A late walk by Robert Frost cover image

A Late Walk by Robert Frost: Easy Summary, Analysis and Meaning

The magic of poetry is that it subtly touches your heart, without even you knowing it. Sometimes it strikes a similar chord and plays music that reminds you of a song that you’ve heard before. It brings out empathy, happiness, agony, and a mix of other feelings. This is what makes poetry so powerful. And Robert Frost’s “A Late Walk” is the prime example of such poetry.

“A Late Walk” is a poem that progresses linearly, with each word and sentence meaning exactly what it is, and that is until you come to the final two sentences. Frost has a very unique way of twisting and changing the meaning of an entire poem with just one or two sentences. In this poem, he does not change the entire meaning of the poem but makes it a metaphorical poem from a literal one.

We think it is very important that readers should understand the tiny complexities of this poem to truly appreciate how beautiful “A Late Walk” is, along with Frost’s writing. So here’s an article with the entire meaning of the poem “A Late Walk”, along with its summary, analysis, and all the literary devices used. Before we get into the meaning, take a look at the poem.

A Late Walk by Robert Frost

When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.

Meaning and Summary

“A Late Walk” is a poem that seems to describe the changes we see in our surroundings when autumn arrives, and the pleasant colors of the spring turn into dull colors of dying leaves and withering flowers. On the surface level, that is exactly what this poem means. But this meaning is taken to another context when the last two lines are presented.

We have seen many people assume that the meaning of this poem is just that it is too late to walk during autumn and Frost, being a lover of nature and everything that comes out of it feels sad and depressed by seeing the barren scenes. While it is true that Frost’s poems are almost always influenced by nature and the environment, this poem holds more than what “meets the eyes”.

The poem is a metaphor for the inevitable loss that is certain in everyone’s lives. We all know from the very moment that we get something that one day, we will lose it. It could be something as small and insignificant as a pen, or a toy, to something invaluable like friends, family, and loved ones. No matter what or who we have in our lives, one day we will lose them. This applies to our own lives as well.

This complex idea is portrayed with the help of the coming of autumn. As Frost walks and looks around him, all he sees is a mere hazy remnant of what used to be. Bright, colorful flowers, lush green trees, chirping birds, etc. All of that is gone, and just a faded memory remains.

This is an allegory to life, where once everyone has everything at some point in their lives, it is certain that they will lose it all. That’s just life. Every person that you love, know, everything that you call yours, all are bound to be taken away from you. The coming of autumn is used to portray this inevitable event.

But as with most of Frost’s poems, these complex ideas are not presented simply. One must look at his works carefully to find them out. Let’s do a line-by-line analysis and see how the poem turns from a literal description of coming autumn to an allegory for life and all its complexities.

Analyzing A Late Walk by Robert Frost

The poem is divided into four stanzas. The first three stanzas are just used to describe the entire scene that the poet is seeing. We’ll look at each stanza separately and see what purpose they serve in the poem.

When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

The first stanza is used to set up the scene and describe what the poet is seeing. The way Frost describes the scene leaves no need for conveying what he is feeling. The line “headless aftermath” alone is capable of doing that. Here, “headless aftermath” means the mowed fields that were once covered with lush crops. The season has come to harvest the field and after the harvest, we all know what is left.

The field looks like a smooth-laid thatch with heavy dew, as only the bottom part of the crop that’s not needed remains. These hollow straws are the “headless beings” that remain after the aftermath. Even the garden path is half closed due to the remnants of the field.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.

Here’s an interesting line that grounds the readers to reality. The scene that Frost is describing is not meant just to describe his feelings. This is actually what he is seeing and it is serving as a parallel to what’s going on in his life. When he mentions “the whir of sober birds”, it is meant to show that these birds are now looking at the world around them, and the joy of spring is gone. The “drunkenness” of spring can only last so long, and now they have to get back to surviving.

So not just the sight is depressing, even the sounds are depressing as well. Withered weeds, dry, dead grounds, and the depressing sounds of sad birds all just make walking around the scene more and more difficult.

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

Two things are beautifully conveyed in this poem using just one sentence. As Frost walks ahead, he sees a bare tree that has lost all its leaves. That is a depressing sight in itself, but it gets more depressing. There is just one, brown leaf that was remaining on the tree, and even that falls slowly.

Frost thinks that it was his thought that made the leaf fall. What this line tells us more about the scene is how quiet the whole scene is. There’s hardly any wind blowing, everything is just dead. And it also shows how strongly Frost is affected by this scene that even the leaf could sense his thoughts.

I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.

This is the last stanza of the poem and the only stanza that does not describe what the poet is seeing, rather it tells what the poet is doing. The reason why he came on this “late walk”. After seeing all these depressing things, Frost decides to cut his walk short and return home. This comes just as he sees a faded blue aster flower, one of the last remaining flowers. He picks it up and then ends the poem by saying “To carry again to you”. This is the most powerful sentence in the poem as it completely changes the meaning of the poem. This is the line that makes this poem from a literal description of the scene to a metaphor for life.

Just like the scene Frost saw, life is very similar. Death approaches slowly and soon our lives become dull and empty. Frost did not want to walk anymore, signifying he did not want to think about the end that would come one day, and his walk was interrupted by this blue aster flower.

The blue aster flower which is described to have a “fading” blue color represents the moments in our lives that make us happy. These are the moments that become memories, something worth holding on to, something that takes away the fear and pain of a dwindling life. And that’s how this poem turns into a metaphor for life.

So in summary, Frost is taking a walk out in the open and sees all the signs of fading spring on oncoming autumn. The fields are harvested, the flowers are gone, trees are brown and bare, and the birds are dull. All this reminds him of the life that slowly leads to such sadness. When all the happiness fades away slowly but surely.

But then in the end his thought (and walk) is interrupted when he finds a fading blue aster flower, which he picks and takes back to someone he loves. This represents the moments of happiness that you need to find to feel good while life marches towards a sad and dull end.

A Late Walk by Robert Frost

Who was this Poem for?

The last line introduces a question that is irrelevant to the poem, yet it is something worth finding out. Who was this poem for? Who is the “you” that Frost is bringing the flower to? If we were to place our best guesses, it would be his wife.

Frost was married to Elinor Frost in 1895. She died in 1938 of breast cancer, but she had suffered from a heart condition her entire life. Perhaps this was the reason Frost felt about the inevitable end. Having a prolonged heart condition could lead to many problems. Perhaps Frost knew that something might happen to his wife, and yet he walked to collect fading blue flowers.

Literary Devices in the Poem

Metaphors: There is no dearth of metaphors in the poem. Let’s take a look at all of them,

The headless aftermath – refers to the harvested crops
The whir of sober birds – The dull sound of birds
Is sadder than any words. – Again, the dull and sad sound of birds
A tree beside the wall stands bare, – A tree that has no leaves
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought, – Moved due to being dry
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you. – Bring back something beautiful even when everything is fading into sadness.

Alliteration: Here are all the examples of alliteration used in the poem:

And when I come to the garden ground,
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought

Rhyme Scheme: The rhyming scheme of the poem “A Late Walk” is ABCB, meaning that the second line rhymes with the last line of each stanza. The meter ranges from dactylic to iambic.

Imagery: The entire poem is supported by imagery. All the stanzas except the last one use imagery. Imagery is used powerfully here, showing the bareness and dryness of the world around. Imagery is used to convey the meaning of the poem properly.

Conclusion

There are many hidden meanings in Robert Frost’s poems. From the ever-popular “The Road Not Taken” to “A Late Walk”, all these poems used imagery, metaphors, and other literary devices to tell us a deeper meaning usually connected with human emotions and behavior. This poem delivers a strong message on the reality of life, and the poet’s way of coming to terms with it. It is accepting a bitter truth, but not losing hope or the will to find happiness, even when everything else is falling apart.
“A Late Walk” is a poem worth reading, and with such an important meaning behind it, the poem becomes even better.

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