Robert Frost – Poem – Mowing
Robert Frost’s lyrical poem, ‘Mowing’, is rich in poetical elements that fuse together to form an organic whole. The poem’s employment of sound, rhythm, and tone, for example, and its simple yet effective evocation of subject matter bring the various strands of the poem together to create a number of unusual poetic effects.
The first-person speaker that governs the poem lends it an intimate tone as addressing the reader in this manner establishes a sense of identification between him/her and the ‘I’ of the poem. The questions that the speaker asks him/herself throughout the poem, and which possess a mystical and contemplative tone as the speaker considers the almost magical connection between humanity and the natural world that humanity seeks to control, are also questions for the reader as s/he is drawn in by the subjective nature of the poem. In particular, there are sounds that punctuate the poem and give it its dreamy atmospheric quality, and these are governed by the speaker’s own consideration of what lies around him/her and the activity s/he is engaged in. For example, the prominence of the ‘s’ sound in the poem adds a specific eery character to the poem as the repetition of the word “whispered” in lines 3, 6 and 14 demonstrate. The first two lines of the poem immediately attract the reader’s attention with their unusual repetition of these ‘s’ sounds as in “it was my long scythe whispering” (line 2) as well as their syntax. The syntax strikes the reader as strange as there is a sense of inversion. The first line establishes a suspense that is satisfied in the second line when the reader is led to wonder what the one sound “beside the wood” (line 1) is. The lyrical explanation of its being the speaker’s scythe “whispering to the ground” (line 2) establishes a relationship between the speaker and his/her environment that, despite the destructive activity of the scythe, is conveyed as somehow harmonious in the poem. This is even more effectively conveyed in the final line which, again, incorporates the peaceful ‘s’ sounds of the whispering scythe and also establishes the sense that something natural is created from the human intervention of the blade as the speaker leaves “the hay to make” (line 14). The simplistic rhythm of the poem and the fact that its lines contain a similar number of syllables add to the natural and flowing quality of the poem thereby highlighting the harmony that seems to exist therein. The punctuation in the poem suggests the systematic progress of the speaker’s thoughts and the conclusion s/he reaches at the end of this process and, by extension, the end of the poem. Until the last three lines of the poem, the lines are broken by a mixture of commas, dashes, semi-colons and colons all of which have the effect of not quite ending the sentence but rather making further additions to it. This emphasises the pensive character of the poem as the speaker dwells on the silent communion between his/her action and the natural surroundings. There is a fundamental respect that exudes from the poem which is emphasised in the lines:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed to weak To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows, (lines 9-10) The contrast built up in these lines between the words “earnest” and “love” which seems, on the surface, to be incongruous, is actually indicative of the mood that reigns over this poem. There is a gentle sense of love and respect between the speaker and nature and yet, equally, there is a seriousness and finality inherent in the poem’s lines that force the reader to consider the fragile and fleeting nature of existence. While the speaker is, in effect, killing the nature around him/her, s/he is also part of this cycle of life and death. Moreover, the fact that something is created – the hay – out of this destruction is symbolic of regeneration and rebirth. The full-stops that end the last three lines of the poem suggest the conclusive thoughts of the speaker, the notion of death which, however, is overturned by the beginning of a new sentence thereby evoking new life, and the harmonious fusion of facts and dreams that, far from being mutually exclusive, can exist simultaneously. It is this metaphorical layer to the poem that lies beneath the seemingly simple subject matter. Frost’s deviation from a standard rhyming pattern is also indicative of this merging of worlds. While the lines do rhyme, they do so unevenly and move away from an ordinary ABAB pattern, for example. Instead, many of the words that the poet chooses to rhyme have more to do with their connection in meaning and illuminate the conflation of humanity with nature that runs through the whole poem. For example, lines 1 and 4 rhyme with the words “one” and “sun” thereby suggesting the relationship between the speaker and the natural source of light and life, and lines 3 and 8 rhyme with the words “myself” and “elf” thereby suggesting a conflation between the dream-like nature of the poem and the reality of the speaker him/herself.