The narrator describes the difference between Love and Thought. Love clings to the earth in such a way that makes it a denial of freedom and imagination. Thought, on the other hand, has cast aside the shackles of the tangible world and travels throughout the universe with a pair of wings. Yet, for all the freedom that Thought seems to have, the safe environment of Love is far more liberating.
This poem is made up of four stanzas of five lines each with a rhyme scheme of ABBAA.
The poem expresses a debate similar to that described in “Fire and Ice.” Love is tied to the earth, while Thought is tied to heaven, and the narrator asks which state of mind is more liberating to mankind. At first, the narrator is firmly in favor of Thought. Thought is not bound to the earth in any way and has the ability to travel through the realm of all possibilities, from star to star. Love, however, denies this freedom and actively chooses to stay grounded on the earth, actually “clinging” to it to make sure that nothing can separate the two. Thought, the narrator assures the reader, “has need of no such things.”
Over the course of the poem, the rhetoric gradually changes to speak in favor of Love. While Thought must travel across the universe to find beauty and freedom, Love is able to find the same beauty and freedom on earth, simply by staying: “Love by being thrall / And simply staying possesses all / In several beauty that Thought fares far / To find fused in another star.” Thought’s constant need to travel to all points of the universe in search of freedom becomes its own type of shackle, tying Thought to this quest. Through its safety and comfort on earth, the narrator concludes, Love is able to achieve a more lasting liberation.
Interestingly, the gender relation between Love and Thought (with Love as female and Thought as male) was a late addition to the poem. In its original 1913 draft, the poem characterized both Love and Thought as female. Frost’s decision to change the gender of Thought to masculine relates to traditional gender associations. Typically, women were associated solely with emotion and love (and thus needed to be taken care of), while men were associated with masculine rationality and thought.
By suggesting that Love is triumphant in the debate over liberation, Frost is not necessarily arguing that women will be victorious in the battle of the sexes. Instead, he is emphasizing the importance of emotion and softness in combination with the rationality of thought. Just as Thought is shackled without Love, poetry will be confined to form if it does not make use of true emotion.