“Desert places” – personal analysis

Sometimes, I watch a drama or a film of people together whether as a family, friends or lovers and I get a nice warm feeling inside as I marvel at the happiness and beauty of relationships. However, there are occasions when after watching those things, I feel an extreme feeling of loneliness as I find myself (unnecessarily) comparing my own life to that of others.

Today was such an occasion and tying in with the feeling of loneliness, I found myself reciting, “that loneliness will be more lonely ere it will be less”, which is a line from Robert Frost’s poem, “Desert Places”. I felt the urge to write down my response on this poem and though I am no good English student, I offer a brief analysis below.

Desert places by Robert Frost

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it – it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less –
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars – on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

In this poem, the narrator describes a winter landscape in relation to his own feeling of loneliness. The first stanza sets the scene by mentioning the coldness and the darkness of the surrounding field, and the soft s and f sounds reflect the smooth untouched snow that covers the earth as well as the quietness of the scene, muted by the snow.  However, although such a scene could be described to be beautiful by some, the narrator picks out “weeds” and “stubble” which are words that suggest undesirability and the narrator’s discomfort as he examines the scene. The word “smothered” in the second stanza also has a sense of suffocation which could reflect the narrator’s own feelings of being oppressed by the sheer emptiness of the field.

The feeling of isolation that the narrator experiences is emphasized in the third stanza where a bleak picture is painted. Throughout the poem, the third person plurals (ie they, theirs etc) are used in contrast to the singular first person pronouns (ie I, me etc). This emphasizes how the narrator is separated from the rest of nature which is described as a collective. There is a clear emphasis on the fact that the snow-covered landscape has no meaning on its own, which I think ties in with what the final stanza is saying about nature in relation to man.

From the description of the field, the perspective is widened to look at the stars. The way in which he says “on stars where no human race is” suggests how he now acknowledges that he himself is pretty small in the whole scale of the universe and how his state of loneliness could be considered not lonely in comparison to the emptiness out there in the distance. The final two lines include four pronouns that refer to himself, which shifts the main focus of the poem from the landscape onto the narrator. These lines suggest that the landscape, which he described earlier to be bleak and empty, is an illusion that is a result of his own sense of loneliness.

Overall, I think Robert Frost is saying that our perspective of a landscape is dependent on our internal thoughts and emotions. When we feel lonely or depressed, we are more likely to see a scene like this and describe it as blank and empty, when at other times, we might describe as beautiful and tranquil. We can become enveloped in our own emotions and forget our measure on the overall scale of place, time and significance and I think Frost has a point that “I have it in me… To scare myself with my own desert places”.

I am not saying that we are insignificant nor am I claiming that we should all get a move on with our lives and that our emotions do not matter; because it does, and when we feel down, we have a right to feel down until we feel better. But I think this is a beautiful poem that makes me reflect on the fact that our perspectives are influenced on our internal conditions and I think that Frost quite accurately conveys the thoughts of the narrator and his realization that his view is a result of his own imagination.

Comments and discussions are welcome 🙂

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7 thoughts on ““Desert places” – personal analysis

  1. Thanks you very much for this brief analysis of the poem. I’m a student of English and I, as a future teacher of American literature or others subjects related with the language, I really appreciated when people give their opinions about a poem and make us, the students, realizes about the real interpretation of a poem that doesn’t seem so clear at first sight. Thanks you very much from Spain 🙂

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    • I’m glad I was able to be a bit of help 🙂 I wouldn’t claim that my interpretation is “real”, but, as someone who would like to become a teacher myself in the future, I also find it useful to discover other people’s opinions!

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    • Im in my late 70s living a few miles from the frost farm in new hampshire. I have spent many a snowy day crossing the blanket of snow and ice with my dog. after reading the poem and your analysis I LOOK FORWARD TO THE NEW STORMS NEXT WINTER. THANKS FOR TEACHING AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS. ED K. DERRY NH.

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  2. I enjoyed your explication. I relish each time I read this poem…it is one, if not the, favorite of mine from Frost.

    Frost paints in stanzas 1-3 a multi-dimensional landscape connected to his psyche. You get this, which is lovely. Frost’s word selection is impeccable…stubble and weeds…lending to desolation. Look at each stanza as it were a clue into dimension of his momentary reality, his snapshot or his tableau for the theater of the mind. Stanza first gives us the first brush strokes into time of year and time of day; stanza two pulls the reader into Frost’s specific place in time and into his mind…”I am too absent-spirited to count.” Is it irony that he is non-participatory but is recording with so few words this resilient image? This is a mere snapshot…a millisecond; one can almost see individual snowflakes wafting downward in the moonlight. He is driving or walking or riding a horse, perhaps. We know not. Is he absent in spirit to more successfully record? Absent in spirit but fully OBJECTIVELY aware? I would love to ask him. Stanza three extends his syllogism: Winter destroys (expression) Nature; Winter nights are lonely; therefore loneliness destroys Nature (Us?). In the fourth stanza we see him personalize this in a way that goes beyond this Earth and syllogism, to some degree, at least, and pushes us to turn inward, I think. What about our “OWN DESERT PLACES?” What about the terror of addiction, the powerlessness of victimization for any reason…the loss of self or the loss of those close to us? The passage of time and the loss of family, friends, loved ones that carries each of us closer to our own deaths?

    Is this the poet in old age? Not really, Frost wrote this in “A Further Range” published in 1937…he would live another 25+ years. Anyway, you can see that I have thought often and long upon this….searching out my own desert places and to remove the loneliness and fear found therein. I commend you and urge you to continue your efforts in your study of letters. Cheers for now.

    Respectively,
    T. L. Housman

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  3. I appreciated your thoughts and interpretation as I read this poem to my 9 yr old son and we discussed our feelings in response to the poem. Your discussion was what we needed!

    Liked by 1 person

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