It's Repetitive. And Redundant.

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The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less (8-10, Frost; Desert Places)


I'm not sure if anyone else had it drilled into them to avoid repetition.  Ironically, this advice was repeated over and over again.  So, what's up with Frost?  Did he miss those days in English class?  The man repeats the word lonely (or variations of the word) four times in three lines.  Loneliness...lonely....loneliness...lonely...And now the reader is starting to wonder if Frost perhaps feels lonely.  Maybe a thesaurus could keep him company.

But before we're too hard on Frost, I'm going to lead you all down that lane that is named Memory and allow you to have a seat in my high school English class (you're welcome).  We had been reading A Separate Peace, when Mrs. Karns, my favorite English teacher, pointed out a particular paragraph when Gene describes how Finny looks when he's sleeping.  In the few lines the author uses to depict this scene, the word dead is repeated at least three times.   Anyone who's read this book before will recognize that this paragraph is pretty blatant foreshadowing.  My teacher explained that the constant lecturing against redundancy had its limits.   

"Good writers can break the rules.  It's not a crime to have the same word listed twice in a paragraph, but you have to have a reason for it.  Not being able to think of another word is not a real reason.," Mrs. Karns hastened to add.

In this case, Frost was actually describing the word loneliness by using the word lonely.  Generally this is no-no, but Frost uses the repetition to illustrate that the feeling is not going to get better, it's not going to vary in any way except to worsen.   

**Aja talks about poets breaking the rules in a blog entry about Wordsworth


Melissa Schwenk said:

I understand your point that Frost wanted to really stress the point that he was lonely and that things weren’t going to get any better, but didn’t the rest of the poem do that? Shouldn’t he have been able to make connections and a stronger sense of this loneliness without repeating the same word over and over again? For example his first line, ”Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast” seems very redundant. I see that maybe Frost is attempting to stress this, but can’t the reader pick up on that from the rest of the poem by how covered everything is and “a blanker whiteness of benighted snow” (11)? It just seems like Frost’s attempts to stress a few words or things in the poem detracts a little bit from the overall poem since he feels the reader is missing the fact that there is a lot of snow or his loneliness.

Aja Hannah said:

I could continue to guess why he did this, but it's pointless. It's published and done. Obviously, someone thought it was good enough to publish it or that Robert Frost had enough behind his name.

I can see how he did this for the impact or that he is a great poet and can break rules, but I also see how it's excessive. Either way, get past this and it's sill a very good poem. Thanks for tagging me!

Josie Rush said:

Mm, I see your point. It definitely seems redundant, in fact, as you probably guessed from my entry's title, that's the first "technical" thing that jumped out at me about this poem. Though, I think for the frame of mind the speaker was in, the repetition works. He seems slightly crazed with loneliness, and when one is in this hopeless stae of mind, sometimes there's rambling. As a first class rambler, I can say that when one starts to go off on a tangent, there's a good chance some redundancy may occurr. This poem didn't really capture me heart and soul or anything, mainly because of the reasons you stated: Frost seemed to really try to hammer the reader with the same facts over and over again. Though, for the state of mind we're led to believe the speaker's in, maybe it works a little better than we're giving it credit for.

I agree with Melissa on this one. I felt like the repetition of the two forms of lonely was overdone. Yes, Frost is a notable poet and it's likely most people excuse the repetition because of his reputation. I'm sure it's often argued that the repetition has a specific meaning, that Frost probably did it for an intentional reason. However, as we've discussed before, a poem no longer belongs to the poet after it's been published. It means what the reader thinks it means, and in this specific case, I feel like Frost couldn't think of anything better to do and thought his readers would look at the repetition and go "oh, that must be really artistic or something."

Josie Rush said:

This poem keeps switching up on me, I either think it works or think it doesn't, I can't get solid standing with it. I doubt Frost repeated words because he couldn't think of anything better to do, though. I mean, it's so unsafe to rest on your reputation and publish something for lack of any better ideas, because then your reputation suffers and you have nothing to stand on anymore.

"This poem keeps switching up on me, I either think it works or think it doesn't, I can't get solid standing with it."

Same here, actually. Based on your last comment, I'm thinking that he had to do it on purpose. I guess I based my assumption on my own poetry writing skills (which are seriously lacking). A lot of times I'll just write something to fill in the space and say, "heh, wow. People are going to read this and think this part is really good even though I couldn't think of anything else to say right there." I don't know why I would make that assumption for Frost, because he is an established poet, and society generally thinks of him as a good one, so... yeah. I feel kind of like a failure now. One should never make assumptions!

Ah! Well, "isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"
-Anne Shirley

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