I Will Sing You One-O || Summary and Analysis

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I Will Sing You One-O

It was long I lay
Awake that night
Wishing that night
Would name the hour
And tell me whether
To call it day
(Though not yet light)
And give up sleep.
The snow fell deep
With the hiss of spray;
Two winds would meet,
One down one street,
One down another,
And fight in a smother
Of dust and feather.
I could not say,
But feared the cold
Had checked the pace
Of the tower clock
By tying together
Its hands of gold
Before its face.

Then cane one knock!
A note unruffled
Of earthly weather,
Though strange and muffled.
The tower said, 'One!'
And then a steeple.
They spoke to themselves
And such few people
As winds might rouse
From sleeping warm
(But not unhouse).
They left the storm
That struck en masse
My window glass
Like a beaded fur.
In that grave One
They spoke of the sun
And moon and stars,
Saturn and Mars
And Jupiter.
Still more unfettered,
They left the named
And spoke of the lettered,
The sigmas and taus
Of constellations.
They filled their throats
With the furthest bodies
To which man sends his
Beyond which God is;
The cosmic motes
Of yawning lenses.
Their solemn peals
Were not their own:
They spoke for the clock
With whose vast wheels
Theirs interlock.
In that grave word
Uttered alone
The utmost star
Trembled and stirred,
Though set so far
Its whirling frenzies
Appear like standing
in one self station.
It has not ranged,
And save for the wonder
Of once expanding
To be a nova,
It has not changed
To the eye of man
On planets over
Around and under
It in creation
Since man began
To drag down man
And nation nation.

It was long I lay Awake that night Wishing that night Would name the hour And tell me whether To call it day (Though not yet light) And give up sleep.
I Will Sing You One-O

Summary and Analysis


      I Will Sing You One O by Robert Frost is a unique poem. It is one of the best astronomical lyrics of our language. It was first published in 1923 in the volume entitled New Hampshire. The poems in this volume of which I Will Sing You One O is representative, testify to the fact that the poet's ideas started soaring high, leaving behind the narrow regional confines of this world. Now he takes within his purview, new horizons in which he sees man as a nonentity, as a speck in the vast universe. In this poem, he is able to bring out the terrible isolation and insignificance of human beings and the irony of human existence. The picture of the universe that the poet here draws is not that of a benevolent universe. On the contrary the universe as shown in this poem is callously indifferent to man and his plight.


      In this poem we meet the poet on a sleepless night. He eagerly awaits the clock-tower to make a dong and tell him the time. When the clock does strike one, it takes the poet's imagination ona journey beyond the remotest corners of the universe.

      The development of thought in this poem takes place in the following sequence. One night the poet could not sleep. He was restless and as he could not fall asleep he wanted to know what time it was; was it still night Or was it near day break. Should he give up trying to sleep ? Beyond the confines of the poet's house it was a windy night, being tossed in a snow storm. Sitting in his cosy room the poet felt that winds from opposite directions were trying to win their way. As is very common in poetry, we can safely say that the storm outside is symbolic of the storm that is raging within the poet's soul. As the poet was wide awake and nowhere near to sleep, the poet wanted to make sure what time of the day it was. He wanted the clock to strike the dong and tell him the time.

      But the poet has to wait for quite a long time. His anxiety, curiosity and the intensity of the desire to know the time make it very difficult for him to pass time. He feels that perhaps because of the tremendous cold outside the hands of the clock have frozen and time has come to a standstill.

      All of a sudden, there is a dong - the clock has struck one at last. From this moment onwards we see the poet's critical and imaginative faculties coming into action all of a sudden. After this clock had struck one, the dong of many other clocks followed immediately. In the dark, cold, dreary night the clocks seemed to be whispering to themselves, for only a few people ike the poet (who was spending the night out of compulsion) were listening to and were aware of their dongs.

      Even such a trifling and minor incident like the striking of the dong of the clock spurs the poet into a realm of imagination. He feels that the clocks were trying to reach out to remote realms. He imagines that all the clocks spoke of the Sun, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the moon, the stars and other worlds which we are unfamiliar with: worlds whose names we know only as they have come down to us in the Greek alphabet e.g. tau, sigma etc.

      The dong of the clocks also brings to the poet's mind the idea that like the clock, the universe, too, is a machine - everything is systematic and orderly in it. Though many times larger in size, the system of functioning of the universe, is quite like that of a clock. But these constellations are so distant that all their motion, all the upheaval and turmoil going on in them is completely invisible to us. Though they are constantly breaking up ana exploding, to the naked human eye they appear quiet and stationary. This vast inhuman machine, terrifying in magnitude, has not changed a wee bit ("to the eye of man" ) since it was first created in times that defy memory or records. Though man has continued to degenerate to the extent that man is trying to pull down man and nations are trying to wipe off nations, this machine, the universe, has succeeded in maintaining its essential form. This machine is indifferent to and untouched by human predicament. Man stands isolated and degenerated to a shamefully low level in this vast, unfathomable universe. Man has to fight his battle alone and he has become all the more lonely and weak by creating barriers and hurdles between himself and his fellow creatures.

Critical Appreciation:

      In this poem the major concern of the poet is man and his plight. The poem is not explicitly didactic in nature, yet it has a message to convey. By drawing a terrible, gloomy and realistically pessimistic picture of man and his surroundings, Frost points out his ideals of universal good will and fraternity that mankind needs to embrace.

      Besides this serious thought content of the poem it is striking for it shows an area to which Frost is sensitive - an area which the reader could perhaps never associate with Frost the poet. The poem is an evidence of Frost's interest in astronomy and his knowledge of it. In this poem Frost seems to voice (consciously or unconsciously) these words of Sir James Jeans the famous astronomer: "We cannot move a finger without disturbing all the stars". In the gong of the clock, the reverberations and vibrations seem to reach to distant constellations:

In that grave word
Uttered alone,
The utmost star,
Trembled and stirred,
Though set so far....

      Lionel Trilling very aptly contends that "the universe that he conceives of is a terrifying universe". The immense, huge vastness of the universe is very purposefully contrasted to man's insignificance. The adaptation of Herrick's short line is another achievement of Frost. While Herrick used short lines, each consisting of two or three feet, to celebrate or to sing either of nature's charms or of his beloved, Frost has used it to make the milieu of his time come alive: to shatter all romantic notions about human existence, the tremendous loneliness, ghastliness of the individual, the callous indifference of the universe in all its ugliness, and stark reality.


      The poem is remarkable for its philosophical quality and speculative nature. The short lines of the poem are crisp and rich with meaning. Frost has come out triumphant in the supreme test of an author conveying a moral without being obviously didactic. A mood of gloom and pessimism pervades the poem.

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