There are numerous literary devices and wonderful examples of imagery at work in this poem. Readers are going to find themselves drawn in by the narrative and perhaps disappointed by the end of ‘Storm Fear.’ Without a clear resolution, one is left to decide for themselves what’s going to happen to the speaker and his family.
Explore Storm Fear
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker describes waiting out a storm. It’s beast-like, continually working to make it inside their home. And, as the following lines suggest, it appears to be working. The fire is dying, and the cold is creeping steadily inside. There’s nothing the speaker, who is likely the father, can do to prevent the cold from reaching his family. He admits this at the end of the poem, saying that he isn’t sure they’ll make it through the night without help.
When the wind works against us in the dark,
And pelts the snow
The lower chamber window on the east,
And whispers with a sort of stifled bark,
‘Come out! Come out!’—
It costs no inward struggle not to go,
In the first lines of ‘Storm Fear,’ the speaker begins by describing the wind working against “us” in the dark. This is a great initial example of personification. It’s expanded in the next lines as the same storm is described as a beast attacking the speaker’s home. It’s barking and whispering outside their door, compelling them to “come out!” but that’s not a risk he or anyone in his family is willing to take.
On the surface, this piece is a simple depiction of a family waiting out a harrowing storm. But, for some readers, there may be more than initially meets the eye. One should consider what these lines have to say about humankind’s ability to face, endure, or defeat natural forces as well as what the storm itself might symbolize. Perhaps the entire piece is a metaphor for a different struggle, such as depression or anxiety. Or, another interpretation might suggest that the poem is about someone’s struggles with religion and sin.
I count our strength,
Two and a child,
Those of us not asleep subdued to mark
How the cold creeps as the fire dies at length,—
How drifts are piled,
Dooryard and road ungraded,
Till even the comforting barn grows far away
And my heart owns a doubt
Whether ’tis in us to arise with day
And save ourselves unaided.
The various interpretations one might have of this poem are furthered in the next lines. The speaker uses first-person pronouns to describe their situation. They’re stuck inside their home with their family. It appears it’s the speaker, a partner, and a child. Most scholars have interpreted the speaker to be the father.
If they aren’t asleep, then they’re awake, noting how the cold is creeping into the house and the fire is steadily dying. These lines suggest that things are only getting worse and that a truly malevolent force is making its way into the home. There’s no way to get out, with the drifts piled high and the “comforting barn grows far away.”
The speaker admits at the end of the poem that he’s worried about whether they’re going to “arise with day” or live to see the next day if they don’t get help. The poem ends there without a conclusion to satisfy the reader’s curiosity.
Throughout ‘Storm Fear,’ Frost engages with themes of fear, nature, and darkness. The latter is going to change depending on one’s interpretation of the poem. That darkness could be in reference to the danger the storm presents, or it could symbolize something deeper, like mental illness or even sin. No matter one’s interpretation, nature and fear are central. The storm is battering their door, raising in the speaker a fear that he and his loved ones aren’t going to make it to see the next day.
Structure and Form
‘Storm Fear’ by Robert Frost is an eighteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. Its lack of rhyme scheme or steady metrical pattern makes it stand out among the rest of Frost’s literary oeuvre. Most scholars attribute this choice to his desire to mimic the chaotic nature of the storm and its unpredictability. There are only three lines throughout the entire poem that are written in strict iambic pentameter. There are numerous examples of trochees and spondees throughout. The lines also vary in length, ranging from two to twelve syllables.
Throughout ‘Storm Fear,’ Frost uses several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “wind works” in line one and “no” and “not” in line seven.
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines two and three as well as lines eleven and twelve.
- Metaphor: occurs when the poet compares two, unlike things without using “like” or “as.” In this case, he compares the storm to a “beast” that’s attacking their home. He doesn’t say it is “like” or “as” a beast. It is a beast.
- Personification: can be seen when the poet uses human features to describes non-human things, forces, or creatures. For example, these lines from early on in the poem: “The lower chamber window on the east, / And whispers with a sort of stifled bark.” They help the poet define the storm in an appropriately forbidding fashion.
‘Storm Fear’ was published in 1915 and written around the same period of time. It appeared in A Boy’s Will, which was first released in 1913. This collection was Frost’s first commercially published collection. The poems in this collection deal with themes of nature and rural life, as do most of his poetic works.
The tone is worried. The speaker even admits that he’s not sure whether he and his family are going to make it to see the next morning. He frets over the storm, rightfully or not, describing it in foreboding and terrifying terms.
There is a great deal of ambiguity in this poem, so the ‘message’ might not be the same for everyone. It could suggest that one needs to prepare themselves for any eventuality, that some dark forces can’t be defeated, or even that one needs religion in order to make it through the darkest moments of life.
Frost wrote this poem in order to share a message about darkness and fear. No matter what one’s interpretation of events is, it’s clear that he wanted to share this family’s fears and terrifying situation.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Storm Fear’ should also consider reading some of Robert Frost’s other best-known 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.
- ‘Acquainted with the Night’ – a personal poem that deals with themes of depression. It’s told, perhaps, from the poet’s own perspective.
- ‘A Question’ – a powerfully emotional poem. In it, the poet paints a picture of suffering, pointing to the fact that life itself is filled with scars of the soul and body.