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Are you ready to get lost? Seriously, the-birds-have-eaten-the-breadcrumbs-off-the-path, the-map-flew-out-the-window, the-GPS-is-fried, I-don't-think-we're-in-Kansas-anymore, lost? Because that's what "Directive" by Robert Frost promises, and boy, does it deliver.
Written toward the end of this revered poet's life, "Directive" anchor's Frost's 1947 collection Steeple Bush. In it, the speaker takes a confusing, long, and melancholy journey back in time and in memory—and he takes us along for the ride. According to Randall Jarrell, a contemporary and rival of Frost's, "Directive" is about "longing, tenderness, and passive sadness, Frost's understanding that each life is tragic because it wears away into the death that it at last half-welcomes" (source). Shmoop thinks that sounds about right. "Directive" is a poem for a rainy Sunday afternoon, when you can't help but contemplate your past, and how it all rolled inevitably toward your future. If that all sounds a wee bit depressing, well, it is. But don't worry—Frost's got a bit of redemption and salvation in store for you at the poem's end, in the form of a nice, cool drink.
Anyone can know and love the greatest hits of a band, but it takes a true devotee to know the band's most wonderful songs—you know, the B-sides? Or the ones they only perform live? That's how you separate the amateurs from the true believers, right?
Well, "Directive" is a Robert Frost B-side. Sure, it may not be among Robert Frost's greatest hits, but it's the kind of ditty that can only come from a seasoned pro after a long career of chart-toppers. This poem is wise.
And like those songs that only you (and a few enlightened friends) love, this poem sounds as if it's letting you in on a deep and wonderful secret. The way the speaker takes you by the hand, leading you through the poem, showing you the sights and the terrain of his memory, it's as if you've been slipped a backstage pass into the inner sanctum. Live it up, Shmoopers.
Take This Directive
If you want to learn about Robert Frost, read his poems, get some criticism, and all that good stuff, start here.
This one's for the academic in you.
Any friend of Frost's is a friend of ours.
Shmoop Shmoop's Frost
And for the road already traveled, check out Shmoop's own section on all things Frosty.
Clearly Filmed in California
The dude skips some of Frost's best lines, but this short film gets at some of the atmosphere.
You don't have to have a 4.0 average to attend Yale, with this Open Yale Course on modern poets. This session is all about Frost. For the goods on "Directive," head to 00:45:21.
Read Me Aloud
Readings of this poem are hard to find, and this video wouldn't suffer from being just sound. Let it play on a hidden tab. That way you won't have to look at the creepy candles.
Before the details were lost to age, the young poet signed his verse, looking quite unlined himself.
Every seasoned poet needs good eyebrows.
A few years before his death, Frost arrives in slippers to answer questions with equal parts of diffidence and orneriness.
Randall Jarrell grinds an axe or two.