Sunday, April 29, 2012

Robert Frost: "The Vantage Point"

This is one of Robert Frost's earlier poems.  It appeared in his first collection of poetry,  A Boy's Will, which was published in April 1913 in London.

The Vantage Point

If tired of trees I seek again mankind,
   Well I know where to hie me--in the dawn,
    To a slope where the cattle keep the lawn.
There amid lolling juniper reclined,
Myself unseen, I see in white defined
    Far off the homes of men, and farther still,
    The graves of men on an opposing hill,
Living or dead, whichever are to mind.

And if by noon I have too much of these,
    I have but to turn on my arm, and lo,
    The sun burned hillside sets my face aglow,
My breathing shakes the bluet like a breeze,
    I smell the earth, I smell the bruised plant,
    I look into the crater of the ant.

I always have to be careful, if not wary, when reading a Frost poem.  I think I know what's going on, and then, at the end, he manages somehow to introduce a question as to just exactly what is going on here. This poem is no exception.  It seems very straightforward at first.  He is tired of looking at nature and wishes to see something of humankind. And, he knows the spot from where he can see homes and also cattle owned by humans.  But, then, there's those ". . . graves of men on an opposing hill."  He can think of  humans "Living or dead, whichever are to mind."   This strikes me as being a strange way when  "tired of trees"  to contemplate humankind.  To me, anyway, it suggests some sort of ambiguity in his attitude towards  his fellow humans.  It seems the only differences between the living and the dead are the ways in which one wishes to think of them or as Frost puts it --"whichever are to mind."

The second stanza now reverses his original thought, and now he's tired of humankind. He once again selects nature,  and all that is required is "to turn on my arm."  This is a very nice vantage point.  Now he has a view of nature--sun, earth, plants.  Then, comes the last line, the end of the poem:  "I look into the crater of the ant."  Is he drawing a comparison between the human habitations and the crater of the ant?  As is typical with Frost, one may think he's providing answers, but there's always that last line.


  1. Who is the speaker in this poem and where does it take place? Please site your evidence.

  2. Anonymous,

    Someone with some leisure time and probably on the outskirts of a small town in a rural area. The evidence is in the poem. Sounds like you have a paper to write.

  3. What is the form and meter? is it Iambic pentameter?

    1. Anonymous,


      Still trying to write that paper?

  4. Ha, I actually am writing a paper, on this and chanced upon your blog. Like you, I too am very vary of Frost, he has an ability to express some of the most complex ideas in the most beguiling simple and straightforward sentences. You read his verse, you enjoy it, it makes you smile, and then at some time later in your life you chance upon that poem you read in school, and the meaning has completely changed.

    I know you posted this back in 2012, so four years later does it still hold the same meaning? I'd really like you to elaborate what you mean by ambiguity:
    "it suggests some sort of ambiguity in his attitude towards his fellow humans."

    As for me the poem is a masterpiece of blending the form and content, using the Petrarchan form he creates a perfect contrast between the content of the octave and sestet. What's most impressive is how the volta ie turn, coincides with the physical turn of the speaker. The impressive bit is how it all so seamlessly comes together, Keats was right when he said, "...if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all."

    1. Unknown,

      Well, I don't know how you read it, but when he turns to seek mankind, what does he see: cattle, houses, and a graveyard. What type of view would you call that?

      And then, when he turns away he focuses upon "the crater of the ant" at the end stanza and the poem. Is there a parallel between the graves and the ant crater. Notice also that:

      "Far off the homes of men, and farther still,
      The graves of men on an opposing hill,
      Living or dead, whichever are to mind."

      Is there a parallel between the homes of men and the graves?
      Living or dead?