The poem is filled with examples of figurative language, like metaphors and personification. They are used to describe nature in such a way that it feels alive and capable of free thought and action. Readers will likely find themselves empathizing with the speaker’s situation and wondering how he came to be in it in the first place in ‘Bereft.’
‘Bereft’ by Robert Frost is a thoughtful and memorable poem about a speaker’s loneliness and interpretation of the world.
In the first lines of this piece, the speaker begins by noting the sound of the wind and wondering what it thinks about him as he stands in his doorway, holding the door open. The wind is personified in such a way that it’s clear the speaker is alone, with time on his hands to consider all the sounds and movements around him. He also describes the leaves, the frothy shore, and the darkening clouds overhead. The speaker alludes to his life through the image of summer fading and being replaced by the storm clouds he’s now seeing.
As the poem concludes, the speaker wonders if all the forces of nature know he’s alone in the world, with only God for company, and are converging on him to take advantage of that fact.
You can read the full poem here.
Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Out on the porch’s sagging floor,
Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.
In the first lines of ‘Bereft,’ the speaker begins by taking note of a “deeper roar” that the wind changes into. As the reader learns of the speaker’s solitude, it becomes obvious that he has time and the ability to focus in on sounds and pay close attention to them. He continues to consider the wind, personifying it. He gives it the ability to see him and consider his own actions.
He wonders, through the form of a second question, what the wind would think of him standing there, “Holding open a restive door” and looking “down hill to a frothy shore.” He’s holding the door open, preventing the roaring wind from shutting it. More wind is swirling at the bottom of the hill, giving the entire atmosphere a turbulent feeling.
He transitions into an observation about the season. The summer, or happiness/joy, is over, and now there are clouds amassing in the sky. These are usually used as a symbol of sorrow or foreboding events of the future. Something dark may be brewing in the speaker’s future. Readers might also interpret these lines to be a metaphor for the speaker’s age. His brightest days are past, and now he’s old, with the joys of youth behind him.
The first stanza ends with an interesting metaphor. He steps outside and notes how the leaves on the porch got “up in a coil and hissed.” He compares the leaves to a snake and strikes at his knee, and misses. The wind picks them up and moves them and then drops them as quickly as a snake can move.
Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.
The second stanza is only six lines long. In it, the speaker uses the word “sinister,” ensuring that a very clear, dark tone comes across to the reader. The entire scene feels dark and foreboding to him. Between the wind, the amassing clouds, the frothy shore, and the speaker’s opinion about his future and past, it’s not a bright moment in his life.
He suggests that perhaps, “Word [he] was in the house alone” may have gotten out to the world. It could’ve spread through the various natural elements, ensuring that everything knew that it could amass on his home and do what it liked with him. The final line is as beautiful as it is depressing. The only thing he has left in his life is “God.” This ensures there is a bit of hope in the piece but also confirms that Frost’s speaker is entirely separate from the rest of society. He’s lost friends, family members, or anyone else who could come and check on him.
Structure and Form
‘Bereft’ by Robert Frost is a two-stanza poem that is separated into one set of ten lines and one set of six lines. These lines follow a rhyme scheme of AAAAABBACCDDDEDE. This is an unusual pattern, especially for Frost, but it is effective. The use of the same end sounds over and over again creates a soothing and predictable sound, one that may calm readers and create an interesting atmosphere alongside the subject.
Throughout ‘Bereft,’ Frost makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines one and two of the second stanza.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “had…heard” in stanza one.
- Personification: occurs when the poet imbues non-human things with human characteristics. For example, when the speaker considers what the wind thinks of him.
- Metaphor: can be seen when the poet makes a comparison between two unlike things without using “like” or “as.” For example, the depiction of the leaves as snakes at the end of the first stanza.
The tone is resigned, depressed, and descriptive. The speaker spends the lines using clear examples of figurative language in order to depict his situation and what he believes is happening. He acknowledges the darkness and does nothing to prevent it.
The speaker is bereft of connections he used to have. He feels lonely in his home by himself. He’s lost the joy of better days, and he feels as though the world is converging on him in order to take advantage of that fact.
The purpose is to explore feelings of solitude and how one, when alone, can interpret events to mean different things. He imbues meaning on everything around him, from the leaves on his porch to the wind and the clouds amassing in the sky.
The themes are nature and solitude. The speaker uses the former to describe his own loneliness. He never uses the word “lonely” or any related synonyms. But, readers can clearly interpret his emotional experience through the examples of figurative language.
It’s believed that Frost wrote the poem around 1893.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Bereft’ should also consider reading some other Robert Frost poems. For example:
- ‘Mowing’ – a poem about the importance of hard work. Frost uses his skill with natural imagery to depict the peace found in simplicity.
- ‘Design’ – was written as a response to the traditional depiction of God as a benevolent, all-powerful being who created humankind in his own image.
- ‘A Late Walk’ – references the idea that sometimes it really is too late in the year to walk around outside. There, one will find dying plants, hibernating animals, and an unavoidable cold.