A Roadside Stand by Robert Frost with Questions and Answers
About the poet …. Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963), born in San Francisco, California, lived a life of contrasts. His father, William Prescott Frost Jr., died of tuberculosis when he was just 11, leaving a paltry eight dollars with the family. His mother died in 1900 of cancer. For most of his life, Frost battled with mental depression. Perhaps, this problem ran in the family. Frost had to take care of his younger sister who, too, battled depression. It is saddening to note that his wife, Elinor Miriam White also suffered bouts of depression. Despite such a scourge that blighted Frost, he rose to be the literary and cultural icon of America, winning prizes and accolades in plenty. He own the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Literature four times, and was made Poet Laureate of Vermont. He also won the American Academy of Art and Letters Gold Medal.
Robert Frost’s literary talent blossomed from his days in school. He sold his first poem ‘My Butterfly, An Elegy’ to New York Independent for just $15. He was so elated to get this money that he went to his sweetheart Elinor to propose to her and press for early marriage. Despite the dizzy heights he reached in writing poetry, Frost had to contend with want, life as manual labour in the field, and nagging illness.
Robert Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by the Woods in a Snowy Evening’ has been translated to more than hundred languages, and millions of students read it all over the world to savour its deep philosophical undertones. For centuries to come, Frost’s name and works will remain enshrined in the minds of poetry lovers across geographies and cultural boundaries.
The poem …
The lines 0—6
The little house was out with a little……..withering faint.
Meaning …. Someone from among the village folk had a shack beside a highway that ran to a city nearby. The man extended his shack to the front to open a make-shift counter to sell his farm items like berries or its squash. It was a small entrepreneurial venture to make some little money to meet his needs. Caravans passed along the highway, but few stopped to buy anything from him. In fact, no one evinced any interest in his items, even avoiding to cast a glance towards it. Even a miniscule fraction of the money the city dwellers were awash with eluded the shack-owner. He vainly looked at the passers-by, with eyes seeking attention. His rudimentary counter didn’t merit any traveler’s curiosity.
The lines 6 – 15 ..
The polished traffic …………………….(this crossly) and go along
Meaning .. No doubt, the travelers belonged to the well-to-do class. The glitz and glamour they are used to was singularly lacking in the way-side counter. Seldom did they look at it. If ever they did, it was more to express disgust at the poorly painted and poorly displayed North-South direction board. Clearly, they remained aloof. The humble farmer’s soliciting eyes had little impact on them.
The farmer offered wild berries kept in antique-looking jars, the freshly extracted juice kept in not-so-enticing containers. The city folks passing past the humble counter looked joyfully at the rocks and mountains that stood in the backdrop, but felt it below their status to stop over to buy such fresh produce from the lowly grower’s farm. Their wealth had made them blind to such humble, but priceless offering coming straight from the fields.
Lines 16 —- 22
The hurt to the scenery ………………… said to be keeping from us
Meaning … The ramshackle sack stands as a blot against the beautiful backdrop of greenery and the distant mountains. For the bloated travelers, the shack is a spoiler of the landscape, a grotesque imposition. They avoid looking at the counter, unmindful of the fervent desire of the humble villager’s struggle to fight the hardships of life with a tiny portion of the cash from the travelers’ over-flowing wallets. The indifference of the wealthy city folks is clearly disgusting. The political power is clearly tilted in favour of the city-dwellers.
Lines 23 – 31
It is in the news that ……………………… night the ancient way
Meaning .. A new relocation plan for these poor villagers is in the offing. In the pretence of giving them the comforts of urban life, these simple folks will be forcefully uprooted from their land and made to live inside the urban limits, beside the theatres, and malls. No one bothers to take their consent, nor to study how disoriented the village folks will feel in their new habitats. By sweat-talking the gullible rural folks, the land sharks will fleece them of their ancestral lands, and condemn them to live in the urban centers. Such trickery will never be called to account, and the villagers will painfully struggle to adjust to the new ways of earning a living. Undoubtedly, the change will bring them misery. Their simple life style will be destroyed, and in their new habitat, they will ‘lose sleep’, implying that life will become riddled with difficulties. On the other hand, the manipulators and the wolves in the garb of benefactors will enjoy their lives in greater luxury.
Lines .. 32 – 43 ..
Sometimes I feel myself ……………………… to where it was bound …….. didn’t see?
Meaning ….. The poet feels distraught. He knows he is expecting something that this cruel world can’t deliver. This resignation makes him angry and sad. The humble farmer looks on expectantly at each and every passing cars hoping that they would stop and make some purchases. However, his wait remains futile. The passengers in the cars seldom bother to stop near the sack. Buying anything from such a poorly exhibited stall is below their dignity. The humble farmer looks on vainly hoping that he could sell something at least to carry home a little cash. At rare intervals, cars do stop, but it is either for asking some direction to the city, or taking a turn in his backyard, or for filling gas. The farmer’s heart breaks when such visits, which are few and far between, do not result in any tiny business for him. The attitude of the wealthy folks leaves the poet exasperated.
Last lines .. 44 ….. 52
No, in country money ………………. out of my pain
Meaning … The poet regrets that despite the enormous wealth of the country, and its vast sources of earning, social welfare, and concern for the downtrodden in rural areas have never been the national agenda. The conscience of the nation is muted and muffled towards the citizens who barely scratch a living off their lands. The compassionate poet dreams that he could, in one masterstroke, banish the sorrow and suffering of the toiling, and deprived masses from the morass of poverty. But, when the magic spell would get over, hard realities would bite. It would make the sagely poet sad again. He wants his readers to offer a helping hand to overcome the shock.
Questions and answers..
Think it out ..
Q1. The city folks who …. The lines are, “At having the landscape marred with the artless paint
Of signs with the N turned wrong and S turned wrong”
The city folks find the shack a shabby insertion in the beautiful landscape of hills and greenery. They are angry that the old signboard hangs showing the N-S direction wrong.
Q2. What was the plea of the folk … The farmer who erected a ramshackle sales counter wanted to make a little money by selling his berries and the juice. The extra earning could ameliorate his difficulties in making both ends meet.
Q3. The government and social …. The words / phrases are ‘greedy do-gooders’, ‘beasts of prey’, ‘swarm over their lives’, ‘soothe them out of their wits’, ‘teaching them how to sleep’ etc.
Q4. What is the ‘childish longing’ … The poet imagines that he could banish the woes of the simple poor farmers and other such deprived classes in one go, but this is only a dream. It can never come to fruition in real life. This is why it is a ‘vain’ desire.
Q5. Which lines tell us about … The lines are..
Sometimes I feel myself I can hardly bear
The thought of so much childish longing in vain,
The sadness that lurks near the open window there,
That waits all day in almost open prayer
For the squeal of brakes, the sound of a stopping car,
Of all the thousand selfish cars that pass,
Just one to inquire what a farmer’s prices are.
LONG QUESTIONS ….
- Why is Frost so sad and indignant in this poem?
- Do you feel the issues that made him feel so much unease are present today? Have the problems aggravated, or lessened?
ANSWER of Q1 ….Why is Frost so sad and indignant in this poem?
In his childhood days, and later in his adult life, Robert Frost had faced trials and tribulations in no small measure. Poetry was not fetching him enough in his early days. To make both ends meet, he had to take to farming, poultry etc. The hard times that he faced scarred his mind and shaped his conscience. He became a humanist, and a pro-poor liberal thinker.
This poem has glimpses of the ordeal he himself faced in raising some income from his farm.
In this poem, the object of pity is a humble farmer who grows berries and other fruits in his farm, and wants to sell it to the motorists. The indifference of the wealthy travelers, and their aloofness towards the farmer’s not-so-glitzy sales counter saddens the poet. The rich folks race to and fro the city, come near the farmer’s stall, but seldom choose to come and buy something. The farmer waits and waits craving the attention of the travelers, but he never succeeds, although the fruit and juice he offers are so fresh and nourishing. The farmer’s plight plunges Frost’s heart in grief.
The celebrated poet, the winner of wealthy America’s top literary wards, has no love for blind urbanization that marches inexorably swallowing up farm lands. He loathes the avaricious real estate barons and the city planners who, in the name of development, usurp the lands of unsuspecting farmers. The rustic folks are simple and gullible. They are no match to the guile and greed of the powerful land mafia who have the politicians at their side. The cleverly-engineered, forced relocation of the rustic folks in urban environment appears so revolting to the poet. ‘It’s human tragedy,’ laments the poet.
In conclusion, it can be said that Robert Frost was a compassionate, kindly person who railed against the exploitation of the capitalist system under which he grew and flourished. Although written more than a century ago, the same apathy to the plight of the toiler of the soil still roils the modern day world. The same machinations of the land mafia he so forcefully derided still rules the roost in almost all countries of the world. So sad, while millions read his poems with relish, few shed a drop of tear for the toiling, deprived, and voiceless masses that the poet passionately pleaded for.