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Robert Frost's "Hyla Brook"

Robert Frost remains America's most noted and beloved poet. His classic works are widely anthologized and studied in the nation's schools.

Introduction and Text of "Hyla Brook"

Robert Frost's "Hyla Brook" consists of fifteen lines with the rime scheme, ABBACCADDEEFGF. Frost became a master writer of "tricky poems"; while he has stated that his poem, "The Road Not Taken," was a tricky poem, many of his other pieces remain just as tricky, including this novel little piece focusing on a body of water and its attributes.

This fascinating little drama resembles a Petrarchan sonnet but instead of an octave, it displays a novtet which sets up the situation, while the sestet complements it. A cursory reading of the poem might result in missing the "either/or" construction that informs the complete description of the brook.

This "either/or" construction renders this Frost somewhat tricky; the subtle meaning may be overlooked without due considered of that flighty and often whimsical construction.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Hyla Brook

By June our brook's run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)—
Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed,
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent
Even against the way its waters went.
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat—
A brook to none but who remember long.
This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.

Reading of Frost's "Hyla Brook"

Commentary

This poem is as tricky as "The Road Not Taken." Overlooking the "either/or" construction may cause a misreading of the description.

The Novtet: A Brook Runs Through the Farm

By June our brook's run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)—
Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed,
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent
Even against the way its waters went.

The opening line suggests that the speaker and his family are the proud owners of a brook that runs through their farm. For most of the year as long as rainfall remains sufficient, the brook, which is similar to a creek, flows merrily along.

But during a drought, the brook or creek might dry up completely and only the dry channel bed be visible. The speaker begins by acknowledging the fact that by the summer month of June, the brook seems to be winding down, that is, after the rains of spring have subsided and with the onset of summer, the once fast flowing brook that babbled cheerfully along has slowed and quietened.

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Then later on into mid- and late-summer, either of two situations might occur: (1) The brook may dry up completely, "gone groping underground," in which case all the frogs will also have escaped to wetter grounds, or (2) if the year had not yet produced drought conditions, the brook would have "flourished and come up in jewel-weed."

The speaker notes that "jewel-weed" is easily bent by a breeze, "Even against the way the waters went." Even when a breeze blows in the opposite direction from that which the brook is flowing, the "weak foliage" is "bent," as a result of having proliferated with all of the rainfall.

Sestet: A Creek Dries Up

Its bed is left a faded paper sheet
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat—
A brook to none but who remember long.
This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.

In the sestet, the speaker describes the brook after it has dried up. Its bed has then begun to look like a piece of paper folded and sticking together, caused by the heat.

During a dry spell, the water empties out of the brook and has gone underground as the speaker asserts early in the novtet.

The dried leaves that lie in the dry channel bed "stuck together by the heat" remind the speaker of an empty sheet of paper. The speaker realizes that the brook in this dried out condition would be unrecognizable by anyone who had not seen it in its normal water-flowing state.

In addition to this awareness, the speaker also knows that brooks which make an appearance in many songs and poems never resemble real brooks in those creative forms.

Nevertheless, to this speaker, the love of this particular brook always remains as strong as when it is filled with flowing waters and professes the Hyla frogs and their croaking sounds that remind him of "a ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow."

The speaker then offers a profound observation as he frames it philosophically: "We love the things we love for what they are."

The "Either/Or" Construction: Two Stages of the Brook

The subtle "either/or" position that the speaker places in his descriptive tribute to his beloved brook may be missed on a cursory reading, and then the interpretation of the poem would result in describing only a "dry" brook. But clearly, the speaker offers two situations for the brook.

In line 3, the speaker begins the first with the term "either" and then he says a word about the dried up brook, but then in line 7, he adds the second situation, "or," then describes what happens when the season has not been dry. By picking up and continuing the description of the dry brook in the sestet, the speaker is being a bit sly, and the result is another tricky poem.

Commemorative Stamp

Commemorative Stamp

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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