A Frosty Triple
Robert Frost is noted as having said that a poem should consist of three things. It must start as a delight, but end in wisdom; it should be a dramatic event; it should say one thing and mean one thing more. A strong poem that would support his claim would be Frost's own poem “The Wood-Pile.” Within the context of the poem, the narrator travels through a barren would land and comes across a wood pile in his travels, however, upon a closer examination of the text and dissection of the use of certain words and images, it can be seen as a portrayal of mans journey through life as he ages.
The first criteria that Frost believes a poem must fit is that something must begin in delight. It is the understanding of what is delight that can lead to several complications. In the case of this poem, the narrator is communing with nature in a “frozen swamp one gray day.” While this may seem less a delight, it is, regardless, an interaction with the natural world. Through his journey in the bog, the narrator is constantly in contact with the natural world, whether it be the “tall slim trees” or “a small bird.” A delight need not be a trip on a cruise or something of that ilk. Rather, it can be any sort of adventure that a person takes part in. In this case, the delight is the exploration of the natural world.
Ascertained from this journey is the fact that it is a dramatic event. While the man is alone in the wilderness, he is treading through the murk, coming across wildlife, and being exposed to frigid conditions. As such, the drama of the event lies in the man being alone in the wilderness. He is in a place that is “Too much alike to mark or name a place by so as to say for certain I was here or somewhere else; I was just far from home.” This passage sets up the drama of the event, the concept of the traveler in a strange land. However, what can be drawn from this is that perhaps it is not merely a strange land, but rather, the path one walks in life.
What can then be seen through the text of the passage is that this person's journey through the woods is not merely a literal journey through the forest. Through the various things they are said, the poem reveals that this is not a person merely lost in the woods “far from home,” but a person trying to figure out their role and importance to the world. Statements such as “I will not turn back from here” work to further the idea that the person is not willing to turn from revelations, they are willing to accept whatever insight might come to them in a forest where the “tall slim trees” seem to stretch up to heaven.
Several times within the text, there are descriptions of the forest that seem to reflect the aging process of the narrator. When he stumbles across a wood pile, he notices that it is “gray and the bark [is] warping off it,” as well, the pile is “somewhat sunken,” as humans tend to become with growing age. The idea that the man is attempting to take stock of his life in the world can also be represented through the description of the wood pile. It is “measured” and there is “not another like it.” This seems to be a shining example of man trying to take stock of his individual life within the context of a wood where everything is “too much alike.”
Having traveled through the forest and life, though, it becomes questionable whether or not the narrator learns some sort of wisdom at its conclusion. Throughout the poem, there is idea that this may be the persons last journey and that they are traveling towards suicide or death. At one point, a white bird appears that can double as a symbol of peace, or in this case, death. However, the man does not follow the bird, he watches “him [go] off the way I might have gone.” and finds the wood pile. Having taken stock of the pile left abandoned in the wood, laid next to one still living tree, he contemplates how someone “could so forget his handiwork on which he spent himself… and leave it there far from a useful fireplace.” The message that seems to be revealed here is the futility of suicide. Having toiled his entire life, creating his wood pile which has become old, it would be useless to seemingly then decide to abandon it. By taking his own life, he would simply be abandoning all his hard work, leaving it behind in a “frozen swamp.” By the poems end, there is an understanding that one should not abandon their work, or more importantly, their life.
“The Wood-Pile,” through its use of powerful imagery and metaphor, works to show the soul searching journey of humanity into old age and satisfies all the criteria that Frost set forth for poetry. By beginning with a delight, such as the journey in the woods, and ending with a revelation of wisdom such as the importance of not squandering ones life, it meets the first criteria. By using powerful prose and symbolic color, the poem works to dramatacize the person's journey, satisfying criteria two. Finally, by not just telling the story of a person walking through the woods, but also the story of a person trying to take stock of their life in old age, it manages to say one thing, yet mean something more, meeting the final criteria that Frost set forth. It is in this way that “The Wood-Pile” is a shining example of poem doing everything it is supposed to, yet meaning ever so much more.