Robert Frost: Poems Summary and Analysis
by Robert Frost
"Choose Something Like a Star" (1943)
The narrator speaks to a star in the sky and urges it to give him something to believe in. Although he acknowledges that stars are naturally quiet, the narrator still begs the star to say something to him. The star simply replies, “I burn.” The narrator is not satisfied with the star’s response and urges it to be even more specific. He explains that a few words from the star would be enough to help humanity strive for greater heights and, at the very least, be comforted.
In terms of form, this poem is relatively traditional, with a regular rhyme scheme and iambic meter. Frost uses rhymes for “-ight,” “-oud,” “-earn,” “-eat,” “-end,” “-aid,” “-ere,” and “-ar” to create the following pattern: AABAABCBCDCDEFFEFAGGAHIIH.
The poem focuses on humanity’s need for reassurance from a higher power. Some individuals use religion as a way to reassure themselves, while others emphasize science as a comfort. Frost plays with these genres of thought by blending different aspects of each into the narrator’s urgent plea to the star. In the very first line, Frost echoes a traditional prayer to God with the reverential tone and the term “O” (which would normally precede “God” or “Lord”). Later, when the star declares, “I burn,” Frost introduces the scientific genre of thought and describes the narrator’s need for specific, scientific information about the star. Knowledge of the star’s existence is not enough; the narrator wants scientific evidence of the star’s temperature and elemental makeup.
In addition to creating this combination of religion and science, Frost expands the irony of the narrator’s plea through the use of the term “something.” The narrator needs the star to say “something” to him so badly that it does not even matter what the “something” is. When the star speaks, its words have nothing to do with the narrator’s experience on earth. Instead, the pithy “I burn” relates only to the star itself and, even more importantly, does not provide clear evidence that the star possesses any intelligent thought. The star has no comprehension of anything outside of its own existence and can only quantify its presence with “I burn.”
However, Frost asserts (ironically) that what the star says does not actually matter. The simple existence of the words is enough to reassure mankind, because it proves that humans are not isolated in the universe. Moreover, even the object of such reverence is not crucial to narrator’s comfort: as the title reveals, an individual must only choose “something” like a star, not necessarily the star itself.
In the last line of the poem, Frost uses the wordplay of the terms “to stay” and “to be staid” to reiterate the narrator’s explanation in the poem. By selecting a distant object to idolize, no matter what it is, an individual has the capacity to become “stayed” (comforted; rooted), even as such devotion threatens to make humanity “staid” (old-fashioned; static).
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