I haven’t read Robert Frost in years, and as I went through these poems, so much came back to me: nature and death. But what really struck me was how, in all of his poems, everything is in transition. Everything is passing through the world, through time, through states of being; and these passages that stood out to me. In “The Gift Outright,” Frost details the passage of the nation into being, into life granted by the land through the will of the people. The passage of the seasons and lives in “Two Tramps in Mud Time” speaks to this as well. The passing of the burning of the house into a ruin in “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things” clearly speaks to a symbol of death, as do many of the other poems; and it is this passage, through death and into life, upon which I found Frost to be focused.
This transition into death and back into life can be seen throughout Frost’s poetry, such as in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” in which he meditates his death before continuing on. Frost also meditates on death in nature in “Gathering Leaves,” though he allows the reader to pass through this death in nature in the final stanza, in which he presents a notion that death is necessary for life, symbolized by using the dead leaves to keep the earth fertile for the next harvest. He also references the Myth of Sisyphus in this poem, by referring to the futility and endless nature of his toil. The idea of work comes up again in “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” as the speaker feels that the nobility of his toil is worth more than money, and that the satisfaction he finds is heavenly.
It is ultimately this poem that I found most fascinating, in that it mirrors so closely Bede’s “Account of the Conversion of Edwin.” In this old poem, Edwin’s counselor uses a story of a bird escaping a hailstorm as a symbol of man’s ascent into heaven and thus converts Edwin to Christianity. What is significant about Bede’s tale is that birds in Anglo-Saxon life were seen as the carriers of souls into the afterlife, particularly in battle-poetry, when they are often presented as feasting on the bodies of fallen warriors. This blending of the sacred and profane, of using pagan symbols to reflect holy beliefs, occurs in “Two Tramps in Mud Time” as well.
As the poem begins, Frost is speaking of mundane labor and treats his act of splitting wood as difficult. However, in the third stanza, the poem transitions into something different, as Frost begins speaking of the weather and of the threats of cold and storms (the hail storm). Frost then continues on into the bird symbol, to which he states, “Except in color he isn’t blue,” showing that his expectation is that in death there is happiness. The next stanza speaks to his fear of the moment of death, as the ice forms in the water. Then, as he returns to the wood splitting, he has a revelation of his own self and being and life and what once was a labor becomes a joy. In the final stanzas, Frost seems to debate the meaning of work in life and the redemption of labor and a job well done.
Anyway, I don’t know if any of this holds any water, it’s just what I thought of as I went through these poems.