This quotation is significant because it demonstrates Frost's ironic treatment of the narrator. In the first three stanzas of the poem, the narrator states that the two paths are fundamentally identical in every way. He chose one path and contemplated returning one day to try the other path, but did not agonize over the decision. In the fourth stanza, however, when the narrator is an old man, he changes the truth of what happened and describes his path as the one "less traveled by." This shift in the truth allows the old man to justify many of his life choices and perhaps explain why his life turned out the way that it did.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
This quotation is written from the perspective of the scythe, whose only satisfaction comes from honest, hard work. While human beings would dream of fairies and gold for pleasure, the scythe values only reality; specifically, the reality of work. The narrator admires his scythe's detachment from the trivialities of the human imagination and hopes to model his own philosophy of work on that expressed by his whispering farm tool. This particular line also speaks to Frost's own emphasis on everyday life and the natural world in his poetry. While other poets focus on imaginary worlds and far-off places, Frost prefers to write about the world that he knows: the rural communities of New England.
Good fences make good neighbors.
This quotation is perhaps one of the most frequently quoted lines from Frost's poetry. The neighbor repeats the adage three times over the course of the poem and, though the narrator is initially skeptical of his neighbor's appreciation of an old-fashioned tradition, he eventually begins to agree with the adage as well. This line highlights the importance of property and individuality in the United States. Although the wall is not necessary in a practical sense (the narrator's apple trees will not cross the property line to bother his neighbor's pine trees), it maintains each man's individual identity in the farm community and allows them to have a sense of pride in their ownership of the land. Even on a more basic level, the act of mending the wall allows the neighbors to develop their relationship through interpersonal communication.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
This selection occurs at the very end of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." It is clear that the narrator wishes to continue watching the snow fall in the woods, but he is not able to ignore his responsibilities. The repeated "And miles to go before I sleep" can be read as a forced reminder that the narrator has obligations to fulfill, almost as if he would not be able to force himself to leave the woods without repeating the mantra. The final line could also be read as the narrator slowly falling asleep, aware of his responsibilities at home but unable to resist the peaceful lull of the drifting snow.
Some say the earth will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
This quotation introduces the two sides of the debate on the world's fate. The narrator clarifies the strict dichotomy between the elements while also revealing that this is not an expression of an individual opinion, but rather a universal understanding. The world must end in one of these two contradictory ways - or at least that is what the reader is expected to believe. In the next line, however, the narrator undercuts this conclusion by introducing his own opinion and acknowledging that the world could easily end both ways; thus, fire and ice are inherently similar.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain - and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
This quotation highlights the narrator's overwhelming depression and sense of isolation. Nothing in his surroundings is able to pull him out of his depression: neither walking in bad weather nor walking in good weather, neither walking around the city nor walking beyond its limits. No matter what he does, the narrator remains a lonely, isolated "I." Significantly, even the narrator's relationship with the night is a detached one; the night is not his friend or his lover, but solely a distant acquaintance.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
This selection appears in the final line of the poem and serves as a thoughtful reiteration of the narrator's ideas about swinging on birches. The act of swinging on a birch conveys a certain childlike innocence, but also allows the swinger to escape the cold rationality of the earth for a short time and reach into the heavens. Although the swinger is still grounded (through the roots of the birch tree), he is able to find freedom of imagination and also keep his life from becoming static.
And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope.
This quotation is spoken by Mary in reference to Silas, the hired man. Warren does not understand why Silas would come back to their farm in order to die, and Mary expresses the extent of Silas' isolation. Even though he cares for the people around him, he remains detached: he has no past but the humiliating memory of his broken contracts, and no family to give him a sense of hope for the future. In the end, Silas feels comforted by Mary and Warren, and chooses their farm as a place to die because he can think of no place that would be better.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretense of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
This quotation is spoken by the wife/mother in "Home Burial." Throughout the poem, the wife is inconsolable in her grief at the death of her child and cannot understand that her husband chooses to manifest his grief in a different way. This cynical passage demonstrates the extent of her resentment towards her husband, as well as her anger at people who expect her to move on with her life immediately.
They listened at his heart.
Little-less-nothing! and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
This quotation appears at the end of "Out, Out--" after the young boy has died from loss of blood. With the boy's death, the narrator suddenly becomes concise and straightforward in his writing style, simply acknowledging that he has nothing else to say on the topic: "No more to build on there." This detachment does not mean that the narrator or the other people in scene are apathetic about the boy's tragic death; they simply realize that they can do nothing to bring the boy back. Horrific deaths were a common occurrence in rural New England, just as they soon would be on the battlefields of World War I. All must internalize their grief and attempt to move forward with their lives.
Robert Frost: Poems Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Robert Frost: Poems is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.