Things Fade in Time

Reluctance

BY ROBERT FROST

Out through the fields and the woods
   And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
   And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
   And lo, it is ended.


The leaves are all dead on the ground,
   Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
   And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
   When others are sleeping.


And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
   No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
   The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
   But the feet question ‘Whither?’


Ah, when to the heart of man
   Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
   To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
   Of a love or a season?



Robert Frost’s poem, “Reluctance,” traces a speaker who, after experiencing the thrills and joys of life, realizes that death is approaching for him; the things that gave him happiness are now fading from his life. He can only become bitter as his days draw to a close. The speaker relies upon the images found in nature as well as using poetic techniques to present his timeless themes of prosperity and decay.

The speaker mentions that he has gone through “fields,” “woods,” slowly passed “walls,” and climbed “hills” in order to view the world (lines 1-4). The word “fields” may suggest times in his life where circumstances worked in his favor, giving him times of ease and comfort. Yet “woods” points more to times of uncertainty and confusion; since the woods are enshrouded with trees, they obstruct one’s view of the outside world. “Walls” and “hills” could be the challenges that the speaker has faced in order to reach his high points. But in spite of all he went through, the speaker enjoys the world in all of it’s splendor. Yet on returning home, the speaker’s tone changes dramatically: “And lo, it is ended” (lines 5-6).

It turns out that the happiness he expects from his endeavors is short-lived and is not destined to last long at all. There are dead leaves littering the ground (line 7). Those moments that were so full of life for the speaker are now gone, taken from him by the power of time. Meter also shows us the passing of time for the speaker from a state of happiness to one of melancholy. The words “scraping,” “creeping”, and “sleeping” occur in the second stanza. Besides being an instance of internal rhyme, each of the words contains a trochee, which is when a stressed beat is followed by an unstressed one. If one were to read the words out loud to his or herself, the pronunciation would sound like a fall. That is why this kind of succession of beats is known as a falling meter. The speaker “scraps” by, desperately trying to maintain hope in the midst of despair. It is interesting that the word “creeping” occurs; it often denotes a person stalking another human being. The last line mentions the speaker thinking it an evil thing for a ‘love” to end. Maybe the speaker once loved another but now despises them? Or maybe circumstances have taken someone he loves dearly? No one knows for sure what the speaker has lost. His “reluctance” could be his refusal to move on with his life, whether his significant other is alive or not. Thus, in the last analysis, the speaker refuses to let something go which means everything to him, once again demonstrating the power of Robert Frost to talk of the human condition using natural metaphors.

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