…And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less…
--- Robert Frost
No one is born lonely… Never. Loneliness is something everyone fears and, whether we like it or not, everyone feels lonesome at least once in his/her lifetime. It is inevitable. Try as hard as ever you can, cry as loud as ever you can – deep in heart you are still desperately lonely and, probably, nothing can be done. To my mind, it is exactly what Robert Frost wanted to say in his famous poem “Desert Places”, which was originally published in 1936 in A Further Range volume.
Generally speaking, the poem is a four quatrains iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme of the “Desert Places” is AABA-CDCC, although the poet decided not to link the stanzas by means of rhyme. If we read the second and third stanzas, we will clearly hear the steady rhythm of five iambic beats per line.
Clearly psychological in nature, the poem shows a well-reasoned and sensible fear we all experience at some point in our life – a fear to be isolated, rejected, lost in the world of lie and extremely lonely. However, the loneliness that Frost fears is not physical. It is the void deep in his heart that makes him miserable and depressed. It is the fear of the unknown, the fear of the uncertainty that he has never felt before.
The title of the poem speaks for itself. “Desert places” are moral and spiritual wildernesses, where the lyric hero has lost his way. The setting of the poem is the first terrifying thing - the desert place is “almost covered smooth in snow”. With winter, acting as a symbol of the end or even death, the author is observing the world full of death. The image of falling snow and night gives an idea of high uncontrollable speed at which our life is moving. The fall of the night, the chill of the snow as well as an idea of blanketing the world and smothering all living things are skillfully used metaphors to strengthen the influence of the situation over the reader.
The desert place is where there is nothing, no matter what you want and what you are looking for. There is nothing “but a few weeds and stubble showing last”, which symbolize speakers faith in change for the better. He is trying to say that however hard our lives appear to us and however deep in mess we seem to be, our hope is the only saving grace we have. Moreover, to my mind, the image of weeds is juxtaposed with the image of woods in the next lines. The weeds are those beings, who strive to survive in the lonely world, while woods feel comfortable under the snow and seem to eagerly accept their present state.
In the second stanza Frost describes how the animals are smothered in their lairs. When the loneliness comes, it isolates all flesh, man and beast. Speaker starts to realize that he is trapped by it as well – “the loneliness includes me unawares”. We can assume that the words ‘absent-spirited’ and ‘unawares’ were used to show that previously the speaker was quite spirited and aware. So, what had happened to him? Is the society to blame? Here we understand that the speaker is almost forced into loneliness as those weeds are forced to be covered with snow… And we can easily relate to the speaker, as everyone had probably had such terrific situations where nothing could be done and no one could help.
The most vivid symbol in this quatrain is wood, which represents the people and the society in general. The speaker is jealous of the woods. They are the part of the nature, they have their own place, while the hero does not. He is so alone inside because he does not feel to be a part of something bigger. Moreover, the fetters of the society control are brilliantly described by the comparison with the snow which controls the weeds and the woods that control the field.
There are no characters, no action and no extravagant language in the next stanza. Yet, it is the most intricate quatrain of the whole poem. “With no expression, nothing to express” the author is losing his last glimmer of hope and faith. He is starting to give in. The battle is too tough to continue. Here the author uses repetition of the word ‘lonely’ three times; he understands that “lonely as it is, that loneliness will be more lonely”. And this emotion will definitely continue to increase, so there is no sense to continue the fight. There is nothing but loneliness, blankness, and absent-spiritedness. The epithets used within this stanza only aggravate the scene imagined by the readers and we would definitely prefer not to experience the same feelings of the speaker.
However, in the last quatrain Frost shows his indomitable will to win, to overcome the depression that affected him. “They cannot scare me…” he says. It contrasts greatly to the overall forlorn tone of the poem. The speaker is not frightened anymore because he found himself and those flickers of hope, which he had lost. Moreover, the speaker explains that empty spaces are not what really frightened him. It is the inner void that is terrifying.
There is one more symbol, the symbol of the stars. They represent the elusive dreams and goals we are striving for. Frost clearly says that very often the goals of the society are far from being realistic and easily achievable. They only suck the spirit out of individuals. That is why the speaker would rather make his personal decisions than be at society’s beck and call. He has his own path and the choice to explore it by himself is the only mark of his individuality.
Personally, I like Frost’s “Desert Places” very much as it causes me to explore the emotions that I might otherwise choose to ignore. It shows that very often we are lonely even if not alone and our loneliness is much more complex feeling than a mere solitude and physical isolation.