“The Oven Bird” by Robert Frost and “Encounter” by Czeslaw Milosz
In literature, birds often stand as symbols for countless things, such as freedom or oppression – flying free versus being constantly caged – love and peace – pigeons who will go to great lengths to be with their mate and the dove from Noah’s ark – or a warning sign of death – “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe or vultures who hover over dying or already dead creatures. In both of these two poems – “The Oven Bird” by Robert Frost and “Encounter” by Czeslaw Milosz – birds serve as symbols – but in drastically different ways.
In “Encounter,” the narrator is reminiscing on a journey once taken, and wondering what happens to us when we die and where we go. Milosz uses a slightly uneasy, reflective tone. The theme of “Encounter” is that life is a journey and – ultimately – all of us are going to finish the journey and move on. The poem starts off with a flashback, which consists of the first two stanzas. In the first stanza, he paints a picture of the terrain they were traversing and mentions a red bird rising in the darkness right before dawn.
This sharp, deep color stands in stark contrast to the frozen tundra they’re navigating. In the second stanza, he talks of a hare darting across the road and one of his friends pointing to it. The second half of the poem is in the present, and he uses an apostrophe to address his love. He tells her that both the hare and the pointer are dead. The climax of the poem occurs in the fourth stanza when he asks his love – almost desperately – where the two deceased are now and where they are going to, but feels it important to inform her that he isn’t sorrowful, but curious.
The sentences in the first half of the poem are short and concise. Each line is its own sentence. They’re merely descriptive narrations. In comparison, the second half of the poem has longer, more complex sentences with a breathlessness about them that makes the poet seem like he can’t get his ideas and questions out fast enough. Also, in the first half of the poem, Milosz uses a lot of cacophony, making it harder to read, and therefore slower – like a wagon traveling across ice. In the second half, he uses far more lyrical language, making it faster to read.
In the first line, Milosz uses alliteration when describing the “frozen fields. ” He also makes use of alliteration in the second and third line: “red wing rose” and “ran across the road. ” Because the alliteration is with rougher syllables, it makes for slower reading. The figures of speech Milosz makes use of are quite subtle. In the first line of the poem, Milosz mentions the dawn, and it is a symbol for the beginning of life. “The red wing” in the second line is metonymy and the wing represents the bird as a whole.
The bird itself is a symbol for life – the bird is taking flight, life is moving forward. The hare and the man represent all living things – and just like the hare and the man, the journey of all living things will eventually come to an end. The intention of the poem is to raise the question of what happens after this life. Everyone must eventually die, and Milosz is asking where we go when we’re finished with our lives here. He points out that we can be sorrowful because people have died or that we can wonder where they are now.
“The Oven Bird” by Robert Frost is a poem about a bird singing in the woods and the listener reflecting on how Autumn is eminent and all of the plants are going to die and the birds are going to leave. The theme of the poem is that – just as Autumn is eminent – our eventual demise is also eminent, and we only have a limited amount of time here on earth before said demise occurs. The theme of the work can be summarized using Frost’s own words: Life is “a diminished thing. ” Frost’s tone is factual and thoughtful as he reflects on this cynical bird’s song (which results in cynicism underlying itself in Frost’s tone as well).
Frost’s somewhat cheery description of this weighty subject matter is ironic because they stand in stark contrast with each other – adding in the undertones of cynicism only makes it even more ironic. The poem appears to be a sonnet, but upon closer inspection of the rhyme scheme, one finds that it is in fact not a sonnet. The rhyme scheme seems to be haphazard, and though there doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern to it at all, no line goes without a partner. The poem begins much like life begins: easy-going with a simple couplet, giving the impression that the rest of the poem will follow it’s slightly breezy, easy-going manner.
The next rhyme is separated by a line, and the one following that is separated by two lines. These rhymes are harder to recognize because they’re so far apart (challenging, like life can be). The rhymes are closer together for the remainder of the poem – ending with a couplet, then an ABAB rhyme. In the poem, the letter ‘s’ is used quite often. This gives the poem a whistling quality – like a bird whistling a tune. This use of ‘s’ ties back in the fact that a bird is singing the song Frost is listening to about eventual doom. Frost uses a simile to compare Mid-summer and spring to one and ten.
One is far away from ten, just as Mid-summer is a far as can be from spring. Spring is when flowers are blooming and trees are blossoming and everything is reborn. Mid-summer should be the prime of nature’s life, and debatably the happiest and most beautiful time of their lives; however by comparing Mid-summer and Spring to one and ten, the bird is prophesying that everything is going to die – and soon. They’re very far from being reborn. The bird sings of the comparison of the first falling of blossoms – which happens at the end of spring – to the falling of leaves.
He uses synonyms in these comparisons: fall (meaning to descend) and Fall (meaning Autumn). This demands that the line be read a few times over to fully understand the meaning because of the repeated word. The bird realizes that he isn’t like other birds, and he should sing just to sing, but he feels this sense of dread, and ‘sings’ a tragic song of warning and death. He asks only what to do with this diminishing life. The bird in this poem is a symbol for warning and death. Spring is a symbol for the beginning of life. Mid-summer is a symbol for the prime of life. Fall is a symbol for death.
The intention of the poem is the point out that no matter how far from death we feel, just like the flowers, we’re closer to it than we think. In the prime of our lives, we are closer to death than we are to birth. Every day it gets nearer. And so, the bird asks in song, what are we supposed to do with our waning lives? They’re ending – do we continue as we always have, working diligently, or do we live like we’re going to die soon (because we are going to die relatively soon). “The Oven Bird” is Robert Frost’s life in a nutshell. The poem puts on airs of being cheerful and about nature and spring when it really is about dying.
Robert Frost put on airs of being a cheerful farmer-like poet, with a picturesque life when – in reality – he was surrounded by death. It really is no wonder that he was so cynical about how close we all are to death because many of those that he loved died quite early. The two poems afore mentioned are similar in that they talk about dying; however “Encounter” questions what happens after we die and “The Oven Bird” asks what we are supposed to do while we are alive and waiting to die. Both use birds as symbols, but they are completely opposite in what they symbolize.
“Encounter” uses the bird as the beginning of life, taking flight and just barely starting. “The Oven Bird” uses the wise bird’s song as a warning sign of the impending end of life. The tone and feeling behind the poem (and death) are also drastically different. “Encounter” is merely curiously questioning while “The Oven Bird” is filled to the brim with angst and dread. The two poems are really quite different from each other, yet they approach similar topics. Though the approach is different, both raise important questions about death and the afterlife.