Desert Places by Robert Frost: Summary and Analysis

Desert Places was published in the 'American Mercury' in 1934 and in 'A Further Range' in 1936. The poem expresses a sense of loneliness enveloping the poet's heart and mind.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

When the speaker was passing an open field, he saw terrible snowfall at the time of nightfall. And the earth was completely covered with smooth snow; but the last part of a few weeds and stubble was visible. The woods around are also snow covered, as they should be. All the animals are crouched in their lairs due to severe cold. He was very much disheartened to be able to count the number of these animals. He had been suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness. And this is such a sort of loneliness which will go on making me lonelier rather than less. The speaker was in the grip of a blank fear and spiritual exhaustion which is neither explicable nor has an outlet. The deserted places in the external world or in the sky between the stars, where no human creature lives, cannot scare or frighten him any more than the desert places within his own soul which lives so close to him.

"The loneliness includes me unawares" forms the subject-matter of the poem. Desert places visible in between stars can't "scare" the poet or the speaker in the poem more than his own inner emptiness--"my own desert place." The poet-speaker is overtaken by a sense of fear when he sees the vast gulf between the eternity and the small space (that also deserted one) that he fills in. In the beginning of the poem, the observer's sense impressions about the external facts such as "snow falling" and "night falling" are recorded with great precision, but toward the middle the tone changes and dwells largely on "loneliness'', "desert places", "empty spaces'', "blanker whiteness", and "benighted snow.”

The key-words in the poem are: "The loneliness includes me unawares." Snowfall creates a chill in external atmosphere and the sense of loss, creates a chill internally. And this is the subject-matter, which moves from 'observation to philosophization', as in this poem. The snow is a kind of symbol in this poem indicating the man’s loneliness. The snow in deserted place is the representation of the speaker in the life where he is totally lonely. But, the ending of the poem gives a different impression of the loneliness of the speaker. When he finally looks at the sky and notices the stars and the gap between them, he comes to the conclusions: a man who has known the unhappiness possible to human understanding can't be depressed by the cruel desolation in nature. Though there is still stresses on the loneliness of man, it gives a different impression of the poem. It is not an impression of simple hopelessness because the speaker has not been defeated by his own for the man, we feel, has not been overcome by his own ‘desert places’ but has successfully mastered them.

The poet, instead of using some big jargons to indicate the extreme loneliness of human being, he simply uses the word ‘scare’, which is an underestimation, a common, colloquial word. By the use of the word ‘scare’ in the poem, the poet wants to state he is not a child to be easily affected. The loneliness of the spirit is greater than the loneliness of the outer nature.