Home Burial by Robert Frost
Table of Contents
One of the marvels in North Boston, Home Burial, a dramatic poem was written and published in 1915. In this dramatic narrative Robert Frost has depicted a critical situation arising between husband and wife over the death of their son
Home Burial Theme
The theme of the poem, Home Burial is the burying of the dead child and the critical situation arising out of it between the couple, the husband being a countryman and the wife being a city-bred. As Reginald Cook has said in The New Dimensions that in Home Burial, “there is the drama of social adjustment in human relationship.” The son dies. This breaks the wife completely. She peeps through the window and sees that her husband is digging the grave of the child.
On returning home, he talks of daily concerns. This further strengthens the wife’s conviction that her husband is not touched by the tragedy at all. The husband tries to explain his position to her, but she is unable to follow him. This creates a tension between them. The wife becomes almost hysterical and desperate due to the tragedy. It is a highly suggestive poem, and the title is the most significant, since it does not only tell us something about the burial of the dead child, but also about the burial of domestic peace.
Home Burial Line by Line Analysis
He saw… her before he saw him- The situation is created in these lines. The husband will be the first to speak.
She took a doubtful step… undid it- She took a hesitant step downward but went back to regain the former heights from where she had been observing something erstwhile.
Wonted- habituated, accustomed to
So small the window…a bedroom- The entire graveyard which could be seen through the window; the graveyard which is quite small.
Don’t, don’t, don’t she cried- In Frost’s own words, “I also think well of those four don’ts in Home Burial. They would be good in prose and they gain something from the way they are placed in the verse. These four don’ts, no doubt, express the intensity of feeling in the wife.”
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banister- upright supporting stair-handrail,
He said twice over…himself- He repeated himself before he knew that he was so doing.
Not you any man can- The woman could not bear even to think that her husband might talk of the dead child with any feeling. Talking means to her utter indifference to the domestic tragedy befallen to the pair. She is so much angered that she does not want to stay in her husband’s presence. She feels suffocated. She also feels that no man would ever talk about his dead son.
My words are…an offence- My words always aggrieve you.
She moved the latch a little-This reads like a stage direction,
motherless of a first child- the way the mother takes the death of her first born. The husband wants to know as to why she takes the death of the child so seriously despite the deep love he has so for her. He consoles her with love, though in vain.
Sneering- speaking scornfully.
God, what a woman- These words express the husband’s utter sense of surprise and shock at the wife’s blunt behaviour towards him.
If you had any feeling…didn’t know you- The wife thinks that her husband has no feeling for the dead child since he dug the grave himself. How could a father with feeling do it? The words like “leap and leap in air”, “leap up”, “like that, like that” and “roll back down the mound beside the hole” emphasize her points of his being heartless.
I shall laugh…I’m cursed -The husband is going to laugh his worst laughter, because he is cursed to hear discredited words from his own wife who thinks of him to be a brute.
“I can repeat…you couldn’t”- The wife goes on cursing the husband for his heartlessness, as he does not think what will happen to the tender body of his dead child lying buried in the grave in such a bad weather-“Three foggy mornings and one rainy day.” The husband talks in his usual manner as if nothing had happened in the family-this is what she actually protests against.
Where you mean…by force, I will- The husband wants to know of her destination to be able to follow her and bring her back home forcefully. Maybe, husbands have some claim to exercise force over their wives, or good relations between them will be impossibility: may be, this force is in the form of legal rights.
Home Burial Summary
(1) A man must partly.. with them-
A man must give up his masculine hardness of temper, in part at least, to please a woman. The husband, saying so, declares that he is willing to have some arrangement, the terms of which would be binding on him not to interfere in her special work. At the same time, he makes it clear that he does not like to have such forbidding arrangements to be made between those who love one another. It is true that two persons who are not in love with each other can pull on any how with such restrictive arrangements, but the two who are in real love need not such a thing.
(2) I’m not so much… in the force of love-
The husband implores the wife to let him have his chance of sharing her grief and united in it. He tells her standing at a distance from him in the presence of all would create an impression to onlookers that he is a hard-hearted husband, though he is really not so. He frankly confesses that he is unable to understand her obstinate over-dramatization of grief. He wants to know as to why she has taken the death of her first born so keenly, despite the deep love he has for her. .
(3) The nearest friends can go things they understand-
The wife says that though the nearest friends or relations may die, but the kins are So wretched that they don’t feel for them deeply. The utmost they do is to take the dead to the graveyard and no more truck with him. From the time of one’s illness, one becomes helplessly alone. Friends don’t remember one after burial, and busy themselves in living things and poems and their ordinary course of life. In brief, very soon their zest for life is revived.
Home Burial Analysis
Home Burial is perhaps the most intense of Frost’s dramatic dialogues- dramatic as Chekhov and Sherwood Anderson were, with gesture, movement, tone of voice, and “sentencing” the instruments of the tragedy. Grief as the loss of a first child spins the plot, and neither the wife nor the husband is at fault, but the conflict between the father, a countryman, and the mother, a citybred, is nonetheless pitiful and terrible. She is hysterical, and sees her husband as a stranger yet she speaks one kind of truth-how the living turn quickly away from the dead and she “won’t have grief so” if she can change it.
To the man, it seems only right graveyard, visible from their bed room window. He is insensitive enough to repeat a country saying about rotting birch fences to his wife without realizing how the horror of decay has augmented her grief. Yet his own grief is as real as it controlled. He has begun to accept the death of his boy as she is yet unable of humility and frustration, love and anger, as he argues their reconciliation
The issue between them is mostly unresolved. The wife gives out the threat:
“You-oh, you think the talk is all, I must go
Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you-“
But time presumably will resolve their differences. In Frost, as in Shakespeare, “the play is the thing.”
In Home Burial, says Louis Untermeyer, “the strange and the familiar are strikingly splendid.” The talk is the talk of everyday, the accents of a man and wife facing a sort of crisis. But the situation is strange-common in words, uncommon in experience. Frost himself thought well of the poem:
“I also think well of those four don’ts in Home Burial. They would be good in prose and they gain something from the way they are placed in the verse. Then there is the threatening “If-you-do!” (The opening line of the last stanza of the poem). It is that particular kind of imagination that I cultivate rather than the kind that merely sees things, the hearing imagination rather than the seeing imagination though I should not want to be without the latter.”
Thus, Home Burial is a dramatic dialogue which is “most moving” “intensely dramatic”, and in which “the bearing imagination” has been thoroughly exploited. Its action moves round the situation of infant’s death. But Frost brings larger issues into the forefront issues such as husband wife relationship or that between man and woman life and death. The title of the poem is highly significant it suggests not only the burial of the dead infant, but also domestic harmony.
Home Burial, in beauty and grandeur, ranks with The Death of the Hired Man. Frost’s these two dramatic narratives can favourably be compared with Robert Browning’s peculiarly intense and character analyzing dramatic monologues like Andrea Del Sarto, Fra Lippo Lippi, My Last Duchess, and The Pauper Witch of Grafton (in Time Witches). Like The Fear, Snow, The Hill Wife, this poem, too achieves a fine degree of drama.
In Home Burial, blank verse has been employed very effectively. It gives expression to different shades of feeling and thought and is highly helpful in revealing the characters involved. The main interest of the poem is the revelation of characters in ‘conflict’. The husband and the wife are distinct personalities in the poem. The woman is, no doubt, hysterical and not prepared to hear the logic of unfeeling man; the man is considerate and manly. To express the intensities and interruptions, such a masterly use of monosyllables is notable:
“Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,’ she cried.”
‘Not you! Oh, where’s my hat?” Oh I don’t need it!
I must get out of here. I must get air.
I don’t know rightly whether any man can.”
“You-oh, you think the talk is all. I must go-”
These passages tend to heighten the cumulative effect of the poem in a considerable degree.