Neither Out Far Nor In Deep: Poem - Summary & Analysis

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Neither Out Far Nor In Deep

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be-
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

The people along the sand All turn and look one way. They turn their back on the land. They look at the sea all day.
Neither Out Far Nor In Deep

Summary and Analysis


      Neither Out Far Nor In Deep, is a poem that was first published in 1937 in the volume entitled, A Further Range. It is a short lyric of sixteen lines and is divided into four stanzas. In this poem, Frost deals with a philosophical theme in an apparently simple style.

      The poem Neither Out Far Nor In Deep is embodies Frost's search for truth. He believed that absolute truth could never be defined satisfactorily and even the most profound philosophical systems cannot do it. In this poem, Frost says that we will continue to watch and hope 'wherever the truth may be'.

Summary and Analysis:

      The setting of the poem is the seashore. A number of persons are standing on the seashore with their back towards the land. They are incessantly looking toward the Sea. The scenes on the shore are subject to change but the sea remains unchanging and eternally the same. Life on the shore has far greater variety but for some inexplicable reason, these people are for always looking out at the sea. But they cannot cope with the infinitude of the sea. They are human beings and their vision is very limited. They are unable to look very far, nor does their vision have a capacity to penetrate deep - yet they continue to look towards the sea.

      In Neither Out Far nor in Deep, the ocean symbolizes the endless query of man. It is a deceptively simple poem. It carries overtones of man's ultimate dependence on what he can never subdue. Randall Jarrell interprets this poem symbolically: "When we choose between land and sea, the human and the inhuman, the finite and the infinite, the sea has to be the infinite that floods in over us heedlessly, the hypnotic monotony of the universe that's incommensurable with us - everything into which we look neither very far nor very deep, but look, just the same. And yet Frost doesn't say so - it is the geometry of this very geometrical poem, its inescapable structure that says so. There is the deepest fact and restraint in the symbolism." Lionel Trilling regards it as "the most perfect poem of our times for the energy with which emptiness is perceived. In this lyric man is confronted with the vast, impenetrable unknown, as vast and terrifying as the ghastly heights, of the sky.." Frost stresses the littleness of man in the scheme of things but he also brings out the essential heroism of his soul.

      The poems Neither Out Far nor In Deep has core, complex and philosophical themes. Throughout this poem there is an undercurrent of exploratory and suggestive mood. The poet here is like a speck wandering and pondering on the essential problems of existence. These poems are generally poetical ponderings on philosophical problems like the maintenance of an integrated identity, his freedom, his bulwark against an overpowering chaos, the significance of human suffering and possibilities of salvation. Behind these poems lies a mind torn between belief and logic, pre-conceived notions and stark realities, affirmation and negation. The terrifying poems that Implying referred to are a manifestation of one extreme of Frost's philosophical range. This is the magnetic fascination of the dark that enwraps and annihilates "the self, the fear of one's inner desert places" Frost faced many personal tragedies during his life span and this led him to think time and again that human existence is meaningless and all the suffering and agony that goes with it is too high a price for it. At times Frost also entertained the idea of cosmic meaninglessness. Neither Out Far nor In Deep give us the impression that absolute void and meaningless blankness that gapes at us constantly are the only ultimate reality of human life.

      With Neither Out Far Nor In Deep, Frost comes in the range of Hawthorne, Melville, Emily Dickinson and others, who all had at some juncture in their lives, contemplated the terror of nothingness. The lyric form of the poem is a deceptive facade over disturbing implications. In this poem the people constantly gaze at the sea but all that is there for them to see is a ship moving mechanically to an unknown destination and the reflection of a gull in the water - it is not certain that people see even that. They gaze oh vast oceans of emptiness - there is in them perhaps an inner urge to turn their backs toward land. "They cannot look out far/they cannot look in deep - Yet they continue looking. On a cursory glance, the poem is a commentary on the tragic limitation of man's perception. But perhaps it goes further than that and postulates a blank and absurd universe that proves futile the very attempt to look'. The poem ends with a question - the open ending suggests that the ambiguity is unresolved. The question with which the poem ends is an utterly 'terrifying' question as far as its implications are concerned. It suggests either a fear of something real (though invisible) or an utterly futile vigil.


      The setting of the poem is undoubtedly Emersonian but Frost has been more completely immersed in the destructive elements, though it is coupled by the Emersonian sense of wonder. The attraction of the mind towards the unknown cannot be barred; the probing and questioning goes on, strange attraction of the mind.

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