Love and a Question Cover image featuring Robert Frost

Love and a Question by Robert Frost: Analysis and Meaning

Sometimes we make a decision that makes us question our choices, and though we are indulged in doing other activities, in the back of our mind, subconsciously we are still questioning, whether or not we made the right choice. A similar poem has been written by the poet Robert Frost describing the same situation. Let’s see what the poem “Love and a Question” has to say about it.

Robert Frost published the poem “Love and a Question” in 1915 in his first poetry book “A Boy’s Will”. This poem asks us a question as to which love is more important: romantic love or human love? And the question is left unanswered with stains of indecisiveness and guilt.

Love and a Question

A Stranger came to the door at eve, 
   And he spoke the bridegroom fair. 
He bore a green-white stick in his hand, 
   And, for all burden, care. 
He asked with the eyes more than the lips 
   For a shelter for the night, 
And he turned and looked at the road afar 
   Without a window light. 

The bridegroom came forth into the porch 
   With, ‘Let us look at the sky, 
And question what of the night to be, 
   Stranger, you and I.’
The woodbine leaves littered the yard, 
   The woodbine berries were blue, 
Autumn, yes, winter was in the wind; 
   ‘Stranger, I wish I knew.’

Within, the bride in the dusk alone 
   Bent over the open fire, 
Her face rose-red with the glowing coal 
   And the thought of the heart’s desire. 
The bridegroom looked at the weary road, 
   Yet saw but her within, 
And wished her heart in a case of gold 
   And pinned with a silver pin. 

The bridegroom thought it little to give 
   A dole of bread, a purse, 
A heartfelt prayer for the poor of God, 
   Or for the rich a curse; 
But whether or not a man was asked 
   To mar the love of two 
By harboring woe in the bridal house, 
   The bridegroom wished he knew.
- Robert Frost

Meaning and Summary

The poem “A love and a Question” starts with an ominous note where a stranger visits the home of a newlywed bride and a bridegroom. It seems that the stranger spoke to the bridegroom and the stranger carried nothing with him except a green stick, denoting that the stranger was old.

The stranger tried asking for help from the bridegroom and he spoke with gestures rather than words. The stranger had asked for a shelter to live in and had tried to tell the bridegroom that it was dark outside and there was no light or any shelter.

Then the bridegroom came to the porch and then he described the view that he saw. He saw that the woodbine leaves and berries were littered outside, and he knew by the cold wind that winter is near. And, then he looked at his bride who was sitting by the fireplace and her face was “rose red” because of the charcoal. He saw the road outside and then looked at her in a safe place and he wanted to protect her from everything. 

The bridegroom gave the stranger a dole of bread, and little money and prayed for him. But he wondered whether the stranger was there to hurt them or did he want shelter, these thoughts were a woe to the bridegroom.

The bridegroom, however, had offered the stranger several things but he could not shelter him because he wanted to protect his wife. He was unaware of the intentions of the stranger and even though he had made a decision not to let the stranger in, these thoughts bewildered the bridegroom.

He was not sure whether he made the right choice or not, he didn’t know if his prayers were enough for the stranger so that he survives the night.

Analysis of the poem

A Stranger came to the door at eve,

   And he spoke the bridegroom fair.

He bore a green-white stick in his hand,

   And, for all burden, care.

He asked with the eyes more than the lips

   For a shelter for the night,

And he turned and looked at the road afar

   Without a window light.

The first lines set a background for the poem through which we understand the reasons for confusing the bridegroom. In the first line, the poet tells us that a stranger had come to the door in the evening, and he spoke to the fair bridegroom.

It means that he has no signs of struggle on his face and has been in a position like a stranger at the gate. All the stranger carried was a “green-white” stick resembling that he is old and cannot walk properly and he did not carry any burden with him like a bag but care. 

The poet tells us that the stranger was expressive and tried to express everything through gestures rather than words. His eyes were able to express more than he could with his lips.

The poet then tells us that he was looking for a shelter for the night and he turned back and looked at the road, which was empty and dark. “Without a window light” means that there were not any other houses besides the one where this couple resided.

These lines provide the setting of the story. It seemed that the marriage of the bridegroom and the bride had not been consummated and therefore, they had come to this place to spend a few days.

The bridegroom came forth into the porch

   With, ‘Let us look at the sky,

And question what of the night to be,

   Stranger, you and I.’

The woodbine leaves littered the yard,

   The woodbine berries were blue,

Autumn, yes, winter was in the wind;

   ‘Stranger, I wish I knew.’

The bridegroom had come forward on the porch and had started looking out at the weather. He thought in his mind what was going to happen. Were the stranger, the bride, and the bridegroom going to spend the night together? These thoughts occupied the mind of the bridegroom. 

Although, he looked outside and saw the woodbine leaves and berries scattered in the yard. The woodbine leaves turn red during autumn and start falling in winter, so the poet has tried to tell us that winter had set its way.

It was autumn, but he could feel the winter in the cold wind. And he thinks in his mind that he wished he knew what to do. He seemed perplexed about the situation with no solutions in mind. It was cold outside and a stranger was asking for shelter. What was the bridegroom going to do?

Within, the bride in the dusk alone

   Bent over the open fire,

Her face rose-red with the glowing coal

   And the thought of the heart’s desire.

The bridegroom looked at the weary road,

   Yet saw but her within,

And wished her heart in a case of gold

   And pinned with a silver pin.

It was dusk and the bridegroom looked inside and saw that the bride was sitting by the fireplace and her face was “rose-red” because of the “glowing coal”, but also because of the desires of her heart for her husband.

The bridegroom then looked at the road again but all he could think about was her wife who stayed inside and was protected from everything. He wanted to protect his delicate wife by placing her heart in a gold case with a silver pin. In these lines, the bridegroom has tried to show his love for his wife and how he would protect her from all the dangers.

In these lines we understand the limit the bridegroom is willing to exceed to protect his wife from anything that comes in the way. He is trying to reach a decision here, where he is thinking about his wife. He is not willing to risk the life of his bride just for a stranger.

The bridegroom thought it little to give

   A dole of bread, a purse,

A heartfelt prayer for the poor of God,

   Or for the rich a curse;

But whether or not a man was asked

   To mar the love of two

By harboring woe in the bridal house,

   The bridegroom wished he knew.

The bridegroom thought that it was little of him to give the stranger a dole of bread, and money but for the stranger, it was prayer because he was poor, but for the rich to have a dole of bread is a curse.

But he did not know whether he should bring a woe in the form of a stranger to his happy house. The bridegroom chose to send the stranger away and he wished he knew whether he made the right decision or not.

 In the last stanza, the bridegroom has tried to express the guilt that he feels during the situation. He had to choose between something he loved and something that he owed to humanity. But, the choice he makes fills his mind with questions and guilt.

Themes

The theme of the poem is confusion, choice, love, and guilt. In the entire poem, the poet has tried to explain the confusion that the bridegroom faces, the confusion is about whether he should help the stranger or choose to protect his wife.

This confusion rests in his mind even after making the decision. He still thinks about it subconsciously, if he made the right decision of sending the stranger away. Moreover, the poet has not given any details about the stranger, he has chosen not to name the couple, but rather he chose to tell us about their relationship and that they were a newly married couple. To protect his wife or to be kind to others is a choice that he had to make.

The choice plays a great role in the poem. It is the choice of the bridegroom that leads to his decision. And, his choice was to keep his wife protected and fulfill all the promises that he made during the wedding. His wife was waiting for him and he knew it, but the stranger also waited for him at the door waiting for a reply. The bridegroom chose love, the intimate and romantic love that he had for his wife.

After reading the poem, we understand that the poet has tried to reflect on two types of love that the bridegroom has to choose from. He either has to choose between love for his wife or brotherhood.

The poet thinks quite a lot about the stranger, the bride, and the bridegroom in the same house and he somehow does not like that image. He does not trust the stranger completely and is unaware of his intentions.

He does look outside the door and he sees nothing but then he can see his wife who is within and is protected from all the suffering of the world. He knows that she is delicate and he chooses her instead of brotherhood and the love for mankind which fills him with guilt.

The bridegroom is filled with guilt after making a choice. But, why does he question his choice that much? All the readers might wonder that even if he knew he had to protect his wife and he could not trust the stranger, why did he feel so bad? It is a brotherhood, and being kind that confused him.

Often, we make choices that result in regret and guilt, similarly, though he was aware of his duties as a husband, he also knew his duties as a human and how to be humane. Even if he was not able to shelter him, he gave him money and bread which might be enough for the stranger, but for the bridegroom, it was not.

He thought it was a matter of choice where he thinks he might have or have not failed to take the right step. Thus, the poem also ends on a note of confusion.

The Aptness of the title

The title in every poem plays a great role in giving the readers an idea about what they are going to read, and in this poem, I feel Robert Frost could not have thought of a title better than “Love and a question”.

The title initially tells the readers that there is love in the poem that we are going to read about, but there is also a question. But we understand the intensity of the title after reading the poem. I believe that the title of the poem is apt because the poet has described the love that the bride and the bridegroom have for each other, the bride’s face is glowing red thinking about her desires, and the bridegroom wants to protect her at any cost because he loves her too. 

The other love that the poet has tried to describe is the compassionate type of love, the love we feel for humanity. The poet does want to help the stranger but his love for his wife exceeds his love for humanity. It seems that the cost that the bridegroom has to pay is his moral behavior. This explains the love part of the title. 

A question that the poet talks about is the question that the bridegroom asks himself. The question that makes him question his choice. He questions his choice, his decision, and his love. His question is left unanswered even at the end of the poem and thus the title is left with a question and not an answer. 

Literary Devices

The literary devices used in the poem “Love and a Question” include:

Enjambment is used by the poet to give readers a break and to engage the reader to find the answer to the “Question” in the next line. For example:

He asked with the eyes more than the lips

   For a shelter for the night,

Within, the bride in the dusk alone

   Bent over the open fire,

But whether or not a man was asked

   To mar the love of two

By harboring woe in the bridal house,

Alliteration is a literary device where the poet repeats the initial consonant sound of two or more words. For example:

He bore a green-white stick in his hand,

Autumn, yes, winter was in the wind;

Metaphor is used by the poet to convey a different meaning, to create depth. For example, the poet tells us that the “woodbine berries” were blue. Blue is a color that represents melancholy and the loneliness that the stranger feels on being left by the bridegroom.

Imagery is used by the poet to describe the end of autumn and the view that he sees when he looks outside. For example:

And he turned and looked at the road afar

   Without a window light.

And wished her heart in a case of gold

   And pinned with a silver pin.

Repetition is used by the poet so that the readers can pay more attention to those particular sentences or words. For example: “stranger”, “bridegroom”, and “woodbine”.

Conclusion

“Love and a Question” evokes a feeling within us, and that feeling is the feeling of confusion, the confusion of what is right or wrong and what would we have done if we were at the speaker’s place. But all these questions do not lead to any answer and therefore all we can do is build our opinion.

An opinion about the stranger and the bridegroom and his choice. It is very difficult to make a choice that will not fill us with guilt. If he had provided shelter to the stranger then he would have the guilt of not loving and caring for his wife and otherwise the guilt that he currently feels by not letting the stranger some shelter.

The whole poem is based on guilt that the bridegroom will carry throughout his life, and always asks himself “what if?”. We all can give an interpretation of our judgment. And that judgment will answer the “Question”.

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