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Poem and how to read it, analysis and some meaning of 'The Silken Tent' by Robert Frost


A reading of this poem by Sukie who is Chinese with a Ba in English as a second language. Sukie is currently a joint organiser of learning CHINA holidays which offers the most amazingly economical holiday in China staying at a high level Chinese State University. These holidays include a wide range of activities and trips in a fantastic experience that helps to learn about the real China along with as much (or as little) language as you want.



A poem by

Robert Frost

• Robert Frost was born in San Francisco on March 26, 1874. His first poem, "My Butterfly," was published in 1894.

• He was a poet of traditional verse forms and metrics and adhered to language as actually spoken.

The psychological complexity of his word portraits are infused with layers of ambiguity and irony.

• He died in Boston on January 29, 1963 a national celebrity, a favourite of President Kennedy who quoted him frequently.

The poet had one love that inspired his love poetry (this was his wife).

However, in a poem especially, “She is” indicates generally ‘SHE’ - any and every woman or female.

In some readings this poem can refer to a special ‘she’ but in this reading it refers to the position of woman in society - in general.

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

Back to the reading which is laid out in a Chinese 'essay' style. For this article I have removed several sub-headings that a Chinese essay includes, these paragraphs list the point the essay is making, where it is coming from and why, it will also list keywords, relevant examples and a section thanking the key people involved in the making of the piece - much like the way quotations or ideas are credited, as the people who inspired it or helped in it are seen as equally relevant.


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‘She is as’

This indicates that this poem is going to be a metaphor; ‘she is like’ the tent, or ‘she is the same as’ the tent - in some way.

The word picture of the tent is the metaphor for ‘woman’ in general.

The atmosphere of the poem displays common characteristics of ‘woman’.

‘sunny summer breeze’.

The woman’s ‘job’ is to be sunny, warm, happy and pleasant.

‘capriciousness of summer air’.

Whilst capricious is the naughty, more frivolous or emotional, side of woman.

Summer air is the passionate side of her nature.

Although the poem sounds relaxed and peaceful, like ‘the sunny summer breeze’ , the ‘underlying’ message is about the BONDAGE of woman in ‘silken ties’ to the family and society generally.


‘She is as in a field a silken tent’

The tent is a metaphor for woman, set out for us in the field that represents society

‘At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,’

This gives us a relaxed, comfortable picture of a beautiful woman at ease with the world.

More than self explanatory !

More than self explanatory !

The central cedar pole


Supports the tent


And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,

The pole is the masculine strength and support for the feminine side which is pictured as the ‘tent’.

Signifying the sure soul is the sign for being the ‘correct’ or ‘good’ woman.

Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round

This could be seen as the point of the poem. HOW woman is tied in place by her love, loyalty, trust and care to everything around her, maybe to her husband, children, parents, home, family.

And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

The movement of the tent in the capriciousness of summer air. As the woman does something playful or naughty (this is ‘capricious’) when warm and emotional (this is ‘summer air’) she is sharply reminded of her responsibility as that duty calls her to go back to her place.

Is of the slightest bondage made aware

This poet is famous for his irony. Bondage is slavery and means you are completely owned by somebody else; here the woman is shown as owned by the man.

It is not possible to be slightly in BONDAGE ,in the same way that it not possible to be slightly dead.

Added by me: Reading the poem

the words are written to give off the feeling that the words convey in many places

'sunny summer breeze ' is typical of this and if we read them with a slight pause between the words it 'lilts'.

'so that in guys it gently sways at ease ' can be read with the words almost gently swaying

so that - in guys - it gen - tly sways - at ease.

The whole thing is written in a perfectly balanced structure, like a tent, and can be read in this way; it is considered to be a perfect sonnet example by many, including myself.

poems by alternate poet


arshad javid on October 25, 2017:

Plz ...give me line by line explinations...plz

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wildcat on November 25, 2013:

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POlak on April 06, 2012:

I think this poem is about a woman that is bound by nothing but Mother Nature herself.

maria jabeen on February 08, 2012:

its beautiful poem.

attia rasool on April 06, 2011:

good...give brief explanation of every part and stanza of poem...that help us student

alternate poet (author) on October 15, 2010:

Thanks everyone for the nice comments.

CP - I think you could well be right - ALSO. Analysis shows up many different facets of a really good poem like this one, and its perfect balance lends itself to many different interpretations that come from what is speaks to the reader. On balance I might be inclined to agree more with you than with Sukie, but then another day . . . Thanks for taking the time to consider this and for contributing your insightful comment.

Christopher Price from Vermont, USA on October 15, 2010:

Frost spent the summers and falls of 42 years teaching at Middlebury College in Vermont and is buried in Bennington, Vermont. His poems are as much a part of Vermont as stone walls, snowy nights and maple syrup.

Although Sukie's interpretation is as valid as any, I would beg to differ in one aspect...the cedar pole, the backbone and support for the tent need not refer to a masculine strength. Frost, I think, was saying that underneath the diaphanous layers of silken finery, which seemed likely to float away in the slightest breeze, was a strong and capable woman firmly anchored in reality.

Like an iron fist in a velvet glove, a woman living in the era of billowing silken skirts needed to portray the frilly-frocked lady while serving as the dependable center around which the family gathered.

When Frost was a boy his father died, and his mother took the family back East to his Grandfather's home. I'm sure that Robert Frost learned early a woman's strength.

This was a fine hub. And Sukie is to be commended.


Bozhidar Pangelov from Bulgaria Sofia on September 16, 2010:

This analysis is very interesting, but once again proves that poetry is difficult to direct logical analysis. Word used by the poet

capriciousness, unpredictability

the quality of being guided by sudden unpredictable impulses, except in the usual sense, in combination with other words to suggest the volatility of passion in women. In my opinion, the analysis of these poems should be made with good experience and gained a similar sensitivity.

sligobay from east of the equator on September 06, 2010:

Thank you for this useful article which has taught me much that I did not know. There is so much more content and meaning in this 14 line Sonnet than I could ever have realized without your focus. I now need to reread all of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cheers.

Tustitala Tom on May 26, 2010:

Thanks for your kind comments Alternate Poet. Always grateful for feedback. Your way ahead of me on poety, methinks; I've never been into the analytical side.

Thanks again.


Kim Harris on May 25, 2010:

I have never been able to "appreciate" the symbolism, archetypes and deeper meanings in poetry and literature. I would never have guessed that this poem had anything to do with women and oppression, and would not have even noticed the pole and tent imagery. I probably would have stopped reading, because I had no idea what it was about. Thanks for the interpretation. It helps me understand this poem, but I'm not sure I would do any better at interpreting others as a result of understanding this. I do at better at interpreting foreign languages than English lit! Thanks so much for the informative hub AP.

Ben Evans on May 14, 2010:

This is helpful for me. I started writing before I was able to study different styles. When I read what others write, I feel I am able to improve my writing.

Thank you for the interpretation.

gulnazahmad on May 05, 2010:

Really enjoyed reading Silken Tent this way. I m a great fan of Robert Frost, my love for poetry started after I read his poems during school and college days and indeed his poetry has so many levels and deeper meanings, when people cannot get those meaning they say that his poems are childish which surely his poems are not.

valeriebelew from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA on May 03, 2010:

I always loved "Stopping in the woods on a snowy evening." I love his simple style. I like to come away from a reading experience being relatively sure I know what the poet meant to say. Some modern writing feels like so much word salad to me. If I can't tell what is being said, I grow bored quickly.

Loveofnight Anderson from Baltimore, Maryland on May 03, 2010:

awesome, surely you have done mr.frost justice. your dissection was great......a good share

SummerSteward from Duluth MN on May 02, 2010:

I must confess, Frost often goes above my head.... so this was a very good read.. this part in particular..

"The movement of the tent in the capriciousness of summer air. As the woman does something playful or naughty (this is ‘capricious’) when warm and emotional (this is ‘summer air’) she is sharply reminded of her responsibility as that duty calls her to go back to her place."

I admire his perception and admiration for women. To group emotions and playfulness with "naughtiness" and it's being uncalled for by people of those times was a great injustice towards women. One of the greatest attributes and my most thankful quality is my passion, emotion and ability to act in nurturing playfulness. Great hub and a smart student!

Matthew Frederick Blowers III from United States on April 29, 2010:

Excellent analysis of Frost, Poetry is as a painting, one must canvas it, and seek out all of the tiniest details to find some of the hidden beauty. Like unto brush strokes of pigment, so to are the pen strokes of a poet, coloring our world with the pigments of his/her imagination. There should always be a strong finish to seal the work as worthy

of time's erosion. It should contain a subject that people enjoy looking at, or some form of the bizzare to capture their dark side. ~~~MFB III

Micky Dee on April 26, 2010:

Very nice hub again. Thank you Sir!

alternate poet (author) on April 22, 2010:

thanks for dropping by kathylittlewolf, it was for me too :D

Little Wolf from Dusty Trails, Arkansas on April 22, 2010:

educational read for me...

in fact, think I'll read it again...

alternate poet (author) on April 22, 2010:

Astra Nomik: Some poets never go out of fashion do they.

Kishorilal: When I first read this critique from one of my students I was impressed by the simple good sense of it, easy to read and understand. Hard to find a Frost poem that is not likeble.

Habee: I will get round to Mending the Wall soonest!

Holle Abee from Georgia on April 21, 2010:

I love Frost! I think "Mending Wall" is my fave, but this one is also nice!

Kishorilal on April 20, 2010:

Woods are lovely, dark and deep;

But I have promises to keep:

Miles to go before I sleep,

Miles to go before I sleep.

These lines by Frost start resounding in my ears everytime I take his name or hear about him. The detailed explanation of the poetry above has surely made me re-read him again. Thoroughly enjoyed that. Thanks a lot alternate poet.

- Kishorilal

Cathy Nerujen from Edge of Reality and Known Space on April 19, 2010:

I enjoyed this as it is a great critique of a great poet. He is so frequently quoted by the famous and trendy, because he seemed to speak for the conscience of all generations. He sometimes said what we all feel like saying. He seems to contextualize things in his quotes and poems. His poetry will never go out of fashion. He is a poet who made poetry fashionable. I recently wrote my first poem on Hub Pages. Poetry lets us say things that we could ordinarily never normally say. We'd have to find other ways of saying it. Than you for a great hub.

alternate poet (author) on April 18, 2010:

some lines just stick there forever don't they ! nice to meet you.

blake4d on April 18, 2010:

Nice AP, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg were both very influencial from my earliest years as a poet.

I used to have TWO WTICHES memorized

"...Don't that make you suspcious

That the dead are keeping something back..."

Keep on Hubbing


alternate poet (author) on April 18, 2010:

Hi again poetlorraine, you make me blush !

Thanks seasoning, lessons from me huh, 'she' tells me I am remedial kindergarten!

seasoning on April 18, 2010:

lessons of love.... from a poet.... how wonderful

poetlorraine on April 18, 2010:

i am so enjoying your work, it kind of grips my heart.... keep going...

alternate poet (author) on April 18, 2010:

thanx again :)

myownworld from uk on April 18, 2010:

Huge Frost fan, so really enjoyed reading this... great critical anlaysis with this one... :)

alternate poet (author) on April 17, 2010:

Thanks for your kind comments Mythbuster - the credit really goes to the student who wrote it, I thought it was nice, simple and correct in my view.

mythbuster from Utopia, Oz, You Decide on April 17, 2010:

alternate poet, I've really enjoyed this hub and both your instructions and detailed treatment/interpretation of this poetry. I had to scroll up a couple of times and re-read and am appreciative of your suggestions as a guide in how to read this poem.

alternate poet (author) on April 17, 2010:

Really have to thank the student here, most of it is just as she wrote it - I thought it was really cool and she agreed to me using it :)

Laurel Rogers from Bishop, Ca on April 17, 2010:

I've only written one poem in my life, yet always been fascinated with the various forms and styles.

Thank you for this 'how to'; very well done.

alternate poet (author) on April 16, 2010:

Thanks for comment chasingcars. Yes, I have seen many different readings and the spider would work, I have also seen one that sees a sailing ship as the metaphor. I will have to go back and re-acquaint with the Lady of Shalott now.

chasingcars on April 16, 2010:

Good reading of a beloved yet often misunderstood poet. Because he used demotic language, people see him as a children's poet, and that's fine, but he has many layers which dip into our archetypes. You could also read the poem as a metaphor of female being: spider, lying in her silk web, in her societal world of reproduction and captivity. The poem reminds me of Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" for some reason. Anyhow, Frost had deep and sensual levels which are productive to explore. Good hub.

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