This is a short lyrical poem published by Robert Frost in A Further Range in the year 1936. Like many other poems of Frost ‘Neither Out Far nor In Deep‘ is also a simple poem with a deeper philosophical understanding. It is a satire on the human folly of neglecting or escaping from the reality in searching something unreal and beyond human understanding.
The poem ‘Neither Out Far nor in Deep‘ opens with people on a beach, all facing in one direction at the sea. Since they are all looking towards, there is turned to land. Description of the sea is given with the occasional appearance of the ship and a solitary gull standing beside them. Even though the water keeps coming to the shore while the people all remain looking to the sea. However long they look, it is evident that they can look neither far nor deep into the sea. Still, they keep watching the sea. It is typical of Frost that his poems begin by describing apparently or actually ordinary scenes or events that give rise to serious debate or contemplation and conclude by raising much larger issues about the meaning of love and death and the nature of reality.
You can read the full poem here.
Form and Structure
The poem ‘Neither Out Far nor in Deep’ is a small lyrical poem of sixteen lines divided into four quatrains. Similar to Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods”, here too the poet incorporates the deeper meaning into the four lines of each stanza. The poem follows the rhyme scheme of ‘ABAB’ and using Iambic Trimeter. The poem ‘Neither Out Far nor in Deep’ is set in the seaside filled with people. Because of the setting, the poem’s Iambic metrical structure gives the impression of the rise and fall of the waves that reflects in the unstressed/stressed syllabic arrangement. The poem explores the themes of the never-ending quest, human existence, and human folly of dissatisfaction.
Literary and Poetic Devices Used
In ‘Neither Out Far nor in Deep’, the land and the sea are used to symbolize reality and the opposite of reality. When reality is very much tangible, people are not willing to look at it but, have their back turned towards it. “They look at the sea all day” in the first stanza and “The land may vary more” symbolizes how the people go with the flow of life, trying to gain knowledge and wisdom from somewhere else than where they are.
A simile has used the line “The wetter ground like glass,” which emphasizes, what sea does to the land. It makes the land to reflect like glass, that where the reality lies. Like the reflection of the seagull, whatever people go in search of truth or wisdom also is a reflection than the reality itself.
Parallel structure is the repetition of the same pattern of words or phrases to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance. The poet uses Parallelism in the lines “They cannot look out far/They cannot look in deep,” to indicate how important it is for the people to realize that, they can neither look far nor look deep.
A rhetorical question in a literary work creates a dramatic effect to substantiate the viewpoint of the writer. Here, in ‘Neither Out Far nor in Deep’, Frost ends the poem with the question “But when was that ever a bar/ To any watch they keep? to demonstrate how people will not stop search even though they understand the limitations of human life.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
The people along the sand
( . . . )
They look at the sea all day.
The first stanza of the poem ‘Neither Out Far nor in Deep’, how the people along the sand are standing and looking in one direction. They are all looking out to sea as “They turn their back on the land.” Sea, in ordinary life, always associated with a sense of relaxation and recreation. So the people of the poet see also could be there for relaxing and to escape from the tiring reality. They have turned their back to the land, in a way to block all those realities of land from their views. They do it not just for a few minutes or an hour but do that the whole day. Frost being transcendentalist, the people looking out at sea all day can be interpreted as they are not looking away from reality temporarily, but all their life.
As long as it takes to pass
( . . . )
Reflects a standing gull
The second stanza of the poem gives a picture of what is going around the people. There is not much happening around except a ship that sways with the waves to reveal its hull and a gull on the shore. Even the gull is not mentioned directly, but the poet observes only its reflection on the Wet shore. From this, the poets confused sate on why it is a source of attraction for the people.
The land may vary more;
( . . .)
And the people look at the sea.
The third stanza bridges the gap between the land and sea. The line “The land may vary more” denotes how the land, which the poet associates with reality, keeps changing with time and perception. But, the sea remains the same day and night with its recurring waves trying to reach the shore. In the line “wherever the truth may be” tells that the poet is inconclusive of where the truth remains. “The water comes ashore” clearly indicates that the sea is trying to reach the land but the people are still looking at the sea. Presumably, the people are trying to find the truth from the unchanging sea, then on the land, without realizing that it is trying to reach them on land.
They cannot look out far.
( . . . )
To any watch they keep?
Stanza 4 reveals the ultimate philosophical perspective of the poet. He says that “They cannot look out far” or “They cannot look in deep”, addressing whatever the people are looking for in the sea. It brings out the greater reality of human limitations. People seek wisdom and truth, but they lack the capacity to look far and deep, which makes their search futile. Still, that has never been a hindrance for them, for they keep searching for the wisdom in the unfathomable sea.
About Robert Frost
Robert Frost, one of the most celebrated figures in American poetry, was born on March 26, 1874. His poems depict the rural life of New England, American colloquial speech, and his realistic verses portray ordinary people and everyday situations. His publication of the poem “My Butterfly: An Elegy” in The Independent, a weekly literary journal, marks his official entry into the world of poetry. At the peak of his popularity, he received four Pulitzer Prize for his works: New Hampshire (1923), Collected Poems (1930), and to the collections A Further Range (1936) and A Witness Tree (1942). Having done enough contribution to American poetry, he died on January 29, 1963.