An Old Man's Winter Night || Summary and Analysis

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An Old Man's Winter Night

All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him -- at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off; -- and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man -- one man -- can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.

All out of doors looked darkly in at him Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars, That gathers on the pane in empty rooms. What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand. What kept him from remembering what it was That brought him to that creaking room was age.
An Old Man's Winter Night

Summary and Analysis

Introduction:

      The poem An Old Man's Winter Night written by Robert Frost in his collection Mountain Interval, beautifully recreates old age, reflecting on that state tenderly while presenting a particular character. The storyline of the poem is very realistic and fascinating to the readers. An Old Man's Winter Night speaks of an old man who wanders in his lonely house on a wintery night and finally goes to sleep. The poem brings out the loneliness and pathos of old age and is a study of death and human inadequacy.

Summary:

      The poem depicts an old man wandering alone in his farm-house on a winter night, then finally falling asleep. The old man lacks awareness. In the description of his sleep, the poet depicts his condition as a living death in which the simple processes of physical life continue to function in an automatic way long after the consciousness which makes for real life has faded out; "What kept him from remembering the need... That brought him to that creaking room was age". The old man can no logger "keep" his house, farm or countryside. But the moon can keep them. The poem is a definition of death itself. In the blend of old age, night, and winter, death is seen as a disappearance of order and meaning. When the order and meaning in the external world supplied by the organising power of the mind is gone, the organizing power of Nature will save the world from chaos - when the human fails, the natural will take over. Thus, the poem may emphasise the pathos of old age and the horror of death but it also implies a faith that though death always seems to threaten universal annihilation, order, meaning, and therefore, life itself cannot be really destroyed.

Critical Remarks:

      The poem An Old Man's Winter Night has some symbolic significance although many critics have not cared to discuss it. The light imagery important because it symbolises consciousness. These lines are noteworthy:

A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that....

      The inner light goes out as he falls asleep and all that remains is the concealed light of the wood stove and pale moonlight outside. Order and meaning in the external world depend upon the organising power of the mind and it is one important aspect of the symbolism in the poem. The poet hints at another order - the natural order. If the human order fails at any time, it is the natural order that saves the world from crisis and chaotic conditions. The Moon is also another important symbol in this poem. It symbolises the organising power of the individual mind which controls and exists within the physical body as a principle. Lynen has aptly pointed out: "The house and farm when combined with the countryside take on a very wide significance. The farmstead like the house in which Eliot pictures Gerontion suggests human institutions and society as a whole and even an entire culture and the countryside of the old man, the nation, and beyond this the world".

      In this poem of simple action, Frost has invested each item on the scene with an almost symbolic significance. Going beyond the representation of the pathos of old age, the poem brings out the profound opposition of life against death, light against dark, order against chaos. The setting, the human action, the sound effects - all contribute to a subdued dramatic tension.

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