Departmental by Robert Frost | Summary, Analysis, Theme

Departmental by Robert Frost | Summary, Analysis, Theme

Departmental by Robert Frost


Robert Frost‘s poem, Departmental was published in A Further Range (1936). The poem is light in tone and movement. The poem originally appeared with a substitute. “The End of My Ant Jerry“, which is more in true with the satirical tone of the verses.

Departmental by Robert Frost Theme

The poem is a satire on orderliness, “a criticism of standardization.” It is a warning that the ant-order, if brought into the human way of existence, would kill the very spirit behind living.” The poem seems to be in the form of a fable, but it can be “easily regarded as a satire on governmental bureaucracy or of academic specializations, in the structure of colleges and universities.” These are the two highly organized departments known to man. The poet has rendered this poem the form of an ant-fable because ants are specially known for their high sense of organization.

Departmental by Robert Frost Summary

An ant on the table-cloth moved hastily towards a sleeping insect which was many times bigger in size. While running towards it, the ant did not show even the least surprise, as it was not his (ant’s] business to show surprise. He did not touch the moth and continued his course. The ant did not bother about and face the moth as if it was a member of the “enquiry squad”, whose work is to find out the ways of God and the nature of time and space, and thereby the ant would have to explain his case to the moth.

Ants belong to a peculiar race; it is such a race as move with fast motion by the body of the dead ant without stopping even for a moment as though least concerned about such things. But whatever ant comes on the aerial link, he gives him information about the dead ant, and in this way the report is passed on to the higher officials. Then the world is officially circulated that Jerry McCormic is dead, Jerry who was a soldier on duty. Now the special Janizary whose duty is to bury the dead will go and bring the body of the dead home to his people for a final homage.

The orders were also passed that the ant should by given the State honour by placing him in a ‘caxly-leaf”, by wrapping him up in a petal for shroud, and rubbing him with the watery discharge of the nettles. These were the orders of the ants’ Queen. Immediately a grave-looking undertaker appears on the scene and takes the formal position with feelers calmly spread and turns over the dead by the middle of his body and throws him high in the air to carry him away. No ant is to stand and watch all this, for ants really are.

Departmental by Robert Frost Analysis

This comic poem written in light mood is highly satirical about certain institution or organizations claiming to be departmental and disciplined. As stated above in the beginning of this poem. It is a satire on orderliness, “a criticism of standardization”. It is the form of an ant-fable. Ants are typically known for their industry and movement in groups. They represent the useless brain draining search of the so-called philosophers who wear and tire out themselves in making the mysteries of God, time and space, known to man. The poem is “a warning that the ant-order, if brought into the human way of existence, would kill the very spirit behind living.”

The ants have a queer habit of by-passing everything big or small, even one of their own dead, unless they are to cross the antennae of another of the race. They are always on the move, doing something or the other by way of habit, and business like:

“Ants are a curious race,

One crossing with hurried tread

The body of one of their dead

Isn’t given a moment’s arrest

Seems not even impressed.”

The comic touch is apparent in the poem in the following lines:

“Then words gives forth in Formic:

Death’s come to Jerry McCormic,

Our selfless forager Jerry

Will the special Janizary

Whoso office it is to bury

The dead of the commissary

Co bring him home to his people.”

Mark the comic rhymes in ‘Formic’, ‘McCormic’in Jerry’. Janizary’; and the ‘bury’, ‘commissary! For alliteration and rhythm one may read the following:

“And heaving him high in air,

Carries him out of there.

No one stands round to stare.

It is nobody else’s affair.”

Despite the satirical tone of the poem, which is so much clear in it, it should not mislead the reader to believe that the poet has any special lesson to impart herein. One should take it easy, read it lightly, and enjoy it fully–that’s all. One may not resist praising the imaginable thinking of the poet who is trying to evolve an analogy, though in a very refined manner, between the ants and the mankind. Should one deduce, after reading the poem, that man is no better than ants is being “departmental”?

Also Read:

A didactic poem usually adopts a direct and unambiguous tone in expression which Frost does not-display here. He has rather adopted, consciously perhaps, equivocation. One is not sure whether, at the end of the poem, the poet is simply staying a fact or he is ridiculing the ants. This is the closing couplet :

“It couldn’t be called ungentle,

But how thoroughly departmental.”

Even if there is hidden any element of satire in it, it does not mean that the poet is moralizing in any way. And satire, no doubt, it is, first and last, as L. Thompson has indicated, “Perhaps the fable is most easily considered as a burlesque of governmental bureaucracy (lettered and numbered) or of academic specializations in the structure of colleges and universities.” And in the last line the “irony of regimentation is wryly pronounced.”

Departmental by Robert Frost Line by Line Analysis

Ran into a dormant month- went near sleeping insects.

Of many times. size- The insect was much bigger or larger in size than the ant.

He showed not the…such- The ant was not the least surprised by the very big size of the insect near whom it had reached its run.

scarcely- hardly,seldom,

off on his duly run-continued the course, without showing any surprise at the present of the month ahead.


Yet if he encountered the case-In these lines the poet has provided a metaphysical jest at those ant philosophers who have taken upon themselves the pretentious function of exploring and explaining the subtlest mysteries like those concerning moths. The philosophers have been described as members of the enquiry squad”, whose work is to find out infinite mysteries concerning God, time and space.

Ants are a curious… impressed- Ants belong to a peculiar race. They are such a race as does not bother to stop even for a moment to pay the last homage to the dead ant. Dead or alive, ants are little concerned with others’ business, so self-centred and businessman-like the ants appear to be, as the poet thinks,

reports-passes on information to whosoever comes by the way.

antennae-aerial; insect’s feelers.

And they no doubt…at court-The report is passed on to the lugher official in charge in the department of ants.

Then words goes forth…commissary-Make the comic rhymes in Formic McCormic, in Jerry and Janizary, and in bury and commissary,

sepal-one of the divisions of the calyx leaf (cf. peal)

Wrap him for …a petal-For the dead ant, the wrapping cloth is a petal.

Embalm-rub the dead with preservatory oils and spices.

ichor of nettle-nettle is a kind of plant growing profusely on wasteland and covered with stinging hairs.

ichor- It is a fluid acrid discharge from wounds.

Embalm him… nettle–“Embalm him with ichor of nettle; run the dead with the watery discharge of nettle.”

a solemn mortician-an impressive undertake.


No one stands…affair- No ant is seen on the look out for the dead, as it no one’s concern.

It couldn’t departmental- That other ants are least concerned about the dead one is hardly “ungentle.” This is something rather in keeping with the ant’s nature-a thing of satire-to be disciplined.

Leave a Comment