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Robert Frost

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English Literature

Robert Frost was an American poet famous for his mastery of depicting rural life and endowing it with symbolic significance relevant to the human condition.

Despite lack of recognition and fame in early adulthood, Frost continued to write poetry and eventually became America’s most decorated poet. He was awarded four Pulitzer Prizes and the Congressional Gold Medal for his poetry.

Robert Frost biography

Robert Frost American Poet old StudySmarterRobert Frost in old age, poetryfoundation.org

Robert Frost's childhood

Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874 to William Prescott Frost Jr. and Isabelle Moodie. His father worked as a teacher and journalist but tragically died from tuberculosis when Frost was only eleven years old. After his father’s death, Robert Frost moved with his family to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he was supported by his grandparents.

Frost developed an interest in writing and reading poetry during his time in high school, publishing poetry in the school magazine. Frost graduated from high school at the top of his class and delivered the valedictory ceremony alongside Elinor White, who would later become his wife.

In 1892 Frost enrolled at Dartmouth College for a short time. He also attended Harvard University from 1897 to 1889, though he never managed to graduate due to illness.1

Robert Frost's adulthood

Life before fame

After leaving school, Frost tried his hand at different occupations, including working as a teacher, a factory employee, and editor of the Lawrence Sentinel. His experience working different jobs made him realise his desire to write poetry and attempt to earn a living from it.

Frost’s first published poem, titled 'My Butterfly: An Elegy', appeared in the Independent newspaper in 1894. Shortly after in 1895, Frost married Elinor White after she had graduated from St. Lawrence University. The couple moved to New Hampshire, where they lived on a farm purchased for them by Frost’s grandfather.

Frost worked on the farm while also writing a lot of his poetry that would later gain popularity. His efforts at farming proved to be fruitless, so he taught at an academy from 1906 to 1911.

Feeling relatively unfulfilled with his work, Frost made the brave decision to sail to Great Britain along with his family in 1912. His time in Britain led him to meet fellow poets such as Edward Thomas, Robert Graves, and Ezra Pound. The newly gained friendships aided him in promoting and publishing his work and were also influential on his poetic style.

In 1913 Frost published his first poetry collection titled 'A Boy’s Will', and his second collection was published a year later, titled 'North of Boston' (1914). Frost’s name gradually became relevant amongst readers in Britain, and his fame would quickly spread back home in America as well.

Life after fame

Upon news of the outbreak of World War I, Frost and his family returned to the United States in 1915. American publishers and writers took notice of Frost’s uncanny poetic ability and his reputation soon became established in America. New publications of 'North of Boston' and 'A Boy’s Will' for the US market became best-sellers, which led to Frost becoming one of the most celebrated poets in America.

Frost settled down on his farm in New Hampshire and took on a role as a teacher at Amherst College. He continued to write poetry and further cemented his position among the finest poets of America. Some of the collections he published include 'Mountain Interval' (1916), 'New Hampshire' (1923), and 'Steeple Bush '(1947).

Frost was honoured with four Pulitzer prizes for his poetry throughout his career. He also served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress from 1958 to 1959, and in 1962 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Frost continued to teach at different schools such as Middlebury College, the University of Michigan, and Amherst College. He played a significant role in how the writing programs were set at the schools. Although he never graduated from Harvard, he did receive an honorary degree. In fact, Frost was presented with over forty honorary degrees, many of which were from the world's most prestigious universities.

Towards the end of his life, Frost was chosen to deliver a poem at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. At the ceremony, he recited his poem 'The Gift Outright.' 2

Robert Frost died in Boston at 88 years old on 29 January 1963 and was buried in Bennington, Vermont.

Robert Frost's literary style

Robert Frost’s poetry is primarily known for its eloquent descriptions of nature and rural life in New England. He held traditional poetic forms in high regard and pursued mastery of them throughout his literary career. Frost’s ability to question universal aspects of the human condition with the use of colloquial language meant his poetry was accessible and engaging for both the casual reader and literary experts.

Robert Frost Farm New England scene nature StudySmarterA farm in New England, pixabay.com

Robert Frost's poetic forms

Robert Frost’s poetry has a clear conversational rhythm that’s created by his use of meter and rhyme in his sentences.

Frost commonly used traditional stanzas and metrical lines in his poems. He favoured simple rhyme schemes such as ABAB (alternating rhyme) and AABB (Coupled rhyme). His most common stanza is the quatrain (four lines).

Frost was a proponent of blank verse and used the form with success in many of his poems. Some of his most notable poems written in blank verse include Mending Wall (1914), Out, Out (1916), and Birches (1916).

Blank verse: An unrhyming verse in iambic pentameter.

Frost discovered that the restrictions of writing within a set poetic form helped him focus on the content of the poem and took away the anxiety of having to learn and use ever-changing modern forms.

Frost wasn’t particularly interested in the trending poetic form known as free verse and famously commented that it was

“like playing tennis without a net.” 3

Free verse: A form that doesn’t use a consistent meter, rhyme scheme, or pattern.

Robert Frost and literary movements

The literary movement that Frost’s work represents is a topic that’s frequently debated among scholars. Frost stood separate from the poetic fashions of his day and chose to write on universal themes with a simple and direct style.

Although his career took place during the modern period, Frost’s critics make the claim that his work was somewhat stuck in the past and possess characteristics of 19th-century American poetry due to his reluctance to experiment with new poetic forms and a distinct lack of references to modern technology.

On the other hand, it could be said Frost managed to implement 19th-century techniques in a way that was palatable for the modern reader. Frost created powerful imagery and symbolism through rural settings that showed originality and a sincere tone.

Throughout his career, Frost successfully married poetic forms of the past and present to create a distinctive and unique style that has established his position as one of the best poets of his generation.

Common themes in Robert Frost's poetry

This section will elaborate on some of the most important themes that appear in Frost’s poetry.

Nature

Robert Frost’s love of nature stands out in the majority of his poems. He depicts pastoral settings and draws profound metaphors and symbolism from his environment. His work reveals the extreme ends of the natural world; its beauty and grace as well as its destructive and omnipotent qualities are laid out in his poetry.

It’s no doubt that the source of Frost’s view of nature comes from the time he spent in the rural parts of New England.

I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn-tired. God knows all the color and form of leaves I have trodden on and mired.

'A Leaf-treader' (1930)

Frost’s notable poems that heavily reference nature include 'A Leaf-treader' (1930), 'Birches' (1916), and 'The Road Not Taken' (1916).

Frost actually grew up in the city and didn’t spend a lot of time in rural areas until later in his life.

Loneliness

Frost expresses the theme of loneliness through the many different characters that appear in his poems. On the surface, the characters often live seemingly normal and mundane lives, but their sense of isolation is understood from their individual perspective of life and the realisation that nobody else sees the world exactly as they do.

But church-bells open on the blast

Our loneliness, so long and vast.

'Loneliness' (1916)

A good example of a poem with the theme of loneliness is 'The Lockless Door' (1923), 'Apple-Picking' (1914), and 'Loneliness' (1916).

Duty

Life in the countryside is endowed with a sense of hard work and duty, which is developed from the tough manual labour necessary for day-to-day life. Frost highly valued the inherent sense of duty in people and made it a theme of a number of his poems.

In the poem 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' (1923), the speaker is roaming the snow-covered woods and marvels at its beauty. He desires to stay and bask in the scene but comes to terms with the fact that he’s obligated to certain duties, and leaves the forest.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923)'

Robert Frost's notable poems

'The Road Not Taken' (1916)

Robert Frost published 'The Road Not Taken' after his brief move to England. It was inspired by the countryside walks he took with his friend and fellow poet Edward Thomas. It’s perhaps his most famous and most misunderstood poem.

The narrative of the poem follows the speaker as he comes across a diverging path and his subsequent deliberation over which path he should take. The main themes of the poem are choice and uncertainty, which are explored with the metaphor of the diverging paths.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

'Mending Wall' (1914)

'Mending Wall' is a poem that was published in Robert Frost’s second collection of poetry, North of Boston (1914). The poem narrates the story of the speaker and his neighbour as they meet to rebuild their wall after a harsh winter. Despite having seemingly opposite world views the pair co-operate to mend their shared wall.

'Mending Wall' is a complex poem and its meaning is difficult to pin down. The main theme that Frost elaborates on is boundaries and their importance in human relationships as well as literally in the form of walls.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

'Fire and Ice' (1920)

Robert Frost published his poem 'Fire and Ice' in his fourth poetry collection titled New Hampshire (1923). It’s a short poem made up of a single stanza with 9 lines and a simple rhyme scheme. The poem presents fire and ice to represent the human emotions of desire and hate and discusses which of these forces would bring an end to the world.

The main source of inspiration for the poem is likely to be from Dante’s 'Inferno', which is a section of the epic poem Divine Comedy (1320) that describes a soul’s journey through hell.

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

Robert Frost Fire and ice fist fight StudySmarterFire and ice, pixabay.com

Quotes by Robert Frost

  • "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."4

  • “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”4

  • "Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence".4

  • "Don't ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up".4

  • Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. ('The Road Not Taken')

  • We love the things we love for what they are. (Hyla Brook. 1916)

The speaker in Frost's Poems

The speaker in Frost's poems generally maintains an objective viewpoint and narrates the poem. Scholars have commented that the speakers in his poems often represent Frost's personal ideas and opinions on the subject matter that's being discussed.

In some of his poems, however, the speaker goes beyond being a third-person narrator and gives his personal opinion on the events in the poem. This is the case in the poem 'Out, Out' (1916), where the speaker expresses his thoughts about the tragic accident and how he wished things would have gone differently for the boy.

Robert Frost - Key takeaways

  • Robert Frost is one of the most decorated American poets of his generation.
  • Frost had a passion for poetry at a young age and published his first poem in high school.
  • Robert Frost met his wife Elinor White when they were in high school together.
  • Frost was honoured with four Pulitzer prizes.
  • Robert Frost’s poetry is primarily known for its eloquent descriptions of nature.

  1. Jay Parini, Robert Frost: A Life. Macmillan, 2000
  2. "John F. Kennedy: A Man of This Century". CBS. 1963.
  3. Richard Ellman and Robert O'Clair. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 1988.
  4. "Robert Frost Quotes." BrainyQuote.com. BrainyMedia Inc, 2022.

Robert Frost

Robert Frost wrote about nature-based settings and explored many themes including nature, loneliness, duty, death, and love.

Robert Frost is buried in Bennington, Vermont.

The speaker in Out, Out generally maintains an objective perspective of the events that occur. However, there are sections where the speaker provides his perspective on the events.  

Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California, USA.

Robert Frost’s poetic style can be described as being pastoral, conversational, and introspective.

Final Robert Frost Quiz

Question

In what book did The Road Not Taken feature in?

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Answer

“Mountain Interval” (1916)

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Question

What inspired Frost to write the Road Not Taken?

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Answer

Frost’s friend Edward Thomas was indecisive about what path to take during their walks, and this inspired Frost to write the poem. 

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Question

What is the main source of imagery in The Road Not Taken?


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Answer

The main source of imagery is nature and the woods.

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Question

What is the structure of The Road Not Taken?


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Answer

The poem is composed of four quintains (five-line stanzas) that combine to make a 20-line poem. 

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Question

What is the Rhyme scheme of The Road Not Taken?


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Answer

ABAAB

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Question

What is the meter of The Road Not Taken? 


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Answer

The overall poem is composed of iambic tetrameter.

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Question

What is the central metaphor of The Road Not Taken? 


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Answer

The two separate roads and how it represents the dilemma of having to make a choice with limited information. 

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Question

What is the tone of The Road Not Taken?


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Answer

The tone is meditative and indecisive.

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Question

True or false: The speaker in the poem represents Robert Frost.


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Answer

 False. The speaker is unnamed throughout the poem.

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True or false: The Road Not Taken is written in free verse.


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Answer

False. It is written in formal verse.

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Question

What does the ‘sigh’ in the last stanza represent?


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The sigh represents the speaker's regret as he dwells on the past.

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Question

What is the main theme in The Road Not Taken?


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Choice

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True or false: The Road Not Taken is narrated in the third person.


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Answer

False. It is narrated from the speaker’s first-person point of view.

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Question

True or false: The phrase ‘ages and ages’ is an example of enjambment.


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Answer

False. It is an example of repetition. 

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Question

What is the literary device is used in The Road Not Taken?


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Answer

Irony

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Question

What type of poem is Love and a Question?

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Answer

It is a narrative poem. 

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Who wrote Love and a Question?

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Answer

Robert Frost.

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What is the name of the book of poetry that Love and a Question featured in?


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Answer

A Boy’s Will (1915)

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Question

What is the most common source of imagery in Robert Frost’s Poems?


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Answer

Nature

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How many stanzas are in Love and a Question?


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4

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What is the rhyme scheme of Love and a Question?


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The rhyme scheme is ABCBDEFE.

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What is the setting of the poem Love and a Question?


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The setting is of an isolated house in the woods.

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How many lines are there in each stanza of Love and a Question?


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8

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Question

Why does the stranger approach the bridegroom?


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He is seeking shelter in the bridegroom’s house.

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What does the bridegroom give to the stranger in the end?


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He gives the stranger bread, money and a prayer.

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What is the weather like outside the cabin?


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The weather is cold and frosty since it is winter.

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What is the bride doing inside the cabin?


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She is attending an open fire. 

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Why does the bridegroom not offer shelter to the stranger?


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The answer to this is not certain. It may be because he senses that the stranger may be dangerous or it may be because he wants to spend the night alone with his wife.

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How does the poem Love and a Question end?


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It ends with the bridegroom contemplating the morality of his decision.

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Where in the poem suggests the weather is cold?


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In the line from the second stanza ‘winter was in the wind’.

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Question

In what poetry collection did Robert Frost publish Out, Out?

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Answer

Out, Out was published in the collection titled Mountain Interval (1916).

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Question

True or false: Out, Out is based on a true story?

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Answer

True. The boy who died in the accident was Frost’s neighbour in Vermont.

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Question

What literary device does Frost use to describe the buzz saw?


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Frost uses personification when describing the buzz saw. He uses words such as ‘snarled’, ‘rattled’, ‘leap’ to create an aggressive persona to the buzz saw.

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How many stanzas are in the poem Out, Out?


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1

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True or false: Out, Out was written at the beginning of World War II.


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False. It was written at the beginning of World War I.

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True or false: Out, Out has been written in strict verse.


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False. It is written in free verse.

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How is juxtaposition used at the start of Out, Out?


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There is a juxtaposition between nature and the buzzsaw.

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What does the description of the sunset it Out, Out allude to?


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The sunset foreshadows the end of the boy’s life since it represents the end of the day.

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 What literary device does the sentence ‘Sweet-scented stuff’ represent? 


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Alliteration

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Question

What literary device is being used when the buzz saw is described as ‘snarled and rattled’?


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Answer

Personification

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What is enjambment?


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Answer

It is when a line is stopped before its natural ending point.

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Question

What does the doctor give to the boy to try and treat him?


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Answer

The doctor gives the boy ether.

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What did the boy’s sister announce while the boy was working?


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She announced that supper was ready.

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How does the boy die?


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Answer

The specific cause of his death isn’t stated but it is most likely from shock and blood loss.

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True or false: Out, Out is a narrative poem.


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Answer

True

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Question

What style of poem is Mending Wall?

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Answer

It is a narrative poem.

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What form is Mending Wall written in?

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Answer

It is written in blank verse.

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Where is the poem set?


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Answer

New England

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What is the adage that the Neighbour keeps repeating?


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Answer

‘Good fences make good neighbors’.

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Question

What type of trees does the speaker have?


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Answer

Apple trees.

Show question

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