An Old Man’s Winter Night Analysis

10 October 2016

This is a very haunting poem about an old man who stands alone dying in a dark house in winter. His memory is failing him and because of that he doesn’t know who he is or why he is in the house but he stays there inside the house because of the gruelling winter weather outside. There is no sense that the old man is existing for anyone or anything, he is purely alone. He is alone not only because no one is with him, but also because there will be no one to remember him after he dies.

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He develops a fear of the cellar beneath him and the darkness that lies outside so he strikes the ground in an attempt to frighten the unknown rather than confronting his fears. Finally, he falls asleep in front of the fire only to be disturbed by a log that has shifted in the fire but in due course, falls into a deep sleep. Frost uses the dying fire as a symbol to his fading life. As the night goes on, the fire dims and the old man grows closer to death. He knows that eventually the darkness will consume him.

The piece does not stray from the subject matter from the beginning to the end, continuously conveying the extent of how scared and lonely he is. Frost’s intention is clearly to portray the depth of loneliness that the old man is feeling in his old age and the emotions that accompany this. In terms of form, the poem does not have a traditional rhyme scheme and the lines vary in length. Frost uses many different literary devices throughout the poem such as imagery which appeals to our sight, touch and hearing senses.

Frost has used Imagery such as “In clomping there, he scared it once again” which appeals to our touch because you can almost feel how he has stomped the floor to try and frighten off the unknown. He has appealed to our hearing senses by using personification, “like the roar of trees” lets you almost hear how the trees were thrashing around on the cold winter night. “That brought him to that creaking room was age. He stood with barrels round him – at a loss” appeals to our sight and paints a vivid eerie image of him standing alone in the dark house.

Frost’s use of personification, “like the roar of trees” is used to give a more humanistic quality to the trees to create a more eerie surrounding. Onomatopoeia is used “crack of branches” to make you think about the sound and to give a realistic feel to the poem, but more significantly alliteration is used, “doors darkly”, “beating box” and “separate stars”, this makes the poem sound more pleasant to the readers. There is also evidence of internal rhyme on the tenth line “In clomping there, he scared it once again” An internal rhyme puts emphasis on the two words that rhyme and quickens the pace of the line.

On the twenty third line, he used caesura to form important thoughts rather than breaking it “And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt”. There are eight strong enjambments throughout the poem helping it to run on and flow into the next line and continue momentum instead of the usual rhythm a poem would have. The mood of the poem is sad and disheartening. Frost’s use of imagery creates a sad setting. “All out of doors looked darkly in at him” could almost mean that people know and see that he is alone in the house but yet they choose to ignore it.

The tone of the poem is candid, almost as if Frost is just telling a story without any feeling or emotion being put into it. From reading the poem, we realise that the old man is alone but the writer never clarifies the reason why, he only repeats that he is completely isolated and beyond the comfort of another human being. The most poignant aspect of this poem is the old man’s loss of memory and the frost forming on the windows because it’s so cold, “Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars, that gathers on the pane in empty rooms. He has no recollection of his purpose or identity and simply finds himself standing “with barrels round him — at a loss. ” Not only is the old man isolated in body, he is isolated in mind. His memories of his past happiness cannot comfort him now. Although the old man is in a state of utter isolation, he still has the bravery to fight for his existence and attempt to scare away his fears that creep through the night. Although the old man is unaware of what exactly he is afraid of in the cellar or the dark of night, he clutches to the act of “clomping” as a familiar and unfamiliar comfort.

The devastating sense of loneliness and fear is accentuated by the noises all around the old man, the cracking of branches, the roar of the trees – this use of personification is used to make the scene more disturbing. However, the old man himself remains silent throughout the poem. When he does make sounds, he resorts to the more animalistic action of stomping his feet rather than trusting his voice. In reading the title of the poem it suggests there should be a pleasant setting of an old man inside house beside a fire on a cold winter’s night but instead the writer has denied the readers any comforting expectations. Instead the writer conveys that he is slowly dying alone in the house on a devastatingly cold frosty night but he wants to live and fight death until the end even though he is losing his mind he still knows he doesn’t want to die. The old man’s isolation keeps the reader at a distance so they are not able to feel a sense of empathy with the old man.

If Frost divulged the old man’s thoughts it would be easier for the readers to form some kind of connection with him but Frost wants the readers to feel the same lonely, isolated feeling that the old man has and does this by rendering the old man mute. The reader is forced to remain a silent onlooker who cannot connect to the inner workings of the old man’s mind. This poem could be interpreted as how Frost feels about his life at this point in time. “All out of doors looked darkly in at him through the thin frost almost in separate stars” This could be Frost’s way of expressing his feelings that he thinks nobody cares about him anymore.

The poem does not end on a completely desperate note. Although the man is frightened of what he does not know, he still succeeded in “scaring” off the unknown when he was alone and frightened. Frost suggests that even a person in the depths of isolation and loneliness is still capable of maintaining a presence and “keeping” a house. The old man’s behavior in the house is not ideal or necessarily human, and he is still destined to face death and constant loneliness, and yet his house is still his own because of his insistent grasp on it and his refusal to abandon himself completely.

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