Meaningful Nothingness... Huh?

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"It might be more appropriate to take 'they' to mean nature itself, pluralistically figured, since nature has been felt throughout the poem as a collection of material objects.  In 'Desert Places,' then, Frost is commenting on one of the most basic romantic assumptions about the universe--that it is essentially responsive to man, that we are its vital force, its reason for being. . .  What Frost realizes at the beginning of the last stanza is that nature's empty spaces are truly empty--not only of matter, but of meaning and that it is only meaning that can scare."
            "On Desert Places," by Albert J. Von Frank

This interpretation of Robert Frost's "Desert Places" is especially intriguing to me.  When I had first read the poem, I understood the contrast between the snowy deserted field and the "desert places" (Line 16) in the speaker's mind.  By describing a cold, nearly barren land full of "weeds" (Line 4) and "animals... smothered in their lairs" (Line 6) as being less frightening than the speaker's own internal emptiness, Frost infers the idea that the speaker is beyond just being lonely, an idea also referenced in the repetitive third stanza.  

Von Frank's interpretation provides a deeper understanding of the speaker's loneliness than mine.  The deserted field is not frightening to the speaker because it means nothing.  There are no people in it, and people give the universe meaning.  As I learned in my acting class, relationship makes conflict and conflict makes relationship.  Without either, we live in a repetitive world that ultimately leads to nothing.  The "desert places" in the speaker's mind or heart are scary to him because their origin lies in humanity, which means it lies in social interactions and experience.  The meaning behind that loneliness is far more frightening than the simply empty, meaningless field.


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