Last Updated 20 Apr 2022

A Critical Appreciation of Frost’s ‘The Oven Bird’

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The Oven Bird is a pessimistic sonnet. The octave seems to describe mid-summer and how it is past its best. Whereas the sestet, which is marked by a rhyming couplet, brings a change, as Frost looks toward what will come in the future, and how to live with a life that is past its best. The bird sings 'Loud' and predicts the inevitability of mid-summer turning into fall. Gloomy descriptions are used even though it's the middle of summer and everything should be bright and cheerful, 'he says that leaves are old and that for flowers/ Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten'. The endstop after 'ten', makes the fact that there are not as many flowers in summer as there are in spring, very definite and quite blunt. Even though winter is along way off, lots of nature is already past its best:

The early petal-fall is past,

When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers

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On sunny days a moment overcast

The speaker constantly focuses on the shadows, although it is only a 'moment', so much destruction seems to happen in it. While it's still mid-summer, the bird is already anticipating fall as he says 'and comes that other fall we name the fall'.

Perhaps in this poem Frost is talking about Darwin. The oven bird could be used to represent Darwin. Frost says 'there is a singer everyone has heard'. Around the time Frost was writing, Darwin was teaching his theory, he was famous and everyone had heard of him. By placing 'loud' at the beginning of the line and putting a comma after it, Frost focuses on this word, emphasising that Darwin is shouting and telling everyone about his theory. Frost then goes onto say the bird 'makes the solid tree trunks sound again'. This could possibly be Darwin questioning all and bringing a new uncertainty to life. If we continue with the Darwin idea, perhaps when Frost refers to 'that other fall we name the fall', he is referring to Adam and Eve and the fall of mankind. This is then followed by the bird saying 'the highway dust is overall'.

Read also Critical appreciation of the poem “Old Ladies’ Home”.

The highway might represent mans progress and new scientific knowledge and how this now covers everything, nature and religion. Frost says, 'the bird would cease and be as other birds/ but that he knows in singing not to sing'. I think this could mean that the bird is not as exuberant as other birds in spring, but he sings in mid-summer and knows the future isn't necessarily something to look forward to. With Darwin's new theory, the old certainty has been taken away and replaced by something new and radical that makes the future unsettling.

The poem finishes on an unsure note as Frost says, 'The question that he frames in all but words/ is what to make of a diminished thing'. Frost might be saying that, although life is past its best, like summer, how can we make the most of it? This is very characteristic of Frost's poetry, with Frost leaving the reader to make their own interpretation and decide for themselves. Although the tone of the last two lines is elegiac and 'diminished thing' sounds very negative, Frost also asks 'what to make' of it and this sounds more positive as though this is just a new, exciting challenge to face. The Oven Bird is also similar to Frost's other poetry because he uses nature to put across an idea. The Oven Bird is an unusual sonnet, Frost uses an old, accepted poetry style to express these new and bold ideas, the unconventional rhyme scheme also helps to emphasise these new ideas. This is another quality of Frost, to take a certain style of poetry and make it his own.

A Critical Appreciation of Frost’s ‘The Oven Bird’ essay

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