Robert Frost was a great lover of his country, especially the part of the country known as New England. He wrote a number of poems dealing with American life and culture, and with the beliefs, manners, and customs of the American people. The American ideals of democracy, liberty, and fraternity find a poignant expression in several of his poems. His poem, ‘The Gift Outright, reveals his patriotic fervor and presents the history of his country since the days of colonialism. It was recited at a gathering of the Phi, Beta Kappa Society at the William and Mary College, on the 5th of December, 1941, and was published in Frost’s volume A Witness Tree in 1942. It was later recited before a distinguished audience on the occasion of the Inauguration ceremony of President Kennedy on January 20, 1962. It helped Frost established his reputation as a truly national poet.
Frost has summarised in ‘The Gift Outright, a short poem of 16 lines, the history of colonization in America, and the growth of love and devotion that the settlers came to shower on this land. It is one of the best patriotic poems ever written about America and the American people. Frost himself held it in high esteem, and once remarked about it: “It’s the whole story. It’s all my politics… my national history.” The poem has a political tinge, but it is chiefly a piece of poetry and not that of propaganda. What makes it appealing to us is not its political or historical content, but its presentation of the poet’s patriotic zeal with an artistic finish and depth of feeling. The poem may be said to project the national feelings of the American people in an emotionally touching manner.
The poem, ‘The Gift Outright’, is a patriotic poem, and it deals with the national sentiments and pride of Americans. It presents briefly the history of colonization in America by English and European settlers. It tells how these settlers made this land their own by dint of their love of, and devotion to it. The sense of people’s oneness with the country of their adoption finds a fine expression in the poem. This history of America and its people may be said to form, in the form of a capsule summary, the theme of the poem. The settlers at first felt and behaved as aliens or outsiders, and so they could not truly possess or own the country.
They became its real possessors after making a total surrender to it. The national sentiments of Americans, and their sense of their European ancestry, are both treated nicely in this poem. ‘The Gift Outright’ can be better described as a poetic definition of an American state of mind, a compact psychological essay on colonization. The theme of the poem comprises the historical and political background of America, and the national pride its people feel in their adopted land.
Unlike most of Frost’s poems, ‘The Gift Outright’, which can be read here, deals not only with a particular region (New England) of America, but with that vast country as a whole. The love of country is not expressed in screaming or hysterical flag-waving, but in the salvation of faith, in surrender to the land.
Analysis of The Gift Outright
The land (America) was in existence before the British Settlers came here. For about a hundred years, it was occupied by the British and European people who treated it as their colony and themselves as colonizers, and not the people of this country. England was still regarded as their fatherland, and they did not have any emotional attachment with America.
American cities like Massachusetts and Virginia existed before the British came to this country. These cities now came to belong to them, but they continued to own their allegiance to England, and lived in America as it possesses or colonizers, and not as its people having a sense of belonging to it. They possessed the land, but the land did not evoke in them any love or patriotic feelings for it. The land was in their possessions, but they did not really belong to it, because of their sense of alienation from it. Their hearts remained unpossessed by a love for, or devotion to, this country.
The colonial settlers were made weak because of their sense of alienation from America. They were withholding or alienation themselves from the land they had come to live in. When they realized that the source of their weakness lay in this sense of alienation, their pride and weakness. They began to love it as their own country and developed a deep emotional attachment with it.
The act of surrender to the country of their adoption did not impoverish the British settlers. They made a gift of themselves to the nation and were enriched by this act of self-sacrifice. They fought many wars for the country as a mark of signing the deed of making the gift. They risked and sacrificed their lives for the sake of the country.
With a deep-rooted love for the country, the settlers moved westward to find new, undiscovered areas of the land that were marked by naturalness and simplicity. The country also moved westward to find its place as a great nation in the western hemisphere. The people who came to America, found it to be a mysterious land endowed with natural grace and unaffected simplicity. They are likely to find it so in the future as well. Their vision of their country will remain unchanged.
The poem, ‘The Gift Outright’, marks an outstanding achievement by Robert Frost in the field of patriotic poetry. It is one of the most remarkably patriotic poems about America and the American people and abounds in national sentiments and a sense of pride in this country. It contains a history of America since colonial times in an extremely condensed form. In a very short space of sixteen lines, it tells about the change in attitude that occurred among the British settlers in America towards this country of their adoption.
At first, they treated it as a colony established by them, and themselves as to its alien possessors or colonizers. But this attitude was responsible for their weakness as a people. They possessed the country, but they did not have a feeling of oneness or identity with it. The sense of alienation deprived them of the strength that comes from pride in, and devotion to, one’s country.
The British settlers continued, for a long time, to regard England as their fatherland and America only as a colony where they had settled for material gains. Gradually, however, they realized that they ought to treat this country (America) as their own country and themselves as to its own people, and they should be willing to sacrifice themselves for its freedom and well-being. They then found salvation in surrender and made a gift outright of themselves to this country, and developed a sense of pride in belonging to it, and in being its people, not outsiders or colonizers. They developed a sense of oneness with the country.
The poem, in a way, is a piece of national history, but the poetic element in it remains unsuppressed by the narration of the history. Mind it here that Frost was making a poem and not a National Monument when he wrote it. Although he has called it a narrative and a history of the limited states in sixteen lines, ‘The Gift Outright’ can be better described as a poetic definition of an American state of mind, as has already been discussed.
This is a compact psychological essay on colonialism. Besides, there is a touch of political thinking in the poem; but that is only casual, and does not make the poem a piece of political propaganda. The poem is chiefly a specimen of poetic art and not a fragment of political or historical narrative.
This history of the land since colonial times has been compressed into sixteen lines, and the poem concludes with the expression of a sense of national pride and devotion of the development of a sense of oneness with the country, as against the existing sense of alienation and separation from it. In all, it can be said that the poem, ‘The Gift Outright’, contains a nice blend of deep thought and admirable poetic art. The patriotic feelings of the American people find an echo in the poet’s voice. In the form of this poem, Frost has offered a ‘gift outright’ to the reader of his poetry.