by Robert Frost
This poem does not merely take place in a home. It actually uses the rooms and the structure of that home to make meaning. Now there's a nifty trick. In addition to relying on the home setting, this piece also shows us what home is like for these two people. After the death of her child, for the woman, this home has become more of a trap than a haven. And for her husband, things don't seem much shinier.
- Line 1: From the start, we're in a stairway in a home. We can see how the staircase sets up the power in the poem. At this point, the woman has knowledge that the man does not, and thus has the power. So she's at the top of the stairs, and he's at the bottom. Later, they'll switch positions, and that power dynamic might shift. In fact, for the whole poem, you can think of their positions on the staircase as a metaphor for who's wearing the pants in the relationship at any given moment.
- Lines 34-35: Again, we see the stairs showing us power and this time it's shifting power. Now that the man has found out the woman's secret, she slides down the stairs, and he is the one above her. She's at the bottom of the stairs, and the bottom of the food chain in this relationship.
- Line 39: We don't know much about how nice this house is, but from this line, we can tell it's no dream home for this woman. She feels totally trapped, and wants to escape, to get some air.
- Line 42: In this line, the husband refuses to leave his spot from high up on the stairs to come down and talk to his wife. That would put him on her level, literally and figuratively, rather than keep him in his current elevated position.
- Line 47: As her husband uses the stairs as a tool to maintain power, the woman uses the door latch as a response, as a power of her own. Take that, hubs! Though she may be physically below her husband, she's right at the door, which means she has the power to escape. This is just one of many examples in the poem where the woman uses something physical about the house to reply to her husband.
- Line 78: This window, through which the family graveyard can be seen, plays a huge role in the poem. She saw her husband dig her child's grave through this window, and is reminded of it every time she passes by. This is not the kind of thing we'd like to be reminded of at our home, but then again, people don't bury their loved ones in the backyard anymore, so we don't have to worry.
- Line 86: Now, at least in dialogue, we move to a different part of the house—the kitchen. The kitchen is the central part of many homes. It's also, stereotypically, the woman's domain. Yet, here, the man, after just digging his child's grave, is sitting in this cozy part of the house. The location may add to why he disturbs the woman so much with his everyday attitude about his dead child's grave.
- Line 100: Here, "what was in the darkened parlor" is a euphemism for the dead child's corpse. Lovely. Death has really infiltrated this place; there's a dead body in the parlor, a graveyard out the window on the staircase, and post-gravedigging conversation in the kitchen.
- Line 117: Again, we see the woman anxious to leave her home, which she does not call a "home," but a "house." There's a big difference between the two. A "house" is a building where people live, but a "home," while also where people live, is normally seen as a place where people live happily, willfully, and with their family and/or friends. For the woman in this poem, this building definitely seems like just a house, not a home.