Robert Frost

Going for Water by Robert Frost

‘Going for Water’ by Robert Frost depicts a simple errand in joyful, uplifting language. The poem suggests that any task, no matter how annoying, can be enjoyed if one is outside. 

This is a lovely poem but is far from Robert Frost’s most popular. It is easy to interpret, simple to read, but still enjoyable. The poet uses direct and basic syntax throughout ‘Going for Water’ until the final stanza in which he describes a river reflecting moonlight in his characteristic style

Going for Water
Robert Frost

The well was dry beside the door,
  And so we went with pail and can
Across the fields behind the house
  To seek the brook if still it ran;

Not loth to have excuse to go,
  Because the autumn eve was fair
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,
  And by the brook our woods were there.

We ran as if to meet the moon
  That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,
  Without the birds, without the breeze.

But once within the wood, we paused
  Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,
Ready to run to hiding new
  With laughter when she found us soon.

Each laid on other a staying hand
  To listen ere we dared to look,
And in the hush we joined to make
  We heard, we knew we heard the brook.

A note as from a single place,
  A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
  Like pearls, and now a silver blade.
Going for Water by Robert Frost


Summary 

‘Going for Water’ by Robert Frost describes young characters running to retrieve water from a brook. 

The poem begins with the speaker describing how when they looked outside, they saw that the well was empty. This indicates that they need to retrieve water from a nearby brook. They do so with joy, running with a companion across their fields and into the woods. They find the brook and Frost describes it in a characteristic lyrical verse

Meaning 

The meaning of this poem is that anyone, no matter their situation in life or the work they’re engaged in, can’t enjoy nature. Such is demonstrated by the young characters in this six-stanza poem as they joyfully run across a field on an autumn evening to retrieve water.

Structure and Form 

‘Going for Water’ by Robert Frost is a six-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB; changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. This pattern has been traditionally associated with ballads or hymns. 

The lines are written in iambic tetrameter, meaning that each line contains four sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. The only exception to this pattern is the first line of the fifth stanza, which has an extra syllable. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Simile: a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “We ran as if to meet the moon.”
  • Hyperbole: an intentionally exaggerated description. For example, the poet’s use of the above simile, “We ran as if to meet the moon,” to describe how fast the characters moved and with how much energy.
  • Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions that should inspire the reader’s senses. For example, “Now drops that floated on the pool / Like pearls, and now a silver blade.”
  • Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “barren boughs” in line three of the third stanza and “Ready” and “run” in line three of the fourth stanza.
  • Caesura: a pause in the middle of a line of text. For example, “We heard, we knew we heard the brook.”


Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two

The well was dry beside the door,

 And so we went with pail and can

Across the fields behind the house

  To seek the brook if still it ran;

Not loth to have excuse to go,

  Because the autumn eve was fair

(Though chill), because the fields were ours,

  And by the brook our woods were there.

This narrative poem begins with a simple problem, the well beside the door was dry. In order to remedy this, the characters in the poem have to go out of their way and a fairly long distance. But, the language suggests that this was a fairly common occurrence and not a huge obstacle to overcome. 

The poet uses the word “so” to indicate that the characters, described as “we” by a narrator, went out to get water without much trouble. He walked across the field behind their home to a brook to see if it was still running with water at this time of year.

The speaker describes in simple language how they weren’t troubled by the need to walk across the field. It was a lovely autumn evening, though a little bit cold, it was worth it to spend some time outside.

Stanzas Three and Four

We ran as if to meet the moon

  That slowly dawned behind the trees,

 The barren boughs without the leaves,

  Without the birds, without the breeze.

But once within the wood, we paused

  Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,

Ready to run to hiding new

  With laughter when she found us soon.

The speaker describes how they ran excitedly across the field, using a simile to depict their movements as filled with energy. The moon was coming up behind the trees, and everything was quiet. There wasn’t a breeze, nor were there birds.

The poet uses another simile at the beginning of the fourth stanza in which his speaker compares themselves to “gnomes.” The trees hide them from the moon temporarily. But soon, they were caught in its light again. 

Stanza Five 

Each laid on other a staying hand

  To listen ere we dared to look,

And in the hush we joined to make

  We heard, we knew we heard the brook.

The speaker describes in the fifth stanza how they were silent for a moment, trying to see if they could hear the rushing of the brook’s water. They heard it, knowing immediately that the brook was still running and that they were able to retrieve the water they needed. The tone is still light-hearted and excited. 

Stanza Six 

A note as from a single place,

  A slender tinkling fall that made

Now drops that floated on the pool

  Like pearls, and now a silver blade.

The final stanza describes the brook as a “silver blade” lit by the moon and runs through the woods. The water glows as it moves along its path, adding to the overall peaceful and beautiful atmosphere the poet has created. The poem ends on this simple note, suggesting that from here, everything went to plan, and the characters returned home with their water. 

FAQs 

What is the theme of ‘Going for Water?’

The main theme of the poem is nature. Although the main characters are engaged in what could be an annoying task, they are so entranced by the beauty of the autumn evening that they take a great deal of joy from going out to get water from the brook. 

What is the tone of ‘Going for Water?’

The tone is light-hearted and excited. The speaker is thrilled to be outside the house, running across the field and into the woods and hiding from the light of the moon. The characters, whether they are adults or children, enjoy their task despite how inconvenient it is. 

Why did Frost write ‘Going for Water?’

Frost wrote this poem in order to depict a simple task in joyful detail. It reminds readers of the pleasure one can take from the natural world even when they have to work or run errands, as the characters in the poem are. 

Who is the speaker in ‘Going for Water?’ 

It’s unclear who the speaker is supposed to be in this Robert Frost palm. But, due to the joy the characters experience, the use of figurative language, and more, it feels likely that the speaker is a child.


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed ‘Going for Water’ should also consider reading some other Robert Frost poems. For example: 

  • The Road Not Taken’ – is about the choices and opportunities in life. The poem highlights the sensation of regret that accompanies all the roads that a person doesn’t take.
  • The Pasture’ – is a thoughtful and image-rich poem that depicts the chores a farmer has to complete. 
  • Reluctance’ – is a powerful and thoughtful poem. It depicts the changing seasons and what it’s like to push back against winter.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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