The Need Of Being Versed In Country Things : Analysis

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The Need Of Being Versed In Country Things

The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.
Now the chimney was all of the house that stood,
Like a pistil after the petals go.

The barn opposed across the way,
That would have joined the house in flame
Had it been the will of the wind, was left
To bear forsaken the place's name.

No more it opened with all one end
For teams that came by the stony road
To drum on the floor with scurrying hoofs
And brush the mow with the summer load.

The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.

Yet for them the lilac renewed its leaf,
And the aged elm, though touched with fire;
And the dry pump flung up an awkward arm;
And the fence post carried a strand of wire.

For them there was really nothing sad.
But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,
One had to be versed in country things
Not to believe the phoebes wept.

The house had gone to bring again To the midnight sky a sunset glow. Now the chimney was all of the house that stood, Like a pistil after the petals go.
The Need Of Being Versed In Country Things

Summary and Analysis


      The Need of Being Versed in Country Things was first published in the volume entitled New Hampshire in 1923. The poem can be said to be Frost's manifesto or his attitude to and relationship with nature. As Untermeyer puts it, this is a lyric in which vision has been added to observation and power of sight has been straightened by insight. The title of the poem is absolutely fitting. Through the poem Frost conveys the fact, with a matter-of-fact candour and clarity, that it is only a person who has lived amidst nature that, realises the real nature of Nature - Nature does not suffer from the complexities of human emotion and is completely indifferent to the sensitivity of the human world.

Development of Thought:

      This poem is about a house that had caught fire. The only remains of the house are a towering chimney and a barm opposite to the chimney. The barn escaped catching fire because the wind was not blowing in that direction when the house caught fire. But even the barn now wears a desolate and a deserted look; now no teams of hurrying oxen come to be sheltered in it. The windows are equally uncared for and the birds fly in and out of it. When the poet listens to the chirp of the birds, he equates it with the human sigh for things that are no more.

      But soon the poet casts off this sentimentality and comes in the realm of reason. He realises that the world of nature is quite unlike the human world. It does not feel or think and hence is free of the complexities of the human world. Moreover, the birds have no reason to be sad; for change and renewal is the law of nature. In spring, the lilac flowers and even the aged elm shoots forth new leaves. The birds were comfortable in their homes i.e. nests. To realise this, to understand that the small phoebes never wept, to avoid the pathetic fallacy of attributing human sentiments to nature, one has to be well-versed in country things.

Critical Appreciation:

      The theme of the poem is the exploration and exposition of the relationship between man and nature. Commenting on Frost's poems, Nitchie says that The Need of Being Versed in Country Things is one of those poems in which Frost tries to understand and explain the contrast, the relationship between the world of nature and man-made world. Among other nature poems, the poem that is obviously the most relevant is Directive. What Frost tries to bring out is the essential comparative simplicity of the natural world. In The Need of Being Versed in Country Things, the poet warns us overtly against attributing to nature and its objects, complex emotions of life that is no more there in the burnt farm-house. Like Thoreau all of us can learn at least one thing from nature - simplification of emotion. One may sometimes have to literally fight one's way in the world of nature, and though it is not an island of the blest, it can serve as a basis for human beings in their travail through the desert of life. In this world the path of the individual is strewn with loaded questions or rigid dilemmas. To this extent, nature is as benevolent and as restful as New Hampshire. It enables one to come to grips with ultimate problems of choice and it is this fact that makes Frost's evasion a strategic one.

      This poem is an evidence that though Frost is a great nature poet, he is not a poet in the tradition of Wordsworth and other romantic poets. Those who live in sophisticated and urban societies have a tendency to view nature with a thin film of romanticism. Frost's attitude towards nature is different. His love for it is characterised by the hard matter-of-fact realism of a farmer who is intimately acquainted with the naughty pranks and nuances, and the ways of nature. He has no illusions about nature. Frost, through his advocacy of the view of nature's alienation from man, tries to express the hollowness of the romantic view. According to Brower, while assigning human gestures to various animate and inanimate elements in the scene, Frost withdraws the emotion he fondly attributes to phoebes. The way he rejects outright any emotion in nature is not easy to parallel in Wordsworth though. Thoreau might have been capable of it, and would have surely endorsed it. Frost says that anyone who had lived and had been bred in the country could not be deceived into thinking that phoebes really wept out of sympathy for the human lot. Frost rejects the pastoral of urban sophistication behind which lies the pathetic fallacy. He also, and more vehemently, rejects the idea of the idealist that phoebes might be really weeping as a result of a fantastic unity between the poet's soul and the oversoul. To quote Brower: "Frost starts from another base, and he once pointed out in connection with this poem, deep down in one is a strong friendship in favour of basing imagination and judgement on a knowledge of country things. The terms he uses have a flavour of eighteenth century criticism: imagination and judgement. Knowledge, as the full context of his remark shows, has been schooled by the reality of farm work and country measures of worth...".

      For a poem like this, in which the main objective of the poet is to depict the simplicity of the world of nature, Frost has used an enchantingly simple style. And simplicity has its own charm and sometimes subtlety too. Elizabeth Jennings has attempted to bring out the subtlety of Frost's style, and has come out triumphant. "The poem is about a derelict barn, but Frost uses the subject and the occasion to write a poem about the alliance between sensitivity and acceptance, the realistic attitude which is essential to the true countryman. And of course, the poem is concerned with far more than just this; it reverberates far beyond its immediate subject. It is profoundly simple and likewise simply profound...".

      In this poem, Frost has displayed a rare skill - he has struck a perfect balance between the personalities of the observer, commentator and that of the poet himself. The attitude of the commentator seems to be exactly that of the poet - there is no discrepancy or a jarring note anywhere. As Jennings puts it, he is most "deeply present in this subject, and profoundly moved by it... The sigh we sigh (L-15) includes the poet, the reader, and all humanity."

      In Frost's poetry there is an utter absence of imagery. His poetry has often been described as one of statements rather than imagery. Though to agree with this statement in its entirely would be to accept an exaggeration, it is certainly true of many of his poems. In The Need of Being Versed in Country Things one is taken aback by the utter simplicity of expression and sheer clarity of thought. This poem brings to mind D. Johnson's statement which he enunciated while criticising Milton's Lycidas. This statement is that famous literary axiom which said that where there is leisure for fiction there can be no real grief, no emotion. The very simplicity speaks volumes about the intensity and sincerity of whatever is being said. Cleanth Brooks has repeatedly stressed this quality of Frost's poetry: "The very minimum off imagery is used". Frost does not think through his images; he requires statements. Throughout his poetry one can trace a persistent unwillingness to let metaphor carry the final weight of his poems.


      We can safely take Untermeyer's analysis of the poem as the final world. "A living poem is one that stays alive because it is rooted in mortal things and deathless emotions. It is felt first and thought out afterwards.' "It begins," Frost once wrote in a letter, "with a lump in the throat, a home-sickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching out toward expression: an effort to find fulfilment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought, and the thought has found the words..." Frost's lyrics, more personal than poems about people and events, take the reader with suddenness and surprise. Here, with immediate appeal, "emotion has found its thought, and the thought has found the words..." Frost more than most, is versed not only in "country things" but in things beyond Scrutiny, beyond even the sharpest examination. In the poet's world, vision has been added to observation, and the power of sight has been strengthened by insight. This poem serves as no less than an exemplification of whatever has been said above.

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