In Robert Frost’s English sonnet, “On a Tree Fallen across the Road”, Frost uses imagery, alliteration, metaphors, personification, and symbols to portray his theme. Frost uses all of these literate devices to bring out his point in the poem; overcoming obstacles. He believes that we will always face struggles in life and come across unexpected surprises that may or may not be good. This does not mean that this will stop us in our tracks, but will help shape us into better human beings by giving us choices.
He also believes that as humans we have hidden in us the motivation to strive to get what we want in life and where we want to be by making these difficult decisions. The way Frost portrays this main theme in a 14 line poem about a fallen tree helps readers see that the poem is actually not about a tree, but overcoming life’s important decisions. In the first stanza Frost sets the setting with imagery of “The tree the tempest with a crash of wood” with alliteration in the words ‘tree’ and ‘tempest’.
The imagery Frost conveys is of a fallen tree that has been knocked over by a violent, windy storm in which paints a picture in the head of the readers of a dirt road with a giant, dead oak tree strewn across it. The road symbolizes life and as you go through this path of life you are faced with these obstacles and choices of whether or not to change course or push through. The last line of the stanza is saying that these obstacles are not there to make us struggle, but they are there to help us find out who we are as people.
I think that Frost used a tree as the main symbol for the poem because when people think of fallen trees they think of a giant tree that when it has fallen down it is hard to move or even get around without deciding what action to do next. That does not mean that it cannot be done though; just like our choices we face may seem impossible at the time, but when we just take a step back we can see that there is more than one option than just giving up. The second stanza goes on to explore the idea of how people are faced with tough decisions on a daily basis, but it is up to us to decide which path we take.
Frosts uses the metaphor of Mother Nature, ‘she’, trying to halt our driving by putting a tree in the road, but in deeper meaning Frost is saying that there are many challenges out there that just show up in front of us and the only thing we can do is survive it. He also uses personification with that same line by introducing ‘she’, Mother Nature, will make things happen, but Mother Nature is not a real person and cannot do something like that. This adds to the sonnet by helping people connect and imagine a big snow storm that can temporarily stop someone in their tracks before it melts or someone clears the snow.
Frost then goes back to the image of the tree “Debating what to do without an ax. ”; the ax symbolizes a device that is not readily at your service. Whenever you come across a fallen tree there is no guarantee that you will have an ax with you, so you must improvise and decide how you will move past this tree. This is parallel to the idea of not having the best option presented in front of you when you are forced to make a choice, but if you dig deeper then you may find the best option that will work for you, just like finding a new path around the tree.
During the last stanza Frost goes back to ‘she’, Mother Nature, “knowing obstruction” that the attempt is fruitless to stop the will of the people’s journey. This is where he backs up his whole idea of not being presented with a solution “We will not be put off the final goal We have it hidden in us to attain”, no matter what obstruction we are faced with, choice we have to make, or obstacle we are stuck with, we will always find a way to get past it because it is hidden in us.
Another metaphor is used when Frost writes “Not though we have to seize earth by the pole”, not as in we literally need to grab the pole of the earth, but by grabbing life by the reigns and taking charge of your own life and steering it onto the path that you want. Frost uses the pole of the earth as an image for the readers to envision because the earth is massive compared to us and no matter the size of earth or the problem we can grab ahold of it and lead it in the direction that we want. Frost then ends his sonnet with a couplet that reiterates the idea of not giving up on overcoming the difficult obstacles.
People get tired of going around in aimless circles, trying to find the best option and falling short of their goal, but what they really need to do is just focus on what is right in front of them and ‘steer straight’ as Frost would say. Sometimes people need to take a step back and actually look at the problem that is right in front of them because they can get too caught up in the idea of finding a solution and not thinking about the actual problem at hand. Frost uses multiple metaphors and imagery to help his readers envision exactly what he is trying to convey.
Even the title “On a Tree Fallen across the Road” is imagery. As soon as readers read it they envision a giant oak tree blocking their path and their first instinct is to ask themselves, “What do I do now? ” Some may cut it up and use the wood for other use and some might just turn around and find a different way to go to their destination. When you are faced with multiple different options it is hard to decide what to do, but Frost believes that no matter what Mother Nature throws at us we can handle it because we have the ability hidden in us that comes out when we need it to.