Robert Frost

The Runaway by Robert Frost

‘The Runaway’ by Robert Frost is a poem rich in metaphor. It uses animal imagery in order to speak on broader themes of fear and responsibility.

This is an eighteen line poem that is contained within one block of text. Frost chose to give ‘The Runaway’ a varied and scattered rhyme scheme. It contains three couplets, and a number of moments of alternate rhyme. The pattern is, ABACBCDEFDDEFGGHIHIJJ. 

The Runaway by Robert Frost



The Runaway’ by Robert Frost is told from the perspective of a speaker who comes upon a single young colt exhibiting fear at the sight of snow.

The Runaway‘ begins with the speaker describing the snowy setting of the poem and his initial encounter with a young male horse. The animal appears to be quite friendly, but then all of a sudden bolts. After running into the distance the speaker comes to the conclusion that the colt is afraid of the snow.

There are no other creatures in the pasture and he wonders over who is taking care of the animal and who will teach him what snow is. ‘The Runaway‘ ends with the horse’s return to the wall and the speaker’s gentle condemnation of his owners.

You can read the full poem here.


Personification and Repetition

One of the most important techniques first used in ‘The Runaway‘ is that of personification. Frost devotes a number of lines in this poem to the description of the young colt’s features and mannerisms. These lines, along with the speaker’s own interpretation of the horse’s actions, is meant to make the reader empathize with the colt’s situation. The horse exhibits fear as a human would, by attempting to run away from something he doesn’t understand. And though the speaker’s analysis of his isolation, is made to seem lonely. 

Frost also makes use of repetition. One instance occurs at the beginning of lines 14-16. Each of these lines starts with the word “And.” This kind of repetition is known as anaphora, or the reuse of a word or phrase at the beginning of a line. The use and reuse of “And” creates a list of features. Frost uses this list to enhance a reader’s mental image of the colt and force one into an emotional response to the horse’s situation. 



The tone is another element of the text which influences one’s opinion of the scene. At first, it seems pastoral and utterly peaceful. The speaker and his companions are outside and come upon a colt. The animal comes close to them as if attempting to communicate. After experiencing the colt’s reactions, and realizing he is afraid, the tone changes from a contemplative one to something darker and more worrisome. The speaker comes to understand the reality of the situation and feel pity for this young animal who does not have anyone to teach him about the world. 


Analysis of The Runaway 

Lines 1-5

Once when the snow of the year was beginning to fall,
And snorted at us. And then he had to bolt.

In the first set of lines, the speaker begins by describing the setting. He, and those he is traveling with, were experiencing the first snowfall of the year. They stopped “by a mountain pasture.” It is unstated where exactly this place is, but that fact does not matter to the narrative as a whole. It is enough to imagine a pasture, or field for grazing farm animals, out in the countryside. The speaker and his group are at a distance from any other home or building. 

They come upon a “colt” or young male horse. It appears to be the only animal in the area. It has come up to the “wall” and put one of its front feet up. The other was lifted up to its breast. The amount of detail Frost puts into the horse’s actions shows the important role it’s going to play in the poem. These emails continue into the next lines as it is described as snorting at “us” and then running away. 

The last line of this stanza is,

[…] And then he had to bolt. 

This sudden movement is meant to be a surprise. The relative brevity of the line in comparison to the others as well as the use of the word “had” speak to the horse’s urgency. The speaker makes it seem as though the young animal had to be somewhere desperately right at this moment. 


Lines 6-10

We heard the miniature thunder where he fled,
He isn’t winter-broken. It isn’t play

In the next lines, the speaker describes how he and those with him heard the sound of the horse’s steps on the ground. They were noticeable, but nothing compared to a full-grown horse’s thunderous footfalls. It is only “miniature thunder” the colt is capable of making. 

In the distance from where the speaker and his companions are standing, they think they see “him.” The hose appears to be “dim and gray,” far from where he was previously. This depiction is meant to contrast with the initial clarity of his presence directly in front of them. The speaker describes the horse as a, 

 […] a shadow against the curtain of falling flakes. 

Its image is only visible because of the weather. The brightness of the “flakes” provides a backdrop to the horse’s shadow. It has no real solid form at this point. 

The speaker wonders over what made the horse run and comes to the conclusion that it was the snow itself. The romantic image of the horse in front of the falling flakes is broken. Instead, the reader is presented with one of fear. The horse has not been “winter-broken” or trained to live and function in the snow. 


Lines 11-14

With the little fellow at all. He’s running away.
Where is his mother? He can’t be out alone.’

The tone of the lines changes dramatically at this point. The speaker comes to understand that the horse is not playing. This is not a game to the “little fellow at all.” He’s truly trying to run away from something he’s afraid of. 

This new darkness is only emphasized in the next lines as the speaker looks around for the horse’s mother. He is thinking about how the colt’s mother would help him to understand and isn’t sure if even she could convince him of the relative harmlessness of the snowfall. This line of thought brings him to the realization that there are no other horses to be seen. He wonders aloud if the horse is really out here all alone. 

Due to Frost’s personification of the colt, it is easy to empathize with his situation. One is able to project their own experiences onto the animal and take on his fear. Frost wanted the reader to feel sympathy for this lonely animal and consider his isolation. 


Lines 15-18

And now he comes again with a clatter of stone
He shudders his coat as if to throw off flies.

In line fifteen the speaker states that the horse made its way back over to the wall. The sounds of his footfalls are less thunderous now, more like clattering stones. The horse goes through the same motions as he did previously, lifting one foot to the wall and one to his breast. 

He looks directly at the speaker and his companions as if searching for answers. He “shudders his coat.” It’s clear the animal is uneasy. 


Lines 18-20

‘Whoever it is that leaves him out so late,
When other creatures have gone to stall and bin,
Ought to be told to come and take him in.’

In the final lines, the speaker says what everyone is thinking. That someone needs to come and take responsibility for the colt. He should not be left out in the snow by himself after all the other “creatures” are inside and safe. He too should be taken in and protected from the snow. The speaker’s own sympathy for the horse’s situation is clear. He pities the animal and likely wishes that it was in his power to do something about his plight. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
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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