Beyond Revision offers you a warm welcome to our Love and a Question analysis.
You’ll not be left in the cold with this one. Join us as we break down the poem using the following sections:
Love and a Question Analysis
Overview of the Poem
Love and a Question is a narrative poem, in which a stranger knocks on a newly married couple’s door late at night. The house is isolated with no other people around. The stranger asks for shelter from the cold winter night and the groom ponders his predicament.
He can either allow the stranger to stay in the house, or he can spend the night alone with his new wife. In the end, the groom decides to give money, food and prayers to aid the stranger on his journey, thus taking a middle-of-the-road position. However, the groom wonders if he made the right decision in the final stanza.
Robert Frost (1874-1963) was an American poet whose works explore a vast range of themes, including rural life, philosophy and nature. His treatment of nature frequently aligns Frost with the Romantics, although he never formally ascribed himself to a set literary movement. However, his poetry contains clear influences from the likes of Thomas Hardy and John Keats, who were Romantic poets themselves.
Love and a Question was published in Frost’s poetry collection A Boy’s Will (1915). Frost later admitted that his collection was largely autobiographical, influenced by ideas and feelings from his young adulthood.
The predominant theme in Love and a Question is the different types of love that exist in the world, as pondered by the young married man. The recurring imagery is natural; many of Frost’s poems are set in rural environments, like the isolated country house here. This was most likely inspired by Frost’s love of the nature surrounding his home in rural New England.
- ‘A Stanger came to the door at eve, / And he spoke the bridegroom fair.’
- ‘He asked with the eyes more than the lips / For a shelter for the night’
- ‘Without a window light’
- ‘The woodbine leaves littered the yard’
- ‘winter was in the wind’
- ‘Within, the bride in the dusk alone / Bent over the open fire, / Her face rose-red…’
- ‘The bridegroom looked at the weary road, / Yet saw but her within’
- ‘The bridegroom thought it little to give / A dole of bread, a purse, / A heartfelt prayer for the poor of God’
Love over compassion – It is made clear that the bridegroom loves his bride above all else. This heart is also protective; the groom ‘wished her heart in a case of gold’, which might be why the bridegroom turns the stranger away. The bridegroom and bride share an intense passion for each other.
She is alight with her heart’s desire and, when her husband looks at the ‘weary road’, all he can think about is her. This love for his wife overwhelms any feelings of compassion he may feel for the stranger. The groom does not want the stranger’s presence to ‘mar his love’ or by ‘harboring woe’, meaning to bring a bad atmosphere into their happy home.
Form and Structure
Love and a Question is a narrative poem, or song, in that it sounds reminiscent of an older folk song. It follows the traditional structure of four stanzas, each containing eight lines (also known as an octave). Each octave follows a consistent rhyme scheme, which makes the poem feel familiar.
Each stanza has a clear purpose. In stanza one, the stranger arrives at the door of the young married couple during a cold winter’s night. He asks for ‘shelter for the night’ which implies the stranger might be desperate. He is also destitute as the only thing he has is ‘care’. The area is apparently either deserted or isolated, as the ‘road afar’ is ‘without window light’.
In stanza two the young ‘bridegroom’ comes to the door. He is not expecting a visitor but agrees to speak with the stranger anyway. They ruminate on ‘what of the night to be’.
Stanza three presents the ‘bride’ whose face is ‘rose-red’, bent over the ‘open fire’. There is a stark contrast between the cold, barren imagery of stanza one and the warmth and comfort implied in this stanza. The bridegroom thinks of his ‘heart’s desire’, to be alone with his bride.
In the fourth and final stanza, the bridegroom makes his decision. He offers food, purse and prayers to the stranger and sends him on his way. The bridegroom does not wish to ‘mar the love of two’ by allowing the stranger inside. However, the bridegroom is not certain of his choice and the poem finishes on an uncertain note.
Language and Imagery
Like much of Frost’s poetry, Love and a Question’s prevailing imagery is of nature. The poem is set at ‘night’, which is repeated in the poem. The location is both rural and isolated, with no ‘window light’ along the road, establishing the loneliness and desperation of the stranger.
Nature in this poem is cold and harsh: ‘winter was in the wind’, with the alliterative ‘w’ creating the rush of wind. The woodbine berries were ‘blue’, the use of colour evoking the stranger’s sense of helplessness and the feeling of cold, possibly the colour of the night.
By contrast, the couple’s country home is warm and cosy. The bride tends to the ‘open fire’, the ‘glowing coals’ offering warmth and comfort. The bridegroom compares this scene of domesticity to that of the ‘weary road’ the stranger faces and seems conflicted as to whether he should allow the stranger inside.
Eventually the bridegroom settles on offering food and money, as he has decided there is no more room around the fire, other than for himself and his bride.
The lack of the names for the characters in the poem is particularly significant, offering a fairy tale air to the poem. The ‘Stranger’ remains a stranger to the reader and the couple, as we do not learn anything else about them.
The ‘bridegroom’ and ‘bride’ are also only presented to the reader in terms of their designated roles; Frost also emphasises the importance of their marriage through this. The use of the third-person narrator suggests an impartiality regarding the husband’s decision to turn the stranger away; the groom’s moral dilemma is not resolved at the end of the poem.
- Narrative poem
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