Directive, a Poem by Robert Frost
Table of Contents
Directive by Robert Frost was written in 1946 and published in 1947 in Steeple Bush. It is “both a narrative and an invitation to the reader to return to the source” (William M. Gibson & George Arms in Twelve American Writers)
Directive by Robert Frost Theme
The present poem may be regarded as “a summing up of Frost’s attitude towards New England and towards existence in general.” To put the theme in the words of W.G. O’Donnell, “The directive sends the reader up an old country lord; one feels the past close by, peering curiously out of the abandoned cellar holes, like “eye pairs out of forty firkins.” But Frost is not sending any one back to the past or to the land of subsistence farming or even to the country atmosphere. The destination turns out to be a brook, cold as spring, the water of the house that once flourished at the top of the hill. It is not the America of the past that counts, but the ending source of wisdom that created a life full of vitality and happiness. As usual, Frost’s directive is to cut through current problems. What the poem affirms is the difficulty of finding a true source of spiritual strength. But you must find it. You can’t get saved if you don’t drink from the mountain brook :
“Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drinking and be whole again beyond confusion.”
Directive by Robert Frost Summary
The poet directs the reader to come out of the pressing present and to go the past in point of time, the past which was so simple because it was not encumbered with accounts of burning, dissolution, and breaking off, as the graveyard marble sculpture in the face of weather may turn out to be in the course of time. Because of the passage of time, the house has become demolished and does not seem a house at all, standing on a farm which has gone out of its original shape, and the house and the farm are located in an old town, now no more recognizable as a town. Through all these things and places runs a road. The place, where the poet guide directs the reader, looks like a quarry, and there is every likelihood of getting lost there without a good competent guide.
In his directive the poet tells the reader that his destination has been a brook containing the water for the ‘earnest’ house; in religious connotation, man’s destination and fate has been up to the source of vitality which the water is, This brook is as cool as spring and is very close to the place of its birth, flowing on a high and fresh hilltop without making much sound.
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Directive by Robert Frost Line by Line Analysis
Back out of all the weather – The poet wants us to go back to the past which was simple, burned, broken, and full of vicissitudes.
There is a house…town- In a former town upon an old farm, there stands house, ruined and fallen.
quarry- a place where stone is got from ground for building, etc.
monolithic-pertaining to monument Consisting of single standing stone.
Great monolithic knees…covered – The former town long ago give up the pretense of keeping covered the great single stone of monument, the stone being represented here as having ‘knees’ to support it. It is an example of personification.
Wear- impairment, the act of wearing.
ledges- ridges, narrow shelves sticking out of cliff or wall,
the chisel work-The lines along the ledges presented a scene which looked like the chisel-work.
ordeal- test, trying, searching experience,
firkins-small cakes of indeterminate size.
Nor need your mind…firkins-The poet directs the reader not to mind the series of test that he will have to undergo on visit to the old farmhouse. One of such tests might be that he was being watched from forty cellar holes which looked like the eye pairs taken out of forty small cakes.
upstart-suddenly rising up.
He for the wood’s – presence is concerned, this may be accounted for their rising ignorance of him. The woods express their excitement by causing gentle rustle to their leaves.
They think too…trees- The woods feel proud because they think that they have given shelter under them to a few old torn apple trees.
Or creaking…of grain- Or the man who is carrying heavy load of grain and who is making a harsh grating noise under the burden of that load.
Faded-immersed into, mixed into,
a harness gall-a painful, swelling on horse, etc. caused by its attachment to cart or plough.
make belive-not real, whose existence is to be guaranteed only by belief
shattered-broken into pieces.
The playthings…children-The pieces of dishes lying there.
Wees for…them glad-Then the poet directs the reader to be sorry over the way the children become glad in small things. A contrast between the grown up men who are always disconsolate in plenteous things and the small children who feel happy in “little things they have to play with has been suggested herein.
Them for the house a house-Then the reader should lament for the shortlived house, which is now no more,
belilaced-covered up with lilacs.
dent-hollow or mark.
dough-flour (or meal) kneaded with water.
This was no… in earnest-The house that is visible was originally not a playhouse, but one meant for religious pursuit and concentration.
Destination-goal; place a person or thing is bound for destiny the power which foreordains, person’s fate.
A book that…to rage-The destination is the book, which is also man’s destiny. The book is the symbol of vitality in man’s life. It was as cold as spring and was the source of water for the house. It flourished at the top of the hill too Lofty-very high,
to rage-to make much sound.
original-pure, unmixed; so pure it was (and so high) that it did not make much sound
As Saint Mark…must -“The Gospel, according to St. Mark, makes use of many parables. The passage probably refers to chapters 4:21-22: And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought into be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and on a stand? For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, to come to light” Egbert S. Oliver). C. Mark 16:16.
Here are your…confusion-Lastly, hint is given here as to the primary source of our vitality-“Your waters and your watering place.” According to Oliver, “The last line has relevance to the Last Supper, where Christ drank from the chalice.” Here, as in a few preceding lines, the Biblical allusions have grown very thick, suggesting man to drink the water of energy and vitality, the water of Christianity, if he want to survive in a world of confusion.
Directive by Robert Frost Analysis
Frost has rarely aimed at the high Miltonic note, but here and in a few other poems, when he has, his arrow has struck the white. Directive is both narrative and an invitation to the reader to return to the source. Most simply, the source is a mountain brook near its spring. “Too lofty and original to rage,” at an abandoned New England cellar hole between two abandoned villages, where wheel ruts in the rock leading west and enormous glacial grooves take one “back” into history and pre-history. With its injunction to lose oneself and to “Drink and be whole again beyond confusion”, Directive is, beyond question, a “double-layer” poem. Is this the source of the original Frost homestead, nine generations back? Is Frost glancing again at that “hard-mystery of Jefferson’s” as he calls it in The Black Cottage that will trouble us a thousand years”: Does he imply that man is not man without a sense of his past, nation, race and planet?
Perhaps he means the “backward motion toward the source/ Against the stream” in West Running Brook. If so, Melville’s poem Lone Founts, as Reginald Cook has said, and Thoreau’s image of the fountain-head in “Civil Disobedience” may furnish prototypes for the living waters of Directive.
This poem is extremely condensed as its very title suggests : it is a warning, an injunction, a guidance. Yet it is free from all didacticism, “largely because one feels that the poet is learning about himself at least as much as he is instructing the reader.”
As has been hinted above, Directive is a “double-layer” poem. Apart from what we find it at the surface, there is a rich layer of suggestiveness beneath. According to Egbert S. Oliver, “The symbolic and religious implication is also heightened by the use of the Grail. The last line has relevance to the Last Supper, where Christ drank from the chalice.” The last few lines are surely pregnant with double meaning and symbolism.
W.G. O’Donnel considers Directive as a poem that “reaches the plane of universal meaning and he groups it with North of Boston, The Hill Wife, An Old Man’s Winter Night, October, The Open Bird Berches, Stopping by Woods, To Earthward, Spring Pools, Acquainted with the Night, Happiness Makes Up in Height, etc. In all of them, we don’t smack of Frost’s much-discussed regionalism and he has attained the plane of universal experience. It has been described as representing the poet’s attitude towards New England and towards Man’s existence in general.
“In its gnarled and crotchety way, this odd but vigorous poem is one of his surest victories over the danger of a lapse into regional mannerism. Once again he is concerned with evidence of an older New England that faded away into nature and was lost. As he writes about the rural scene this time, however, he is aware of the confused present-“All now too much for us”-and he casts about for a principle of continuity, a source of strength and wisdom. Unusual and highly effective comparisons and conceits become past of the central experience, for the imagination in the poem has a metaphysical quality” (W.G. O’Donnel).
To be safe, one must strive to reach the mountain brook, the true source of spiritual strength-this is the poet’s directive.