Selected poem: Range-Finding by Robert Frost.
Part 1: Scansion and Analysis.
Range Finding is a symbolical poem which depicts the moment of human death from nature’s perspective. Plants and tiny insects are slightly bothered by ‘sudden passing bullet’ which kills a soldier. It was dedicated to the memory of Edward Thomas, A close friend to Robert Frost. Edward Thomas was killed during the First World War. The structure of this short poem resembles a Petrarchan sonnet – it consists of fourteen lines divided by two stanzas (the first octave and the second sestet). It is rich in sophisticated sentences revealing delicate changes in the tiny world brushed accidentally by the bullet. The rhyme scheme is captured by the first four lines.
Such a structure gives the poem a soft rhythm typical for a sonnet. It is supported by line breaks pattern: each line constitutes a finished phrase. Each sentence is rich in epithets and turns of phrases, which makes it impossible to hold one sentence within a line. Thus, two- or three-lined enjambments are often found. This moderates pace of the rhythm. The poem is grammatically correct and contains no syntax errors. However, punctuation is sometimes omitted to preserve the rhythm. The advanced and correct language supports static grace of nature; there is no need in ‘sharp lines’ or stress points. Complex sentences with minimum punctuation marks are typical for the poem. Robert Frost uses classical Iambic pentameter with five feet in each line. It is consistent throughout the whole poem:
Organization is simple as the poem depicts just a short sequence of actions. Its symbolical meaning is much more important than facts. However, logical sequence is preserved: bullet strikes it rents the cobweb the flower is broken butterfly clings back on the flower a spider is disturbed.
Part two: Explication.
The human’s tragedy is viewed from the perspective of animals. Thus, it is intended to demonstrate how people’s affairs are nonsignificant in the calmness of the wildlife. The fragility of the human life is artfully juxtaposed with the fragility of a flower or a cobweb.
Before it stained a single human breast …
The first stanza captures a moment, a fraction of second before the bullet strikes a human’s breast. The description of killing itself is omitted; it remains in the background so that one can just recreate a vague image of it. Viewers’ attention is then driven towards a broken flower and torn cobweb.
A shot in a long distance. This expression could be also considered as a metaphor for far-reaching consequences of war (Griffiths, 2011, n/p).
And still, the bird revisited her young …
Routine processes in nature are not even slightly affected by the erupted war. Great tragedies of people do not intersect with tiniest processes in a microcosm.
A butterfly its fall had dispossessed …
A delicate movement of a butterfly overshadows a frightening event that caused a butterfly to flutter. A close-up to a tender ‘fluttering’ and ‘clinging’ insect is used as a stark contrast to a rapid and ruthless flight of the bullet.
The second stanza shifts viewer’s attention from the butterfly to a spider briefly mentioned in the first lines – a typical pattern for sonnets.
A wheel of thread / And straining cables wet with silver dew …
A metaphor associating spider’s web with sophisticated technologies, a subtle process. A spider is indirectly compared to an artist.
The indwelling spider ran to greet the fly, But finding nothing, silently withdrew.
The spider was fooled by movement of the bullet. If there was a fly, then this tiny world would be shattered for a moment. It is not even that such a striking moment remains unnoticed by animals – nature is not supposed to ‘realize’ the whole drama of the moment. The poetry is the contrast: a striking power is unnoticed by tenderness. Death of a creature as great and intelligent as a human being means nothing to primitive nature. Finitude of human’s existence is juxtaposed with the endless routine existence of nature.
Although there is no emotional development in the poem, no upward movement or climax (since the striking moment is beyond viewer’s reach), Range-Finding has a strong metaphorical power. There is no symbolism, no vicious twist of fate, yet a powerful contrast stays making us think about the true value of our lives.
- Doyle, John Robert Jr. The Poetry of Robert Frost: An Analysis. Witwatersrand University Press, 1962.
- Griffiths, G. M. “Range Finding – Robert Frost.” Move Him Into The Sun, https://movehimintothesun.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/robert-frost-range-finding. Accessed 13 September 2017.
- Frost, Robert. Range-Finding (The Poetry of Robert Frost). Holt Paperback, 1979.