Desert Places by Robert Frost | Summary, Analysis, Theme, Line By Line Analysis

Desert Places by Robert Frost | Summary, Analysis, Theme, Line By Line Analysis

Desert Places Robert Frost


Desert Places was published in the American Mercury (April 1934) and in A Further Range (1936). The poem expresses the sense of loneliness enveloping the poet’s heart and mind.

Desert Places Theme

“The loneliness includes me unawares” forms the subject matter of the poem. Desert places visible in between stars can’t “scare” the poet or the speaker (in the poem) more than his own inner emptiness-“my own desert place.” The poet-speaker is overtaken by a sense of fear when he sees the vast gulf between the eternity and the small space that also deserted one) that he fills in. In the beginning of the poem, the observer’s sense impression about the external such as “snow falling” and “night falling” are recorded with great precision, but toward the middle the tone changes and dwells largely on “loneliness”, “desert places“, “empty spaces”, “blanker whiteness”, and “benighted snow”

Desert Places Line by Line Analysis

Fast on fast-The repetition of “fast” indicates that it was a terrible snow-fall.

weeds- undesirable growth of plants,

stubble- stumps of cut grain after reaping

snowinglast – The last part of a few weeds” and “stubble” was visible, not all.

The woods theirs – The forest around covered up entirely with snow. Moreover, the woods have an identity with snow.

All animals are…… lairs- The animals were lying in their lairs because of terrible snow-fall.

I am too… count-The poet-speaker is so much depressed in spirit that he pays no heed to counting the number of animals lving in their lairs.

The loneliness…… unawares- He is taken over by his personal fear and sense of loneliness. How and for what?–he doesn’t know it.

And lonely as it is…… be less – The speaker’s loneliness will only be more intensified, as it is, rather than be decreased.

Ere- before.

benighted-overtaken by night, here, it means mental or spiritual darkness.

A blanker whiteness… to express- The poet speaker’s spirit is sealed with a blanket fear and darkness rather than that created by snow fall in the night. His fear or loneliness does not find an outlet and it is almost inexpressible.

They cannot…desert place- The snow-covered field or the desert place between stars, the stars where no human being lives, can’t scare the poet so much as his own inner desertion lying “much nearer home.

Desert Places Summary

[In the first person] When I was passing an open field, I saw terrible snow-fall at the time of nightfall. And the earth was completely covered with smooth snow, but the last part of a few weeds and stubble was visible. The woods around are also snow-covered, as they should be. All the animals are crouched in their lairs due to severe cold. I am very much dispirited to be able to count the number of these animals. I have been suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness. And this is such a sort of loneliness which will go on making me more lonely rather than less. I am in the grip of a blank fear and spiritual exhaustion which is neither explicable nor has an outlet. The deserted places in the external world or in the sky between the stars, where no human creature lives, cannot scare or frighten me any more than the desert places within my own soul which lives so close to me.

Desert Places Analysis

The key words in the poem are: “The loneliness includes me unawares.” Snow-fall creates chill in external atmosphere and the sense of loss creates chill internally. And this is the subject matter, which moves from ‘observation to philosophization’, as in Stopping by Woods in a Snowy Evening.

In the words of Cleanth Brooks, “Let us assume that the poem had been written without the last stanza. It would still be a poem, and a good one, but a very different one from the poem we know, such a poem would differ from The Main-Deep for instance, in several particulars. In the first place, the reader knows who the observer is. A man, at dusk, is passing through an open field where snow is falling. The poem is quickly defined as his observation. In the second place, the man, in the second stanza, indicates a relation between himself and the empty field on which the snow falls, although he does not definitely state it. The snow-covered field, in its desolation, stands as a kind of symbol for the man’s own loneliness. And since this relation is established for us in the second stanza, what follows in the third, though it is stated only in application to the field, comes to us as having application to the loneliness of the man who is observing. Then follow the lines:

“A blanker whiteness of benighted snow

With no expression, nothing to express…”

As implied here, it does not matter what happens to the man or what he does, for nothing can have any further meaning.”

“If the poem be taken as ending there, the process used by the poet to give his effect is very easily defined: the observer describes a natural scene which becomes for the reader a symbol of the observer’s own despairing state of mind. The scene in nature has been presented so that it serves to communicate a human meaning. But the poem in reality does not end with the third stanza, and the last stanza introduces a new element into the poem-that is, the poet’s own analysis and statement, an element that is almost wholly lacking from previous poems in this section.”

The fact is that the last stanza does not seem transition from the earlier part. The observer does not say that after looking at the empty field he lifted his eyes to the sky and remembered what he had been told about the great emptiness of the stars and the intersteller spaces. But the reader understands that, and by the very abruptness of the shift gets a more dramatic effect, as if the man had jerked himself from his musing on the field to look at the sky and then make his comment. This comment, in brief, says this: a man who has known the desolation possible to human experience can’ frightened or depressed by mean desolation in nature. And though this comment stresses the loneliness of man, it gives us a different impression of the poem. It is not an impression of mere despair, for the man, we feel, has not been overcome by his own “desert places,” but has mastered them.

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This attitude is implied in the poem, though not stated in so many words. The single word “scare confirms the attitude. The man says:

“They cannot scare me with their empty spaces.”

He does not use ‘terrify’, or ‘horrify’, or ‘astound’ or any word that would indicate the full significance of human loneliness and despair, Instead, he uses the word “scare”, which is an understatement, a common, colloquial word. One “scares” children by telling them ghost stories, or by jumping at them from behind curtains. But by the use of the word in the poem the man is made to imply that he is not a child to be easily affected. Knowledge to the infinite emptiness of space, which astronomers may give him, can’t affect him, for he knows, being a grown up man, that the loneliness of spirit can be greater than the loneliness of external nature. But in the last line the word “scare” is repeated, and its connotations are brought into play in the new perspective:

“To scare myself with my own desert places.”

That is, the man has had so much experience of life, is so truly mature, that even the greater loneliness of the spirit can’t make him behave like a child who is afraid of the dark or of ghost stories. Even in his loneliness of spirit he can still find strength enough in himself.

One should also mark the change in rhyme-scheme and also in rhythm in the last stanza. In other stanzas, the rhyming scheme is a a b a, whereas in the last one it is a b c a, Any way, the changed tone of the last stanza is undeniable.

1 thought on “Desert Places by Robert Frost | Summary, Analysis, Theme, Line By Line Analysis”

  1. I thought this remarkable:

    P.G. Wodehouse (15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) wrote (published) the following line in Collier’s Weekly, June 5, 1920 (when he was ~39 and Robert Frost was ~46) as part of his serialized story “The Little Warrrior”.

    “IN the lives of each one of us, as we look back and review them in retrospect, there are certain desert wastes from which memory winces like some tired traveler faced with a dreary stretch of road.”

    Frost’s poem was published in 1934 when he was ~60.


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