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A comparison of two poems by Robert Frost: Ghost House and A Cabin in the Clearing

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The first of the two poems, "Ghost House" is formally structured. It is made up of six stanzas, each with five lines. It has a strict rhyme scheme: the first, second and last lines of each stanza rhyme, as do the third and fourth lines. This creates two neat rhyming couplets in each stanza, with the final line appearing disjointed as if it were an addition. This echoes the sentiments of belonging, in contrast with isolation and loneliness, that Frost expresses in the text. The tone of this poem is established immediately by the title.

Although it is a commonly used phrase, and is also quite brief, the words "Ghost House" have uneasy and frightening implications. The poet has created an eerie mood in the poem that is contributed to by the use of the narrator character, the unknown "I". The question of who, or what, this character is has been intentionally left unanswered by Frost, as well as many other questions. This encourages the reader to think more deeply about the poem, as the answers are not obvious, and in most cases not revealed at all.

Unanswered questions instil in the reader a sense of instability and confusion, which serves to enhance the atmosphere of the poem. As these are the feelings expressed by the narrator character, this creates empathy. The subject of the poem is the house where the narrator lives, or "dwells", and the "mute folk" that share it with him. Central to the poem is the fact that the house has "vanished" and that nature has returned and reclaimed the land where it once was. The sense of the passage of time, and the inevitability of life, existence and death, is a theme common to much of Frost's work.

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In this poem the reader is told that the house was destroyed "many a summer ago". Although the circumstances surrounding the fate of the house are unclear, it is suggested that a natural disaster was the cause. Use of the word "vanished" implies that the house was destroyed suddenly, and the fact that it "left no trace but the cellar walls... " suggests a disaster such as a fire, especially as the poem is set in America where wooden houses are common. Imagery is used, as "a cellar in which the daylight falls" is depicted, and the raspberries growing on the site are described as "purple-stemmed".

These images involve the reader in the poem, and highlight the combination of human influences and nature that is happening. The reader is given the impression that nature is the controlling force in the situation, that nature is infinite and perpetual, and people are insignificant in comparison. While they may have made an impact on their environment, nature has quickly erased it, as "the footpath down to the well is healed". The word "healed" is an emotive one as it has connotations of pain, implying that the footpath was a wound on the landscape that has now been restored.

It is a reminder of the fact that when we die it does not change the world; nature carries on, and we are soon forgotten. Throughout the second stanza there are examples of the site returning to its natural state, as the "woods come back... " and the trees grow freely again. There is a sense of protection, with the use of the word "shield" to describe the grapevines growing over the fences. Nature is shown as a regenerative force as well as a destructive one. In the third stanza there is a repetition of the word "vanished", referring to the house; it is described as a "vanished abode".

This reinforces the unusual situation of the narrator, that he lives in a house that does not exist. The narrator describes his "strangely aching heart". This is a powerful reference, as the word "aching" describes a physical sensation, which is more effective than a purely emotional one, and a sense of pain is indicated. There seems to be a connection between the narrator and the house, he relates how the house is linked to the rest of the world by a "disused and forgotten road" possibly indicating that this is how he feels, that his connection with the world has been destroyed, and that he himself is "forgotten".

Imagery is used throughout the poem, as Frost describes the area surrounding the house, and the "stones out under the low-limbed tree", presumably gravestones, that have been covered by mosses so that the names cannot be read. This conveys a sense of mystery, as the reader is not informed to whom the stones belong. There are a number of themes that recur through the text. The last two stanzas are primarily concerned with the "mute folk", who cohabit the house. They are introduced abruptly, relatively late in the poem.

They are mentioned casually, and it appears as if the narrator makes the assumption that the audience is already aware of their existence. This indicates that they are a permanent presence in the narrator's life, and are a concern to him. It is not clear who, or what, these people are, just as it is with the narrator. This sense of confusion is reinforced many times. There is an entire stanza devoted to the apparently irrelevant "whippoorwill". This could be simply to create atmosphere, and to contrast with the shock of the next stanza in which the "mute folk" are introduced.

The "mute folk" are described as "tireless folk, but slow and sad" with the possible partial exception of two individuals, referred to only as "lass and lad". It is possible that these two people are not as sad as the rest of their peers because they have a connection; they "belong" to each other. One theme of the poem is loneliness and isolation. The house is described as "lonely" and the road as "forgotten". The narrator is a lonely character, isolated from the world and unable even to communicate with the "mute folk". It appears that the narrator has no home, that he does not belong anywhere.

Even the house where he dwells is not described as his; he calls it a "house I know" and does not claim that it belongs to him. It is assumed that the title of the poem refers to a house inhabited by ghosts, but it could refer to the "ghost of the house" or the memory of a time when the narrator had a home, and a sense of belonging. There is an eerie sense of death in the text. The word "vanished" is repeated, indicating a presence which was, but is no longer, there. The abruptness with which the house "vanished" leads to the assumption that death was involved; that people died in a disaster of some kind.

In the third stanza there is a reference to the night, often used as a metaphor for death. It is expressed simply as "Night comes.. " and this supports the suddenness of death in the poem. The narrator describes his environment as "the unlit place". Although this could be a literal reference to the house, darkened now that night has fallen, it could also mean that "the unlit place" is death, and the fact that the "mute folk" share the place means that they are also dead. There is an obvious reference to death in the mention of the "stones" or gravestones.

The second poem, "A Cabin in the Clearing", has a similar tone to the first poem, and addresses similar issues. However, the two poems have very different forms. In contrast to the structure and rhythm of "Ghost House", the second poem appears to be constructed in a much more random way. This is partly due to the conversational style in which Frost has chosen to write. As a result of this there is no rhyme scheme to the poem, and no set stanza format. The poem is made up entirely of dialogue between two characters, "mist" and "smoke".

In the first poem the title influences the tone of the poem considerably as it affects the way that the rest of the poem is read. In the second poem the title is more vague, and although it sets the scene for the rest of the text it does not establish mood in the same way. The title of this poem uses the definite article "the" when referring to the clearing, and the indefinite article "a" when referring to the cabin. This places emphasis and importance on the clearing and detracts from the influence of the people on the landscape, as the cabin is manmade and the clearing is natural.

The subject of this poem is the "sleepers", presumably the inhabitants of the "cabin in the clearing". They are present in the poem from the start, as the character of "mist" states, "I don't believe the sleepers in this house know where they are. " The two characters seem to hold different opinions of the "sleepers", with mist appearing more accusatory and demanding of them, while smoke is more sympathetic. Both narrators appear not to understand the actions of the people There are many similarities between the two poems. Both have narrator characters, and the perspective of these characters is the same.

In "Ghost House" the narrator is an observer of the "mute folk", while in the second poem the narrators are observers of the "sleepers". However in the first poem there is only one narrator, who expresses one view, and in the second poem there are two narrators who express two different and slightly conflicting views. The narrators in the two poems have different attitudes towards the people that they are watching. In the first poem the reader is given the impression that the narrator would like to communicate with the "mute folk" but is unable to.

In the second poem it seems as if the narrators could communicate with the "sleepers" if they wanted to, but they choose the role of observers voluntarily. However in both poems the narrators seem removed from the world of those they observe. In "Ghost House" this removal becomes isolation, and the audience is made to feel more sympathetic towards this narrator than the equivalent characters in "A Cabin in the Clearing", as in this poem the narrators have a bond with each other, and are not as dependant on the "sleepers"

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