‘Home Burial’ opens with Amy, a woman whose son has recently died, about to come down the stairs from her room. Her husband sees her from ‘The bottom of the stairs’, but she does not see him because she is lost in her own thoughts. Here’s an analysis of the poem by Robert Frost.
Home Burial Analysis
He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
Amy is looking at something in fear. She takes a step downward hesitatingly, but then retraces if to come back to the height and look at the object. The husband advances towards her and asks what it is that she keeps always looking at from there. He insists on knowing about it, Amy turns and bends on her knees. Her face, which looked terrified till now, becomes dull-looking. You can also read the poem in full here.
He said to gain time: ‘What is it you see,’
‘You don’t,’ she challenged. ‘Tell me what it is.’
The husband asks her again as to what it is that she looks at. He mounts the stairs just above her, and asks her to tell him about the object, because he will anyhow find it out. Amy remains silent, and does not help him by telling him. She lets him look and find for himself, thinking that he would not be able to see or find what it was that she has kept looking at. Thinking him to be blind to her feelings and troubles, she is sure that he cannot find anything. For a moment, the husband cannot see anything. But then he murmurs ‘Oh’ as if to indicate that he has found it out. Amy asks what it is, the husband says that now we can see it. Amy remarks to him that he cannot find out what is there she looks at, and challenges him to tell her, if he knows, what he has found out.
‘The wonder is I didn’t see at once.
‘Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,’ she cried.
The husband says to Amy that it is a surprising thing that he could not guess earlier about what it was she looked at. Since he was accustomed to looking at the object and other things, he never noticed it particularly. It was the small graveyard or burial plot where his people were buried. The graveyard is so small that the whole of it can be seen through the window. It is not larger than a bedroom. There are three stones of slate and one of marble, ‘Broad-shouldered’ little slabs there in the sunlight/on the side-hill. However, they need not pay attention to these. It is not these grave-stones, remarks the husband, but the ‘child’s mound’ or the heap of stones and earth meant to be the grave of the child that she keeps looking at. At this Amy cries to him not to talk about or mention the child’s grave.
She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
I don’t know rightly whether any man can.’
Amy slips from beneath the arms of her husband that are resting on the railings and starts going downstairs. She turns to him and casts a fearful glance at him. He asks her twice whether a man is not entitled to speak about his own dead child. Amy replies that at least he has no such right. Then she asks about her hat and tells her husband that she was to go out of that place so as to get air in the open. She also remarks that she does not definitely know whether any insensitive man has the right to talk about this matter.
Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time.
Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.
The husband asks Amy not to go to anyone else, but to listen to him. Saying that he will not come down the stairs, he sits there putting his chin between his fists. He tells her that he wants to ask her something. Amy replies that he does not know how to ask it. The husband asks her to help him do it. Instead of responding to his request, Amy moves to the door and moves the latch as if to go out.
‘My words are nearly always an offense.
But two that do can’t live together with them.’
The husband remarks to Amy that his words seem to offend her and that he does not know how to speak in a way or use the words in such a way as to please her. But he can, he says, learn how to do so. He cannot say that he understands all the things just now. Sometimes a man must cease to behave like a man with a woman in a hardy manly manner and be sensitive enough to appreciate her feelings. He further suggests that they, the husband and the wife, should have an arrangement under which the husband should not try to know anything that the wife doesn’t want to tell him about. Those who love each other do not need have any such secrets between them; but those who do not love, cannot live together without having some secrets between them and something to hide from each other.
She moved the latch a little. ‘Don’t—don’t go.
You’d think his memory might be satisfied—’
Amy moves the latch a little to open the door. Her husband entreats her not to go to tell or consult somebody else about her trouble. He asks her to tell him about it and let him share it. He explains to her that he is not different from other people; but if she keeps herself aloof from him, he will be proved to be so. He requests her to give him a chance to prove the sincerity of his grief over the child’s death, although she may be feeling it more than he. He asks her what it is that has made her take the loss of her child ‘so inconsolably’, in spite of the love he bears for her which may compensate for the loss and make her satisfied.
‘There you go sneering now!’
A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.’
Amy misinterprets her husband’s consolatory words and comments that he is mocking her. The husband assures her that he is not doing so. He tells them that he is annoyed with her comment and that he will come down to her to prevent her from going out. Commenting on her bluntness and stubbornness, he remarks what kind of a woman she is that she does not even allow him to talk about his own dead child.
‘You can’t because you don’t know how to speak.
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.’
Amy replies that he cannot speak about his own dead child because he does not know how to speak to express his grief. If he had any feelings for the child, how could he, she asks, dig its grave with his own hands. She tells that she herself saw him digging pieces of stones, making them leap in the air and fall down to form to do. She tells him that she asked herself who this man was who was digging the grave, was-he seemed such a strange or an abnormal man to her. She came downstairs again to look at him again, lifting his spade for digging the grave. Then, she tells him, he comes to the kitchen. Amy heard his voice and she came there to see him with her own eyes. There he was sitting, with his shoes stained and soiled by ‘the fresh earth’ from his own ‘baby’s grave.’ He was talking about daily routine matters as if nothing important had happened. She saw that he had put his spade outside against the wall in the entrance.
‘I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.
I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed.’
Listening to his wife’s brutally accusing words, the husband feels like laughing the worst laughter. He remarks that he really believes that he cursed by his wife. If he does not believe him to be cursed, that will make him feel cursed.
‘I can repeat the very words you were saying:
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!’
Amy tells her husband that she can repeat the words spoken by him at that time to console her. He had said then that ‘three foggy mornings and one rainy day’ can damage or rot the best and strongest birch fence that a man may have set up. That is, even the greatest grief can be forgotten with the passage of time. Amy says that she is surprised to see how a man could talk about the damage to birch fences especially in a room where there are no such fences. In fact, it is meant that he did not care for the death of his child. Disgusted over the way of the world and the behavior of her husband, Amy remarks that even the closest friends do not mourn a man’s death long and deeply enough.
Their sorrow over death is so short-lived that they might as well not feel it at all. From the time a man falls ill and is confined to bed, he remains alone, and when he dies he is all the more alone. Friends follow him to the grave only for show or social decorum, and before he is buried in it, their minds turn away from the dead and they begin thinking about their worldly affairs and about living people around them, or about the things they understand or are concerned within life. All grief is thus short-lived. Amy regards such behavior of the world as evil. She says that if it lies in her power, she will not allow grief to be so short-lived.
‘There, you have said it all and you feel better.
I’ll follow and bring you back by force. I will!—’
Having listened to Amy’s statement, her husband remarks that since she has expressed her views, she must feel better and that she should not go out now. He asks her to close the door because he does not want somebody who is coming down the road to see her in that condition. But Amy is not satisfied with the mere talk or words of her husband since she has been disgusted by his behavior. She says she must go out somewhere, and she opens the door to do so. The husband asks her where she intends to go. He tells her to understand that if she goes out, he will follow her band to bring her back even forcibly. The poem ends here.