Love and a Question
Robert Frost was an avid observer of Nature. He reveled in the pristine environment of his New England home in America. He had a keen eye for the beauty of the lonely woods, majestic trees, the solitary paths, the snowflakes of winter, and the vast forbidding loneliness around him. Despite being lost in his pursuit of Nature’s bounty, he delved into the un-ending crises of conscience, the call of duty and the conflict of emotions that torment an ordinary mortal. So, through his poetic praise of Nature, he reminds the readers about the philosophical intrigues of human existence and the frailty of man’s moral fibres.
The poem ‘Love and a Question’ may appear to a lay reader as a small episode in the life of a wanderer. However, the poem brings into focus the moral dilemma and the conflicting calls of conscience that we all grapple with in our daily lives.
The poem opens with a scene where a pedestrian looking helpless, weary and lost approaches a house for a night’s shelter. The house stands in a lonely woody area. It is an evening, and the road is lonely as winter’s cold is beginning to grip the surroundings. For a lonely person not of great means, it is an awful place and time to be in. His condition is miserable. Anxiety and helplessness are writ large upon his face.
The owner of the house, whom he approaches, has just been married. He is in his house with his young vivacious wife, whose ‘face is aglow in the hearth’s fire.’ His wife’s sensuousness has set his mind afire too. A night of torrid love in the arms of his wife awaits him. Her lips appear irresistible. Clearly, the feeling of passionate love races in the house owner’s mind when the stranger knocks on his door.
In a romantic occasion such as this, to have a stranger at home amounts to a rude interruption to the torrent of passion that awaits to engulf the husband and his young wife.
The husband feels bad to turn down the innocuous request of the stranger for just a night’s shelter. The place is so desolate. There is no other place for the stranger to wait out the dark cold night. The altruistic streak in his mind tells him to accede to the stranger’s request for shelter, but then, that would mean loss of a night of sensuous once-in-a-life pleasure with his newly-wed wife.
The husband feels pulled in opposite directions. Surging attraction for marital pleasures tells him to turn the man away, where as the plight of the shelter-less man in the cold dark night tells him to let him in. He is caught between compassion and carnal desires – between conscience and lust.
After some vacillation, the man finds the attraction of his young wife’s bosom too irresistible to forsake. He gives a piece of loaf and some little money to the stranger, and lets him go – to suffer the appalling winter night.
It is a triumph of the pull of worldly pleasures over the lofty feelings of benevolence and sacrifice. The housekeeper succumbs to the charm of his young wife whom he adores. But, in refusing shelter to a hapless stranger in such harsh environment, he commits a monumental moral blunder.
Robert Frost, no doubt, has a deep understanding of the moral dilemma faced by ordinary mortals as they wade through their lives. He knew, most humans fall too easily to the lure of worldly pleasures, but some others rise to the occasion to demonstrate the power of conscience over the fragile mind.