. Some say this is the beauty of Frost’s multi-layered work – it’s never literal, there are hidden meanings, despite the colloquial language.

Many of his poems appear straightforward, based in a New Hampshire landscape for example, taking the form of a dialogue or inner narrative. The language is often simple yet within it are embedded metaphor, image and ambiguity.

As the reader digests the lines different soundscapes and meanings combine to produce darker and more complex possibilities. The sound of sense coming through again but in slightly altered ways.

For example, the poem ‘Acquainted With The Night’ could be interpreted as nothing more than the dull travels of a walking man as he plods through a city at night. Yet, look deeper and you’ll discover that this short work is a metaphor for depression, grief, the journey through despair on a dark night of the soul.

The poet was certainly no stranger to trauma in his personal life. Four out of his six children died early and he himself suffered from bouts of depression for most of his adult life. You could say that, by writing poetry, he was able to exorcise his demons through the potency of his language.

Although not religious in the conventional sense he was heavily influenced by certain biblical texts. This poem echoes passages from the book of Isaiah for example,which talks of being ‘acquainted with grief.’

‘These poems are written in parable so the wrong people won’t understand, and so be saved,‘ wrote Frost.

Many a college class has been inspired by Frost’s poetry because the language is simple enough to understand, yet has multiple meanings. You may think there’s only one road but as you journey along in thought many more appear.

A Frost poem can easily become a catalyst for self exploration and discovery.

‘I’m always saying something that’s just the edge of something more.’

Robert Frost

Work – farm work, land management, physical graft, contracts.

Human Condition – Solitude, Loneliness, Grief, Existence, Fear,Death, Love, Extinction,Depression, Life decisions,Communication.

Travel – Landscape, Rural Issues,

Nature – Trees, Flowers, Animals.

The Journey – spiritual transformation,self discovery.

In the popular mind Robert Frost is famous for ‘realistic depictions of rural life.’ That may be true on one level – just think about the Hollywood movie The Shawshank Redemption, in which one prisoner asks another about to be released to look for a hidden package in a stone wall close to an oak tree ‘like something out of a Robert Frost poem’ – but the poet himself always wanted something more.

He wanted his poems to be parables, full of hidden meaning and images, to be understood by only those able to travel the right road. But where does the sound of sense fit in with hidden meaning?

Well, Frost carefully composed most of his poems with an emphasis on rhythms within sound – the various short and long vowels combining with hard and soft consonants – to produce memorable and meaningful lines that made sense when heard by listeners.

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s 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.

Many readers and critics think the speaker in this poem is offering a choice between life and death – promises and commitments or rest in the lovely snow filled wood. Some take it to the extremes and see suicide as the subject matter. The inner thoughts expressed in the poem are those of someone contemplating the end.

Frost offered no definitive interpretation, that’s up to the reader.

This is perhaps the most well known of Frost’s poems. It combines steady rhythms and straightforward rhyme within a frame work of four beats per line, the strong imagery immediate and stark.

As the poem progresses the reader is taken into the mind of the speaker – a person riding home from a day’s work? The woods before him look inviting as they fill with snow but the man can’t hang around to appreciate this, he has to move on because of his deadlines, his commitments and promises.

In literal terms this is a quaint winter countryside scene, nothing more. Picture woods, snow, horse, man, a dark evening. Yet is there not something else to consider? Frost’s figurative language invites us to look for more, the ambiguous lines in each stanza sending the reader’s mind in different directions.

As a result questions arise. Why are these woods significant? Why stop? Is the man going to abandon his horse and head off into the woods? The man has deadlines, is far from home. Perhaps he wants to quit the journey and go sleep under the trees?

These preliminary questions help form other ideas. There seems to be some tension created in the man’s mind. He’s torn between a need to go on and a longing to stay.

Even his horse is puzzled by this curious situation. A creature of routine, the horse reminds the owner that this is no place to rest. There could be hidden dangers. Better move on, keep those long standing promises.

Back out of all this now too much for us,

Back in a time made simple by the loss

Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off

Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,

There is a house that is no more a house

Upon a farm that is no more a farm

And in a town that is no more a town.

The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you

Who only has at heart your getting lost,

May seem as if it should have been a quarry —

Great monolithic knees the former town

Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.

And there’s a story in a book about it:

Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels

The ledges show lines ruled southeast northwest,

The chisel work of an enormous Glacier

That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.

You must not mind a certain coolness from him

Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.

Nor need you mind the serial ordeal

Of being watched from forty cellar holes

As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.

As for the woods’ excitement over you

That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,

Charge that to upstart inexperience.

Where were they all not twenty years ago?

They think too much of having shaded out

A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.

Make yourself up a cheering song of how

Someone’s road home from work this once was,

Who may be just ahead of you on foot

Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.

The height of the adventure is the height

Of country where two village cultures faded

Into each other. Both of them are lost.

And if you’re lost enough to find yourself

By now, pull in your ladder road behind you

And put up a sign CLOSED to all but me.

Then make yourself at home. The only field

Now left’s no bigger than a harness gall.

First there’s the children’s house of make believe,

Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,

The playthings in the playhouse of the children.

Weep for what little things could make them glad.

Then for the house that is no more a house,

But only a belilaced cellar hole,

Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.

This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.

Your destination and your destiny’s

A brook that was the water of the house,

Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,

Too lofty and original to rage.

(We know the valley streams that when aroused

Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)

I have kept hidden in the instep arch

Of an old cedar at the waterside

A broken drinking goblet like the Grail

Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it,

So can’t get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn’t.

(I stole the goblet from the children’s playhouse.)

Here are your waters and your watering place.

Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.

______________________________________________________

Directive has been called Frost’s last major poem and is in loose iambic blank verse. Written a couple of years after the end of world war two it’s a metaphorical journey out of chaos into a less confusing world. At least, that’s what the poem suggests on first reading!

With Frost however it’s never that straightforward! The title for example is strangely official and comes from the latin direct, put straight. Is this poem then a set of guidelines that will, if followed, help put the world straight?

1.

A Return Home – As readers we’re invited to back out of all this now too much and return to a simpler time and place where the human soul can be itself, drinking water out of a stolen goblet at some utopian watering place. Before that however the reader will have to become lost for it’s only through being lost that someone can be found and gain meaning from the journey.

The descriptions, imagery and language combine to form a series of invitations, fairytale like in places, that encourage and challenge the reader. There’s a definite beginning,middle and end.

2.

The Spiritual Quest – Could it be that Frost is persuading us to make this precarious journey with him as a trickster of a guide because he thinks we as readers need religiousness in our lives? He talks of an ordeal, lost cultures, destiny and being saved; of drinking from a goblet, the Holy Grail no less, the Arthurian symbol said to be used at the Last Supper.

Some will be saved – a reference to the New Testament Mark, 16.16 – those who are baptized, presumably in the brook ‘the water of the house’ that is no more a house.

3.

How To Read My Poetry – Is this 62 line poem a guide to understanding Frost’s poems and the underlying meanings so many contain? Is he saying that his – all – worthwhile poetry is nothing more than childish make believe, creations from a playhouse? Well, yes and no. With Frost directing you might expect more than one correct answer! Or none!

Sooner or later you have to put childish things away, lose yourself in the journey and prepare to ‘drink and be whole again beyond confusion.’

By using a brook as a metaphor for the energy within poetic sentences – the flow, the rhythm, the sounds – Frost is encouraging his readers to drink in the sounds as it were.

____________________________________________________

The Art of Robert Frost Tim Kendall, Yale University Press 2012

Cambridge Introduction To Robert Frost Robert Faggen, CUP 2008

Norton Anthology, Norton, 2005

____________________________________________

Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee

And I’ll forgive the great big one on me.

Robert Frost

______________________________________________________

Robert Frost: A 20th Century American Poet and Two of His Famous Poems

The quintessential American poet of the 20th century is, of course, Robert Frost. What appears to be the simple and honest poetry of an American poet, is, but also is full of profound meaning for life, both figuratively and literally. He saw the lessons of life naturally in nature in his beloved New England. Ironically, he was born in San Francisco, CA, but when his father died, his family moved to Lawrence, MA, and Robert Frost became New England and New England became Robert Frost. Never has a writer been so connected to a region as Robert Frost was to New England. He and his poetry reflected the simple, rustic life and toughness of the typical New Englander.

Frost is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. Most of his poetry has settings from rural life in New England in the early 20th century. He used them to examine complex social and philosophical themes in his poetry. During his lifetime he received four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.

He attended high school and graduated from Lawrence High School in Lawrence, MA. He published his first poem in his high school’s magazine. After high school, he attended Dartmouth College for two months but returned home ot teach and work at various jobs. Frost felt his true calling was writing poetry.

In 1895 he married Elinor Miriam White his only wife. He attended Harvard University from 1897-1899 but voluntarily left because of illness. His grandfather bought a farm for the couple in Derry, NH and Frost worked the farm for the next nine years after recovering from his illness. All the while he was working the farm, he would arise early in the morning and write and he produced many of the poems that would later become famous.

He was unsuccessful at farming and Frost returned to teaching as an English teacher at New Hampshire Pinkerton Academy from 1906-1911 and at the New Hampshire Normal School (now Plymouth State University).

In 1912, Frost took his family and sailed to England and it was here that he made some important acquaintances, Ezra Pound being one of them. Pound was the first American to write favorable review of Frost’s poetry, as Frost’s first two poetry volumes were published in England. After three years in England, he returned to America.

His next phase of life was to buy a farm in Franconia, NH in 1915. Here he launched a career of writing, teaching, and lecturing. This farm served as Frost’s summer home until 1938. It is maintained today as The Frost Place and is a museum and poetry conference site in remembrance of Frost and his great contribution to poetry.

He also taught English off and on at Amherst College in Massachusetts from 1916-1938. And, from 1921-1963, Frost spent almmost every summer and fall teaching English at Middlebury College at the mountain campus in Ripton, Vermont. At Middlebury, Frost had a major influence upon the development of the school and its various writing program. And, the Ripton farmstead he lived in while teaching there is a national historic site in the U.S.

From 1921-1927, Frost accepted a fellowsip teaching post at the University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor. He was awarded a lifetime appointment at the university as a Fellow in Letters. And, the Robert Frost Ann Arbor home now sits at The Henry Ford Museaum in Dearborn, MI. During all these years and all these residence, Frost continued writing his poetry and contributing to the lexicon of American letters.

In 1940, Frost bought a five acre plot in S. Miami, FL, called Pencil Pines, and spent winters here for the rest of his life.

Although Frost never graduated from college, he received over forty honorary degrees. Some of these honorary degrees came from Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge. He received two honorary degrees from Dartmouth College. Frost was 86 years old when he performed “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration ceremonies of President John F. Kennedy in January 1961. He died two years later of complications of prostate cancer in Boston, MA.

Robert Frost was one of America’s iconic poet, teacher, and lecturer. His poetry has been appreciated by the youngest child to the heights of a president at President Kennedy’s inauguration. Following are my two personal favoite poems of Frost. Both have a special meaning in my life which I will explain. But these two poems, “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and “The Road Not Taken,” both represent to me the best of Frost and his beloved New England.

Whose woods these are I think I know

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

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.

This just recently became one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost. During one of the last three years or so of teaching before I retired, I had a wonderful, quirky, interesting, intelligent, insightful and down right goofy eighth grade Language Arts class. And, did I mention talkative? They never stopped talking. They knew it all, too. What could I ever teach them? Well, in my stubborn belief that they were quite intelligent and would respond to poetry with great insight, I decided to do a poetry reading every day by one of the great poets from around the world. This would be the intro to our unit on poetry. I read them poems by Tennyson, Shakespeare, Poe, Rimi, Goethe, Silverstein, the Brownings, Burns, etc. and of course, two weeks into this, no response. Just rolling of eyes and “let’s just humor Mrs. Walker,” so we can move on. Even my colleagues teased me in the lunchroom about my poetry readings falling on deaf eighth grade ears.

One Monday, I decided it was time for some Robert Frost, so I started reading “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Well, the room fell absolutely silent as I read on. My students’ eyes were glued on me as I read the poem. Not a sound. When I was finished, the class ringleader, said, “That was a beautiful poem. And, you read it beautifully, Mrs. Walker. Would you please read that one again?” Stunned, I said, “Sure,” and read the poem one more time.

When I had finished reading it a second time, without any prompting or questions from me, the entire class started discussing the content of the poem and what it meant to them. I watched with tears in my eyes one of the best and most civilized discussions of Frost’s poem I have ever witnessed. The discusssion began when one student from the back of the room proclaimed, “I get this poem. I know what the author is trying to say,” and from there about a ten minute discussion went forth. Finally, my students looked at me and said, “Mrs. Walker, you haven’t said a word.” I said, “I didn’t have to, you covered all the major points of this poem – you didn’t need me, to understand the beauty, images and metaphor in this poem. That is the highest compliment you could give me, is not to need me to guide you in the meaning of the poem. You were all able to discuss it and figure it out on your own. You have learned this year.”

From that moment on, this particular class loved poetry. They craved poetry readings and I read them a poem each day until the end of the year. They wrote their own poetry and read their own poems as poetry readings for me. We had a great time learning together through poetry. It is a moment in time I will remember for the rest of my life. The words of Robert Frost, one Monday morning, mezmerized my eighth graders and showed them the beauty of words painting images they could see in their minds.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowning how way leads on to way,

I doubted if 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.

The last three lines of this poem are probably the most quoted in the English language and certainly in the American lexicon. Carpe diem — seize the day! We all interpret these lines and this poem to mean this. But a more careful reading of Frost’s exact words are needed to really and truly understand this poem.

If you really read the second stanza of the poem, neither of the roads is less traveled by. In fact, each road he comes upon in the fork of the road are traveled the same. Of course, the dilemma here is to be taken literally and figuratively. We encounter many times in life a fork in the road and must decide which one to take. This is Frost’s deep-seated metaphor for life and its crises and decisions thrust upon us.

The fork in the road is a symbol for the contradiciton of free will and fate. We are free to choose which road to take, but we don’t know exactly what we are choosing between as we can’t see beyond where it bends in the undergrowth. Our route in life, therefore, is choice and chance. It is impossible to separate the two.

Since there is no less traveled road in this poem, Frost is more concerned with the question of how the concrete present will look from a future vantage point. When Frost said in the last stanza, he sighs – this sigh is critical to the true meaning of this poem. Frost sighs because he knows he will be inaccurate and hypocritical when he holds his life up as an example, as we all would be, too. In fact, he predicts that his future self willl betray this moment of decision later on in life.

He sighs before saying he took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference. He sighs first and then says this because he won’t believe it himself in the future. Somewhere in the back of his mind will always remain the image of the fork in the road and the two equally leafy paths. He knows he will second guess himself down the road. Frost is realistic and shows great forsight and insight to how he will view his choice and decision in the future as we all do. We have all second guessed ourselves about paths we have taken.

Frost will always wonder what is irrecovcably lost – the unknowable, “Other Path” – just this chosen path and “the other” path. Frost’s sigh is not so much for the wrong decision he might have made as for the moment of decision itself. He sighs for the moment that one on top of another make for the passing of a life. This is the true remorse indicated in this poem.

This Frost poem has always been so realistic for me. It is the moment of decision that is the crux of the matter. We like to think in the future, after our decision, we have taken the road less traveled – but have we really? None of us lives the perfect life and none of us makes the perfect decisions when we reach those forks in the road. We are hit and miss in this regard. But, what about the road not taken? Would it have been better? I tend to think not. The road not taken would be different, but not necessarily better.

I believe Frost’s last three lines of this poem have been taken out of context for years and the true meaning of the poem has been forgotten and overlooked. At the time of the decision, each path is equally good, equally trod – it is how we will look at it from a future vantage point that decides whether we have remorse or regret. The forks in the road that are both choice and chance.

Copyright (c) 2012 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved

On Slavery: Robert E. Lee Vs Ulysses S. Grant

The year 1856 was significant for both Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant with regard to their attitudes toward slavery. Within a few years these men would both be generals-in-chief on opposing sides in the nation’s Civil War, guiding multiple armies against one another in a desperate fight to either preserve or eradicate slavery.* Yet their personal views regarding the institution were in some ways the opposite of what would be expected.

In 1856 Ulysses S. Grant, probably the man most responsible (after Abraham Lincoln) for the destruction of American slavery, was no Abolitionist. In fact, he did not even see slavery as a moral issue. Years later, when he had become the Union’s foremost general waging a ferocious fight that would eventually insure the demise of the slave system, he honestly declared that during the pre-war period he never thought of himself as being against slavery.

Grant’s only concern about slavery in 1856 was the potential for the rapidly increasing strife between the free soil North and the slaveholding South to tear the nation apart. That concern led him to vote for the pro-slavery candidate in that year’s presidential election so as to avoid, or at least postpone for a few years, the prospect of the country going to war against itself over the issue.

This article, which focuses on the views of Lee, is one of a two-part series. To get an in-depth perspective on Grant’s attitude toward slavery, please see:

Ulysses S. Grant vs Robert E. Lee On Slavery

In contrast to Grant, Robert E. Lee in 1856 was quite clear in his belief that slavery was morally wrong and should eventually be abolished. That year the man who would fight as fiercely to preserve slavery as Grant fought to eradicate it, explicitly declared his judgment concerning the issue in a letter to his wife:

In the context of the entire letter to his wife, Lee’s statement about the immorality of slavery says less than it might at first seem. The letter reveals that his moral objections to slavery stopped well short of a desire for immediate abolition. In fact, it was just the opposite. Lee thought that:

1. Abolitionists who pressed for an immediate end to slavery were morally wrong because they were trying to “interfere with & change the domestic institutions of the South”:

Their object is both unlawful & entirely foreign to them & their duty; for which they are irresponsible & unaccountable.

2. The evil of slavery was less its effect on the black victims of the system than its impact on white slaveholders:

I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former.

3. Blacks were actually better off as slaves:

The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically.

4. God was using slavery as a means of uplifting the black race:

The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.

5. Emancipation should not be forced on white slaveowners, but should happen naturally over time under the influence of Christianity:

Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy. This influence though slow, is sure.

6. The end of slavery should be left in God’s hands, rather than being forced by Abolitionist agitation:

While we see the Course of the final abolition of human Slavery is onward, & we give it the aid of our prayers & all justifiable means in our power, we must leave the progress as well as the result in his hands who sees the end; who Chooses to work by slow influences; & with whom two thousand years are but as a Single day.

7. Rather than Abolitionists continuing to pursue their “evil course” of agitating for immediate emancipation, they should be concerned to not upset slaveowners:

He [the Abolitionist] must not Create angry feelings in the Master; that although he may not approve the mode which it pleases Providence to accomplish its purposes, the result will nevertheless be the same.

Lee first became a slaveowner in 1829, when he inherited, as his son Robert, Jr. termed it, “three or four families of slaves” from his mother’s estate. Lee, Jr. goes on to say that his father liberated these slaves “a long time before the war.” But, as historian and Lee biographer Elizabeth Brown Pryor states in her book Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters, surviving records indicate that Lee was still hiring out his slaves as late as 1852.

Whenever it was that he set his own slaves free, the experience that most clearly defines Lee’s real attitude toward slavery and enslaved people was his dealings with the slaves that came under his control through his father-in-law’s will.

Lee married Mary Anna Custis, a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, in 1831. When her father, Washington Parke Custis, died in 1857, Mary inherited his Arlington plantation, along with 196 slaves. Robert was named executor of the will. The estate was encumbered with a large amount of debt, and it was left to Robert to figure out how to carry out the terms of the will despite the fact that the financial resources of the estate were not sufficient to do so.

One very important stipulation of Washington Parke Custis’s will was that his slaves were to be freed in no more than five years. Based on what Custis had told them, the slaves had a firm belief that that they would become free from the moment of his death. However, to Robert E. Lee these slaves were critical assets of the estate. Their labor, and the funds that could be earned by hiring them out, were desperately needed to bring the Arlington plantation back to solvency.

For that reason Lee had no intention of freeing the Arlington slaves one second sooner than he absolutely had to. In fact, he even went to court in an attempt to set aside the provision of Custis’s will that mandated that the slaves be freed in five years or less, but his petition was denied.

Lee shared his despair in a letter to his eldest son, Custis:

“I can now see little prospect of fulfilling the provisions of your [grandfather’s] will within the space of five years, which seems to be the time, within which he expected it to be accomplished & his people liberated.”

The enslaved people at Arlington, believing that by the express declaration of Washington Parke Custis they were now free, saw no reason why they should still be treated as slaves who were expected to work hard for no pay. Lee, however, not only considered them to still be the property of the estate, he believed they had a duty toward the Arlington plantation, and toward him as its manager, that they were obligated to fulfill. In attempting to hire an overseer, Lee said he was looking for “an energetic honest farmer, who while he will be considerate & kind to the Negroes, will be firm & make them do their duty.” (Emphasis added).

This divergence of expectations led to severe clashes between Lee and his workforce. As Elizabeth Brown Pryor puts it in her biography of Lee:

From his arrival at Arlington, Lee found himself “endeavoring to urge unwilling hands to work.”

With his military background, Lee had little patience with subordinates who refused to fulfill what he considered to be their duties. He did not hesitate to hire out uncooperative slaves away from Arlington, often breaking up families in the process. In fact, according to Elizabeth Brown Pryor, by 1860 Lee had broken up every slave family at Arlington except one.

In his book The Making of Robert E. Lee, historian Michael Fellman relates the case of three men Lee hired out, tearing them away from their families. Deciding that they were under no obligation to accept Lee’s disruption of their family relationships, they ran away from their new masters, returned to their families at Arlington, and resisted attempts to recapture them. In a letter to his son, Rooney, Lee described the incident this way:

Reuben, Parks & Edward, in the beginning of the previous week, rebelled against my authority—refused to obey my orders, & said they were as free as I was, etc., etc.—I succeeded in capturing them & lodged them in jail. They resisted till overpowered & called upon the other people to rescue them.”

Naturally, the slaves subjected to such treatment began to develop a deep resentment toward Lee. As one of them put it, Lee was “the worst man I ever see.”

A predictable effect of Lee’s harsh treatment of the Arlington slaves as he tried to get them to work harder was an increase in attempts to escape. One of those attempts led to the most notorious incident in Robert E. Lee’s career as a slavemaster.

In the spring of 1859 three of Lee’s slaves, Wesley Norris, his sister Mary, and his cousin George Parks, decided to run away from Arlington. They got as far as Westminster, Maryland, but were caught just short of making it to Pennsylvania and freedom.

The three were thrown in jail, where they stayed for fifteen days before being returned to Arlington. Here is Norris’s account, written in 1866, of what happened when they were brought before Robert E. Lee:

We were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable was called in, who gave us the number of ashes ordered.

Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to “lay it on well,” an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine [heavily salted water], which was done.

Although admirers of Gen. Lee have defended him as being incapable of such cruelty, and Lee himself denied ever subjecting anyone under his authority to “bad treatment,” Norris’s account is backed up by independent evidence. As Elizabeth Brown Pryor notes in her book, “every detail of it can be verified.” Not only were stories of the escape published in newspapers at the time, but corroborating evidence is available, such as court records and Lee’s account book showing that the constable who did the whipping, Richard Williams, was paid $321.14 on that date for “the arrest, &c of fugitive slaves.”

When the five-year period specified in Custis’s will ran out, Robert E. Lee faithfully carried out his responsibility to set all the Arlington slaves free. He did so, coincidentally, on January 2, 1863, the day after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

By that time, many of the slaves had freed themselves by running away into Union lines. Wesley Norris was one of them. He escaped into Union-held territory that same month. Lee was careful to insure that all of the slaves who had been under his authority, even the ones who had already escaped, were included in the deed of manumission. The names of Wesley and Mary Norris were on the list of those who were being set free.

When Robert E. Lee denied that he had ever mistreated anyone under his authority, he was, by his own lights, correct. Lee had a strong sense of duty, which included not only what he considered to be the slaves’ duty to him, but also his duty to them. And he was very conscientious in carrying out those responsibilities as he understood them. He was committed to doing “what is right and best” for the enslaved people under his control. As Elizabeth Brown Pryor notes, “his estate accounts show that he spent considerable sums for the slaves’ clothing, food, and medical care.”

But what Lee was unable to do was to rise above the prejudices of his time. Believing blacks to be morally and intellectually inferior to whites, he was convinced that he had the right to demand the loyalty and the labor of the enslaved people of Arlington.

The contrast between Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant is stark. Although Grant never articulated (until long after the war) a belief that slavery was morally wrong, he nevertheless behaved as though that’s what he believed. He set free the only slave he ever personally owned at a time when selling that man could have brought in a large amount of money that Grant’s family desperately needed.

Lee, on the other hand, was ahead of Grant in his understanding of the moral dimensions of the slavery issue, but far behind him in consistently applying those principles. Although he knew in his heart that slavery was wrong, Lee somehow believed that the duty imposed on him by the terms of his father-in-law’s will made it right for him to hold the slaves of Arlington in bondage as long as he possibly could.

* Although the Confederate states seceded specifically for the purpose of protecting the institution of slavery, the destruction of slavery was not the North’s goal at the beginning of the Civil War. But with the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, it became an explicit Union war aim.

Renaissance France’s State

It doesn’t take much looking at the above image to see that France in the Renaissance was a very different place than today. It was a heterogeneous collection of various feudal denominations, ruled over by a king. Smaller than later France would be, but even more different in regards to the institutions and structures which composed it. The ancien regime in France was the product of centuries of customs, overlaps between power, provincialism, and the conflict between interest groups which produced a structure which was opaque even to the eyes of the time, much less to today.

This article is supposed to deal with the French state and how it looked close to the end of the 16th century. It would be most accurate to the reign of Henry IV (King of France from 1589 to 1610), although some of the elements had appeared later, and certain elements would last afterwards.

The goal of the state in the Renaissance was war. The Early Modern Era lies as a period between the modern standing army and the Medieval feudal levies. At the end of the 16th century, the French standing army was around 20,000 infantry and 9,00 cavalry, which were in the compagnies d’ordonnance. Each governor of a major province had a company, with these governors, the king’s representatives choosing fortress commanders, royal lieutenants, and company officers. Mercenaries were used to supplement this. There were also feudal levies, and towns had civil guards, and gendarmes for acting as essentially a police force and to deal with problems between the population and the army (who did not get along.) It made for a relatively small army, considering the size and the population of France.

An army requires money. The French had armies, but they rarely had enough money to provide for them. Taxation was a complex matter in France. There were three main taxes, dating from the 1360s : hearth taxes, sales taxes, and the salt tax. The heart tax was initially a fouage and then the taille, which were gathered in élection districts, overseen by élus (also judges of first instance), elected and then appointed officials. These were equivalent to the religious lines, so a bishopric was an élection and a parish where local collection happened. Later on non-ecclesiastical borders were set up, and the number grew, from 78 to 143 between 1520 and 1620. Elus grew even more so, from 120 to 1,200. Almost all money for this came from peasants, as nobles and urban dwellers had exceptions, although in the south noble land, rather than noble status, had tax exemption. The taille produced some 1/2 to 2/3 of the king’s revenue.

Salt taxes, the hated gabelle, were much more complicated. There was a royal monopoly on the sale of salt in most regions, except ion salt-producing areas like Brittany, the Southwest, or the Cotentin peninsula, who were exempt from or paid reduced amounts of the taxes. In Northern France, there were salt-warehouses, and each family was required to purchase at least a certified minimum amount of salt. In the south, taxes were levied on salt as it left its production region. There was common smuggling between the areas, which was countered by a large internal police force.

The sales tax meanwhile, only concerned a relatively small number of goods, mostly a tax on wine retail sales. A fee was charged on goods moving from provinces or regions to each other by the state, and there were also tariffs on exports and imports. Only northern French regions had the sales taxes, and Britanny, Burgundy, Dauphine, Guyenne, Languedoc, and Provence, and all territory after 1550 had special sales and salt taxes. At the borders of regions represented at the 1360 estates general, tariffs were charged, and later taxes were charged for additional provinces further afield. Transit taxes levied by towns and feudal lords only completed this rather dismal state.

Although this system was complex, it did have certain advantages in leveling out taxes per province. Burgundy produced large amounts of wine and paid a high salt tax but not a wine tax, while Brittany paid a high wine tax but not a salt tax. It made collecting the revenue from regions easier for royal tax collectors than a single uniform tax. The right to collect indirect taxes was leased to tax farms, which also made a fair deal of sense by providing stability for the kingdom’s revenues.

Most financiers came from mercantile groups, as opposed to being from nobles like in the military or the judicial branch. However, they didn’t engage in trade as they were banned from doing the two simultaneously. But if a monopoly was granted for trade to a region, it went to the king’s financial supporters, thus making French mercantilism into a fiscal policy. Money from all of this taxation went to the Central Treasury (Epargne), with only revenue from sale of offices not being collected there.

The judicial branch of the state was, perhaps even more so than today, a vital part of government for early modern France. When the government’s principal duties were maintaining internal order and fighting wars, judicial elements loom large as part of the powers of government. in France, judicial functions were discharged by many offices, but the highest one were the Parlements. Parlements were combined judicial-legislative-executive branches (combining them all together in a strange mixture, but they were principally judicial branches), and in the time of King Henry IV there were the parlements of Paris, Toulouse, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Dijon, Rouen, Aix-en-Provence, and Rennes. Later ones included Pau, Metz, Douai, Besançon, Nancy, Colmar, Bastia, Arras, Dombes, and Perpignan. Above these was the king, who believed himself absolute, although they were bound by God’s law since they ruled by divine right. In practice too, local courts often modified the will of the king or acted independently.

Of course, the Parlements alone did not execute all the justice in the Kingdom of France. There were also feudal nobles in the countryside who had feudal rights, even to the level of death penalty – there were still thousands in 1789. But royal courts, mostly local Parlements, heart on appeal automatically all such death sentences. Therefor it was only the actual courts of the king which could order and then carry out an execution. Still, these lower level courts existed, and seigneurial courts served many of lower clientele, while feudal lords were responsible for policing markets, judging land disputes, acting as courts of first (and sometimes second) instance, setting weighs and measures, throughout the countryside.

There were roughly three total levels of justice throughout the kingdom : the bailiwick (north) and seneschalsy (south, presidial, and Parlement. These existed alongside and on top of seigneurial courts, like how in the US there are both state and federal courts. Certain towns had royal provosts, most towns had merchant courts, and the Catholic Church had its own courts, which involved religious, moral (and concerning Church property and personnel), earthly matters, and religious courts might be passed to Parlements themselves. There were also separate royal courts, like financial courts, constabulary, Eaux et Forêts (waters and woods), admiralty courts, and special juridictions. The authority and oversight of many of these courts overlapped. There were even informal courts, like those held by guilds, whose punishments could be just as effective as any real court’s. Semi-independent i, like Burgundy, Brittany, Flanders, had their own court systems, and disputed the jurisdiction of the Parlement of Paris and thus even King over them.

At all levels, there was a great, inherent problem of the ancien régime’s twin upholding of property and custom. Private property was an important – even sacred actually, since it was one of the three sacred obligations of the King in his contract with god, from which he derived legitimacy for his reign – part of French society. But at the same time, customary law and privileges entered into any occasion. An excellent example of this is related to village common lands. Although after this era strictly, Louis XIV tried to regulate common lands in 1677 and 1699. This failed because even though there might be private owners of land, they had “feudal” duties and there were customs which had long existed concerning using this land for common usage. The two were incompatible, and French courts sided with the defense of existing privileges and customs over private property rights. This mean that while courts were an effective institution at opposing overreach on the behalf of the central government and its “absolutism”, they didn’t establish the strong system of rule of law and private property rights which exists in today’s society.

A strange feature to the idea of modern bureaucratic government is how offices were filled in France (and much of Europe) during the time. officers were not per se filled : instead they were bought. People did not work in an office, they owned an office. Administration, military, judicial, officers in all of these were up for sale, and generally hereditary. Their costs of course, varied tremendously. For lowly justices it might be 5 to 10,000 livres, but for parlementaires in the parlements, it could be 100,000 to 150,000 : the latter bestowed nobility. Most office holders were nobles. An innovation towards the end of this period, in 1604, was the installation of the paulette, which was a tax, worth 1/60 of the value of the office per year, in exchange for the payment of which officers would ensure the automatic heredity of their officers in the case of their death : otherwise offices had to be transmitted and then the officer survive by 40 days its transmission, or it would default to the state at their death. While this further reinforced offices as hereditary, it generated large revenues for the state.

James B. Collins. The State in Early Modern France. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Rosemary L. Hopcroft, “Maintaining the Balance of Power: Taxation and Democracy in England and France, 1340-1688.” Sociological Perspectives 42 no.1 (Spring 1999) 69-99.

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