‘Love and a Question’ by Robert Frost is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines. Frost chose to write this piece with a consistent rhyme scheme. It follows the pattern of abcbdefe, alternating end sounds as he saw fit. The meter is less consistent. It alternates throughout the piece, representing the bridegroom’s uncertainty as he considers his situation and the implications of accepting the stranger into his home.
Narrative and Setting
The poem is set in the countryside, somewhere unnamed, but clearly far from any other bastion of civilization. The solitude inherent to the character’s situation drives the narrative forward. It also produces the final question of the poem, is it worth taking a risk to help others? The main character of the text, the bridegroom chose “no” as the correct answer, but is very unsure that he chose correctly.
The physical setting of the poem adds in elemental concerns that also drive the narrative. There is a continual reference to the cold or heat permeating different locations. Outside the home, along the vast stretch of land without a window light, it is cold. Winter is on its way and there is no decent shelter to be had anywhere else nearby.
In contrast, the inside of the home is warm. Its heated by the fire over which the wife is working. Additionally, Frost uses the phrase “red-faced” to describe the woman. She embodies the warmth and safety of the home. It is this image which finally convinces the bridegroom to send the stranger away.
Naming of Characters
The stranger, the man and the woman are not given names within this narrative. Instead they are referred to throughout the entire text by designations or titles. The woman is the “bride” and the man the “bridegroom.”
Frost’s choice to categorize the characters in this way speaks to what he sees as being important about their personal lives. He found value in emphasizing their relationships above individuality.
The dynamic of the household changes due to the fact that man and woman are forced to contend with someone who is completely unknown to them. In regards to the “Stranger,” there is little said about his character. This works perfectly for the role he plays. If lines of description were devoted to his character and appearance he would no longer be the stranger.
You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Love and a Question
‘Love and a Question’ by Robert Frost describes an encounter between a stranger and a newly married couple the middle of a cold autumn night.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the arrival of a stranger at the only home for miles. Without words, he conveys to the bridegroom (who answers the door) that he needs shelter. The following lines are used to describe the setting, which is chilly, the season is changing from autumn to winter, and the bridegroom’s uncertainty about accepting the man into his home.
Eventually, after being reminded of his love for his wife, the stranger is turned away. The bridegroom is unwilling to risk his love in order to help another. The poem concludes with the bridegroom contemplating the morality of his decision.
Analysis of Love and a Question
This piece begins with a somewhat dark introduction to a series of events. A stranger has arrived at the “door at eve.” The home he has come to belongs to a newly married couple. It’s night when the stranger arrives and it is the bridegroom that he sees. The husband is described as “fair,” meaning he has not known true strife. His face is pure, unscarred, and seemingly honest. The next line describes the stranger’s appearance. He has an expressive face, and carries,
[…] a green-white stick in his hand.
In addition to the stick the only burden that he carries is “care.” This makes it seem as though the man does not have any additional bags or personal items he is carrying along. The description also does nothing to give the reader (or the couple) insight into his intentions. When the bridegroom looks upon the man’s face he can tell, even though the man didn’t speak, that he is looking for “shelter for the night.” With a glance this is confirmed. The stranger looks behind him and the speaker takes note of the fact that there are no lights along the road in the distance.
In the next set of eight lines the speaker continues the narrative and the setting is outlined in greater detail. The bridegroom steps out of the house and onto the porch. Once he is able to see the sky he speaks out loud to the stranger. The bridegroom directs the stranger’s attention up to the sky and wonders over the possibilities of the night. Due to the unknowns the stranger brings to the home there is no way to anticipate what is going to happen.
Although the bridegroom does not know the stranger he already feels something close to companionship with the man. They are together in their entrance into the unknown.
The narration reverts to the original speaker who describes the leaves “littered” around the yard. They are combined with “berries” all of which have fallen from the “woodbine” trees. Although it is getting dark there are still little burst of color, in the form of the blue berries, all around. The speaker adds in the comment,
Autumn, yes, winter was in the wind.
He is taking note of the fact that the fallen leaves and berries represent the autumn season and the chill of the wind— the coming of winter. These are additional elements the stranger and the bridegroom are experiencing together. The stanza ends with the bridegroom professing a desire to know what the night is going to bring.
The narrative moves into the house in the third stanza and the bride is described for the first time. She is sitting “in the dusk alone,” close to an “open fire.” It is clear that the weather is poor but the fire is fending off the worst of it. The house is the perfect sanctuary for a wanderer at night.
The bride’s face is “rose-red” with the heat from the “glowing coal” but also with thoughts for her new husband. The passion within her heart is making itself known on her cheeks. These images are meant to evoke feelings of affection within the reader. Here is a woman within in the home, protected at this moment, from the struggles of the outside world. The husband readily understand his own situation and his care for his wife overcomes any desire to help the stranger. He imagines his wife, her delicacy and the dangers the stranger might put her in, and professes a desire to place,
[…} her heart in a case of gold
And pinned with a silver pin.
This is a violent image suited to the intensity of the husband’s love for his wife. He is worried about his wife getting hurt and this fear is greater than his pity for the lonely stranger.
In the last stanza of ‘Love and a Question’ the speaker describes the bridegroom’s thoughts which result from his decision to turn the stranger away. He recognizes the depth of his love for his wife and wonders if it is impossible for him to love anyone else. Is he able to give out a “heartfelt prayer for the poor of God” now? It is only a “little to give.”
The poem concludes with the bridegroom thinking about his own choice and worrying that his actions were the wrong ones. He did not want anything to “mar the love” he shares with his wife and feared that letting “woe” or the struggles of the stranger, into the house would do just that. But is that the case? These are the questions the reader is left with in the last lines.