The Mountain: by Robert Frost - Summary & Analysis

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The Mountain

The mountain held the town as in a shadow
I saw so much before I slept there once:
I noticed that I missed stars in the west,
Where its black body cut into the sky.
Near me it seemed: I felt it like a wall
Behind which I was sheltered from a wind.
And yet between the town and it I found,
When I walked forth at dawn to see new things,
Were fields, a river, and beyond, more fields.
The river at the time was fallen away,
And made a widespread brawl on cobble-stones;
But the signs showed what it had done in spring;
Good grass-land gullied out, and in the grass
Ridges of sand, and driftwood stripped of bark.
I crossed the river and swung round the mountain.
And there I met a man who moved so slow
With white-faced oxen in a heavy cart,
It seemed no hand to stop him altogether.
'What town is this?' I asked.
'This? Lunenburg.'
Then I was wrong: the town of my sojourn,
Beyond the bridge, was not that of the mountain,
But only felt at night its shadowy presence.
'Where is your village? Very far from here?'
'There is no village-only scattered farms.
We were but sixty voters last election.
We can't in nature grow to many more:
That thing takes all the room!' He moved his goad.
The mountain stood there to be pointed at.
Pasture ran up the side a little way,
And then there was a wall of trees with trunks:
After that only tops of trees, and cliffs
Imperfectly concealed among the leaves.
A dry ravine emerged from under boughs
Into the pasture.
'That looks like a path.
Is that the way to reach the top from here?-
Not for this morning, but some other time:
I must be getting back to breakfast now.'
'I don't advise your trying from this side.
There is no proper path, but those that have
Been up, I understand, have climbed from Ladd's.
That's five miles back. You can't mistake the place:
They logged it there last winter some way up.
I'd take you, but I'm bound the other way.'
'You've never climbed it?'
'I've been on the sides
Deer-hunting and trout-fishing. There's a brook
That starts up on it somewhere-I've heard say
Right on the top, tip-top-a curious thing.
But what would interest you about the brook,
It's always cold in summer, warm in winter.
One of the great sights going is to see
It steam in winter like an ox's breath,
Until the bushes all along its banks
Are inch-deep with the frosty spines and bristles-
You know the kind. Then let the sun shine on it!'
'There ought to be a view around the world
From such a mountain-if it isn't wooded
Clear to the top.' I saw through leafy screens
Great granite terraces in sun and shadow,
Shelves one could rest a knee on getting up-
With depths behind him sheer a hundred feet;
Or turn and sit on and look out and down,
With little ferns in crevices at his elbow.
'As to that I can't say. But there's the spring,
Right on the summit, almost like a fountain.
That ought to be worth seeing.'
'If it's there.
You never saw it?'
'I guess there's no doubt
About its being there. I never saw it.
It may not be right on the very top:
It wouldn't have to be a long way down
To have some head of water from above,
And a good distance down might not be noticed
By anyone who'd come a long way up.
One time I asked a fellow climbing it
To look and tell me later how it was.'
'What did he say?'
'He said there was a lake
Somewhere in Ireland on a mountain top.'
'But a lake's different. What about the spring?'
'He never got up high enough to see.
That's why I don't advise your trying this side.
He tried this side. I've always meant to go
And look myself, but you know how it is:
It doesn't seem so much to climb a mountain
You've worked around the foot of all your life.
What would I do? Go in my overalls,
With a big stick, the same as when the cows
Haven't come down to the bars at milking time?
Or with a shotgun for a stray black bear?
'Twouldn't seem real to climb for climbing it.'
'I shouldn't climb it if I didn't want to-
Not for the sake of climbing. What's its name?'
'We call it Hor: I don't know if that's right.'
'Can one walk around it? Would it be too far?'
'You can drive round and keep in Lunenburg,
But it's as much as ever you can do,
The boundary lines keep in so close to it.
Hor is the township, and the township's Hor-
And a few houses sprinkled round the foot,
Like boulders broken off the upper cliff,
Rolled out a little farther than the rest.'
'Warm in December, cold in June, you say?'
'I don't suppose the water's changed at all.
You and I know enough to know it's warm
Compared with cold, and cold compared with warm.
But all the fun's in how you say a thing.'
'You've lived here all your life?'
'Ever since Hor
Was no bigger than a--' What, I did not hear.
He drew the oxen toward him with light touches
Of his slim goad on nose and offside flank,
Gave them their marching orders and was moving.

The mountain held the town as in a shadow I saw so much before I slept there once: I noticed that I missed stars in the west, Where its black body cut into the sky. Near me it seemed: I felt it like a wall Behind which I was sheltered from a wind.
The Mountain

Summary and Analysis


      Frost's primary concern as it emerges through his poetry is barriers - barriers of all types, barriers that alienate man from man, and barriers that seem to alienate nature from man. These barriers between man and nature, these deserts of wilderness are the places where man's sport and sporting spirit are tested. These are challenges, and impediments that nature places before man. This is where man has to prove his mettle and assert his superiority over nature; of will and mind over inanimate objects. The mountain in this poem is representative of all such barriers. There are brave and adventurous people like the preacher in Snow, who accept them. But the farmer in this poem is a different man altogether. He constantly lives and works just near the mountain and though he always intends to climb the mountain, he never really does climb it. The mountain, thus stands before him, as a symbolic and a real challenge, a barrier to be overcome.


      The Mountain by Robert Frost is a narrative poem which has been given the form of a dialogue. In this poem, the poet has presented two contraposing characters, as the poet generally does in other dramatic dialogues included in North of Boston. The poem's major interest does not lie in the story or the plot. As Untermeyer rightly points out, the central interest of the poem lies in character contrast. The farmer, whom the speaker of the poem meets is not in the least bit impressed by the grandeur of the mountain. On the contrary, we wonder, whether he even considers the mountain grand. He considers the mountain only a huge block, an obstacle. To quote Untermeyer" is merely a wall behind which he is sheltered from the wind, a huge barrier preventing his village from growing: "That thing takes all the room". He would not think of climbing it to see its strange brook, 'always cold in summer, warm in winter', he would consider it a waste of effort to climb it for the sake of climbing; it would seem downright silly". There is an element of humor about this man's attitude toward the mountain. He seems to be a representative of the un- inquisitive, quiet and un-adventurous spirit of a vast fraction of humanity.

Critical Analysis:

      This simple, American villager's attitude toward this huge stumbling block is one of complacent wonder. He feels that the mountain is a malevolent force of nature and an enemy of the villagers. Talking about his village and its residents, the farmer says that they could not grow in number because that thing (the mountain) occupied all the space they had. He knows everything about this mountain, its spring but only second-hand, from hearsay. He has never felt the urge to find out things for himself.

      But the traveler or the speaker of the poem forms a loud contrast to him. This person is endowed with an inquiring, adventurous, enterprising temperament of a romantic. He has a longing for the stars and eyes on the heavens. The distant, the unknown hold, an inexplicable charm and fascination for him. He zealously inquires about the village and the path that led to the top. He is surprised almost till the extent of disbelief when the farmer tells him that he has never seen the strange stream for himself and has never once climbed a top the mountain. He is perhaps meeting a person, so basically different from him, for the first time in his life.

      There are radiant gems of nature descriptions punctuating Frost's narratives at various spots. Like a thorough realist, he knows the places and the things he describes and hence the vivacity and sparkle of intimate first-hand knowledge in his nature descriptions. He describes the sights of the regions lying to the north of Boston with acute accuracy and keen powers of observation:

"When I walked forth at dawn to see new things,
Were fields, a river, and beyond, more fields."

      The poet seizes the opportunity and indulges in further description of nature:

"..Good grassland gullied out, and in the grass
Ridges of sand, and driftwood stripped of bark."

      Yet the poet cannot resist the temptation to give a brief description of "the bushes all along its banks inch-deep with the frosty spines and bristles." The imagery in the poem is typically Yankee in nature. It derives its basis from personal observation of life - a perception which is an evidence alert and minutely subtle faculties. Frost's technique is such that common things like ox's breath and vapor from a stream fuse in such an original manner that they deceive the senses, as though something utterly novel in character has been created:

"One of the great sight going is to see
lt steam in winter, like an ox's breath..."

      The imagery is also particularly apt for the scene in which it is set. The houses at the bottom of the mountain appear to the poet

"..Like boulders broken off the upper clif,
Rolled out a little farther than the rest.."

      The simple language of the poem is only too proper for the simple style of the poem and simplicity has its own charm. Frost has imparted ease and flexibility of speech rhythms to the blank-verse by artistically blending strictness and looseness.

      The Mountain in this poem is a natural barrier. The unambitious farmer is aware of this fact. He says:

We can't in nature grow to many more:
That thing takes all the room!' He moved his goad?
The mountain stood there to be pointed at.

      He knows that the mountain is a huge barrier preventing his village from growing, limiting the population to sixty as before. Symbolically this natural barrier signifies the artificial barriers in our modern society. People of an unenterprising nature are conscious of the suffering they have to undergo due to these barriers but they are not courageous enough to overcome them. Like the farmer they are complacent. They do not want to explore the brook that is "always cold in summer and warm in winter". It is this contrast in character between the traveler and the farmer, these diametrically opposing attitudes that endear this poem to the discerning reader.


      The Mountain thus turns out to be one of the various sources in the inexhaustible fund of nature, from where a man can learn more about himself and his relationship with nature. Man should learn to compromise and recognize his limitations, if he wants to survive in the face of the mighty forces of nature. Enmity with nature and its manifestations might ultimately end up in his monetization and annihilation. The Mountain describes a hill-country township so dominated by the "black body" of the mountain, Hor emanating from its center that "Hor is the township, and the township's Hor - And a few hours sprinkled round the foot..". An elderly citizen recognizes the limits which Hor places upon expansion by pointing out that sixty voters cast ballots in the last election, and that the population cannot grow much more because "that thing (the mountain) takes all the room. The land is vertical and stony; the few hill intervals are already under cultivation. There is no room for expanding the agriculture required to sustain the meager population. Whether one likes it or not, one has to accept his predicament. In an enthusiastic effort to defeat whatever seems to obstruct the way of his will, he ultimately finds himself vanquished.

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