Study Guide

Directive Form and Meter

By Robert Frost

Form and Meter

"Directive." The title itself hints at rules and order, so you might be expecting a poem that's a bit heavy-handed on the form.

Not so. In fact, if you just glanced at "Directive," you might not even notice a form at all. You could be forgiven if you called this one free verse and went about your day.

Frost Don't Need No Stinkin' Rhyme

Ah, but you'd be missing out on all the subtle awesomeness that is this poem's form. See, "Directive" is actually written in blank verse, a term that refers to unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter. Blank verse is often reserved for Serious Subjects, which is fitting. This poem is Serious-with-a-capital-S.

Variations in Verse

Just because Frost penned this little ditty in meter doesn't mean he's a slave to its rules and rhythm. In fact, the meter is barely noticeable in parts, because Frost is shaking things up so much.

Let's begin with the beginning. That first line, "Back out of all this now too much for us," is a whole slew of monosyllabic words, right in a row. Talk about making an entrance. As we read that line, we plod through each and every word. And the confusing syntax only slows us down even more. Right off the bat, we know this is not a poem that we can skim through. This poem is going to ask a lot from us, so we'd better snap to attention.

And that's only the beginning. The shake-ups become even more interesting as you move through the poem. Frost is famously quoted as saying, "There are only two meters in English, strict and loose iambic" (source). Shmoop's thinking that this is obviously the latter. Throughout the poem, Frost makes tons of metrical substitutions, where he switches out an iamb for another type of metrical foot. Take a look at line 44:

Weep for what little things could make them glad

The first syllable in this line gets the stress, and the second doesn't. That means this line starts with a trochee, which is then followed by four more iambs. This moment of metrical variation adds emphasis to the word "weep" and reminds us that this is a directive—we'd better do what he says.

In fact, many of the directives in the poem start a line with a trochee:

  • Charge that to upstart inexperience (24)
  • Make yourself up a cheering song of how (29)
  • Drink and be whole again beyond confusion (62)

The Look of "Directive"

To keep the flow, Frost has written the whole poem in one big block, a solid column, with all the lines pretty much the same length, and many of them enjambed or spilling over. There's music and balance, without the artificiality of a stricter poetic form or rhyme scheme. In a poem that advocates your getting lost, making your way through confusion, freeing yourself from civilization's trappings, it only makes sense to use a looser form.

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