Fireflies in the Garden
BY ROBERT FROST
Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.
As with some of his other poems, Frost draws upon natural imagery in order to metaphorically represent human experience. “Fireflies in the Garden,” on the surface, seems to merely be a comparison and contrast between different aspects of Nature. However, upon closer analysis, the speaker of the poem highlights the issue of unauthentic artists unsuccessfully trying to copy the talents and triumphs of famous, prevailing artists.
The first line contains the adjective “real” that describe the stars appearing in the night sky. The word’s usage is intriguing in that the speaker wants the listener to know that these stars are authentic and true and not deceptive emulators. But what could be attempting to copy the grandeur of the stars? The speaker mentions “emulating flies” in the next line. Yet there is a deeper meaning being hinted at if one thinks in to the matter further. The flies never equal the stars in the sky in terms of size (line 3). Size could point to influence in the world, how some people affect the world with their skills. Or it could point to fame, how some are better known than others. Not all humans are created equal by God in terms of talent, and in the literary world, this can be a disheartening thing to those seeking to be the best at their craft. By comparing themselves to more successful people, the task of becoming a serious writer can be daunting.
Yet despite their struggles, some writers strike lucky in their endeavors, or at least produce one-hit wonders that mark their place in literary circles. The fireflies achieve a “star-like start,” in line 5. The work that suddenly lands an aspiring author in the world of fame can be a time of brilliant success. But the speaker ends the poem by saying that “Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.” Those who become famous in artistic ways soon fail to keep their talent fresh and continuous. Though they may have intrigued audiences, they lack the true potential to keep people enthralled for longer periods of time. The word “part” possibly points to a script an actor would recite on stage. Shakespeare once remarked that the world is like a stage, with each individual acting in a way that either suits themselves or others. Sometimes people fail to keep their masquerades active, upsetting their sense of balance. In time, their efforts fail to stabilize them, and this doesn’t necessarily have to refer to only art; it can refer to many different areas of life.
One would imagine, though, that the reason the fireflies fail to emulate the stars is simply because that is the way Nature or fate dictated it to be. One cannot escape their destiny in the world no matter what their talents. But the fourth line in the poem mentions that the flies “were never really stars at heart.” The flies never truly wanted to become the stars; they just wanted the temporary status the stars had. In the same way, if an individual doesn’t have the heart to remain and experiment with their craft, they cannot expect to be a true artist. An authentic writer is one who stays active in their work, seeking fresh new ways to improve their skills. One must write, and continue to write, to be considered an authentic weaver of words.