Sunday, February 3, 2013

Essay on Robert Frost's poem "Storm Fear"

Fear of God

Robert Frost’s poem “Storm Fear” is a picture of a winter storm from the security of inside a family’s home. The narrator, probably the father of the family, watches as the snow falls to the ground outside while feeling the warmth from the fireplace indoors.  However, as the fire dies and the cold begins to seep into the house, he starts to worry about how his family will be able to dig out of the snow that is piling higher and higher. I believe this snow storm is a representation of sin in our lives and the fear the narrator feels about getting snowed in is a representation of his fear of sin.
The progression of the surface meaning of “Storm Fear” is an important element in the meaning of the poem. The narrator starts out feeling very secure and comfortable “It costs no inward struggle not to go/Ah no!” (Frost 240). However, as the “cold creeps as the fire dies at length” (Frost 12) he starts to feel depressed. This is a very common stereotype; cold makes people feel sad versus warmth makes them feel good. Stripped of the fleeting comfort that the fire brought, the narrator succumbs to despair and then applies that reaction to the rest of life. He asks how he will have the strength to survive the trials of life if he can’t even fortify himself against the cold: “And my heart owns a doubt/Whether ‘tis in us to arise with day/And save ourselves unaided” (Frost 16-18). Frost uses nature in this poem to bring the narrator to ask questions about his life. The title of the poem, “Storm Fear”, suggests that as the narrator begins to fear the effects of the storm on his family, he also begins to experience doubts and fear about his life. One critic says of Frost’s use of nature in his poetry “Nature itself does not fear, nor does it know fear, but fear can grow out of man’s relationship with it” (Bass 603). The narrator’s feeling of fear about his life is in direct correlation to the fear he feels about being snowed in.
Upon a second reading of the poem, the reader starts to see parallels between the snow storm and the questions that the last three lines raises that were not obvious on the first reading. In the first line, the narrator says “the wind works against us in the dark/And pelts with snow/The lower chamber on the east” (Frost 1-3). A few lines down, the narrator describes the wind as a “beast”. The wording of these lines is very significant. Frost is drawing a parallel here between the storm, the devil, and sin. The narrator says the wind “works against” him “in the dark.” This, combined with the reference to the wind as a “beast”, suggests that the wind is a parallel to the devil. This is the first of several references to Biblical themes. Throughout the Bible, believers are exhorted to arm themselves against the devil implying that he is actively seeking to attack them.  The narrator’s mention that the wind is blowing from the east is also significant. Because it is usually an east wind that brings cold weather, an easterly wind has become an analogy for sin, despair, and trouble. The fact that the snow is coming from the east suggests that the snow is a representation of sin.  Similar parallels between the cold and sin are included in later lines. The narrator says “Those of us not asleep subdued to mark/How the cold creeps as the fire dies at length” (Frost 11-12). This describes how sin can “creep” into people’s lives when their “fire” for right dies.  Those two lines also provide another parallel to life. People don’t normally see themselves diverting from the course they believe is right. It is a gradual “creeping” that will lead them astray. Just as a tiny misalignment on a compass will cause you to end up in a completely different place from where you intended, small choices and compromises can lead you to a place in your life that you never wanted to be. The quiet setting that the narrator is watching the snow in is also very suggestive of quiet meditation about life.
The reader also sees parallels between the comfort the fire brings to the narrator and the comfort people have, or think they have, in life. When the narrator says “It costs no inward struggle not to go” (Frost 7), he is making a statement about how he feels about his life.  He also says “I count our strength/Two and a child” (Frost 9-10). At the first reading, this line appears to be a mere statement about how many people are in the house. However, I believe that this is another statement about how the narrator feels about his life. He feels as if he is strong and able to withstand the storm of life. This is another example of how Frost makes use of Biblical themes; when people feel secure and strong, that is often when a “storm” of life hits and they are knocked down and humbled. Another parallel between the storm and life is the significance of the barn in to the narrator. He describes it as “the comforting barn” (Frost 15) and despairs when the snow storm covers it from view. This is a reference to the temporal things people take comfort in in life. The narrator derives security from the view of his barn and when that is taken away, so is his security. This is a representation of how people whose happiness and security depend on temporal things can be cruelly disappointed when those things are taken away.  
Frost’s handling of the highly Biblical theme of sin is unusual. One critic says of Frost “He [Frost] proffered religious affirmations only equivocally or ironically” (Liebman 417).  Another speaks of Frost’s use of religious themes in his poetry “The speaker in the poetry keeps alive the possibility that something greater than man sustains order and purpose in the universe” (Juhnke 153). In this poem, Frost chooses to handle the theme of sin seriously and utilizes the powerful image of a snow storm to illustrate it.
Frost makes use of poetic devices to illustrate his meaning. The repetition of the “s” sound throughout the entire poem is significant. The “s” sound is most commonly associated with a “shhh” which contributes to the quiet atmosphere of the poem. The differing length of the lines is also suggestive of the drifts of snow that are the central metaphor of the poem.
I immensely enjoyed this poem. Frost’s choice to use a winter storm to illustrate the weakness of man and their need for divine assistance was perfect. The imagery he used created a sense of raw, unrehearsed emotion. I not only felt for the narrator, I felt with him. However, the narrator of this poem is not necessarily the spiritual hero the reader is lead to assume. He only admits he can’t save himself when he has no choice. How much credit does a man deserve when he asks for help only when he is down? Humility is a trait that can’t be limited to the trials of life. If people began to exercise it more often, they might find that happiness depends not on what you have, but how you see what you have. 

Works Cited 

Bass, Eben. "Frost's Poetry of Fear." American Literature 43.4 (1972): 603-15. JSTOR. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. .

Frost, Robert. Robert Frost’s Poems. Ed. Louis Untermeyer. New York:St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2002.Print.

Juhnke, Anne K. "Religion in Robert Frost's Poetry: The Play for Self Possesion." American Literature 36.2 (1964): 153-64. JSTOR. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. .

Liebman, Sheldon W. "Robert Frost, Romantic." Twentieth Century Literature 42.4 (1996): 417-37. JSTOR. Web. 3 Feb. 2013. .

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