Fair warning, fair Shmoopers: If you're looking for a mood lift, this poem is not the place to find it. That said, if you're looking for an empathetic journey into the heart of marriage, mortality, and grief, you're in the right spot.
"Home Burial" is one of Robert Frost's longest poems, and it can also be considered one of his most emotionally disturbing ones. "Home Burial," published in 1914, tells the story of a married couple fighting after their baby has died. It's written mostly in dialogue, so it sounds like real people talking. But this is no ordinary conversation. It tackles the subjects of love, grief, and death, making readers think about each of those common topics in a new way.
You probably know Frost from his shorter poems like "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" or "The Road Not Taken." These poems are often read as inspirational, beautiful odes to nature and exploration. But if you read closely, they have a dark side. We promise.
In "Home Burial," there's no missing the dark side. It's right there, staring at you, haunting you long after you finish the poem, just as this couple is haunted by the memory of their dead child.
Why Should I Care?
While you may not be exactly the same as the two people featured in this poem, we're betting that, at one point in your life, you've had trouble communicating with someone else. Throw in love, death, and a staircase, and you've got "Home Burial."
Much of this poem is a dialogue in which Amy and her husband duke it out over their dead child. Amy's grieving, and she's upset that her husband doesn't seem to be grieving enough. Ol' hubby, meanwhile, wants Amy to talk it out. But she'd rather cry, thank you very much.
While we eavesdrop on this conversation, some of it might start to sound eerily familiar. How many times has someone tried to get you to talk about something you Just. Don't. Want. To Talk. About? And how many times has someone seemed careless about something that you hold near and dear to your heart? And how many times have you shouted something along the lines of "You make me angry" (71) to a loved one? Go on, be honest. We won't judge.
We've all be there, and now we're back, as flies on the wall of this couple's stairwell. As we listen in, we get a glimpse into domestic life that's all too typical, but no less powerful. In fact, maybe that's why this poem is so powerful—we've seen this play out before. And we'll see it play out again and again.