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Robert Frost's "Hyla Brook"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Robert Frost

Introduction and Text of "Hyla Brook"

Robert Frost's "Hyla Brook" consists of fifteen lines with the rime scheme, ABBACCADDEEFGF. Frost was a master writer of "tricky poems"; he claimed that "The Road Not Taken" was a tricky poem, but many of his others are just as tricky, including "Hyla Brook." This poem resembles a Petrarchan sonnet but instead of an octave, it has a nonave (also called novelinee) that sets up the situation, while the sestet complements it.

(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"


This poem is as tricky as "The Road Not Taken."

The Nonave: A Brook Runs Through the Farm

The opening line suggests that the speaker and his family are the proud owners of a brook that runs through their farm. The brook, which is similar to a creek, for most of the year when rainfall is sufficient flows merrily along. But during a drought, a brook or creek might dry up completely and only the dry channel bed be visible. The speaker begins by acknowledging the fact that, "By June our brook's run out of song and speed."

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. 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 would 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 flows, the "weak foliage" is "bent," as a result of having proliferated with all of the rainfall.

Sestet: A Creek Dries Up

In the sestet, the speaker describes the brook after it has dried up. Its bed has then "left a faded paper sheet / Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat." During a dry spell, the water empties out of the brook, gone underground as the speaker asserts early in the nonave. 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 to anyone who had not seen it in its normal water-flowing state.

The speaker in addition 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."

Two Stages of the Either/Or Brook

Readers sometimes miss the subtle "either/or" position that the speaker places in his descriptive tribute to his beloved brook and interpret the poem as 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.

Robert Frost - Commemorative Stamp

Life Sketch of Robert Frost

Robert Frost's father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist, living in San Fransisco, California, when Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874; Robert's mother, Isabelle, was an immigrant from Scotland. The young Frost spent eleven years of his childhood in San Fransisco. After his father died of tuberculosis, Robert's mother moved the family, including his sister, Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they lived with Robert's paternal grandparents.

Robert graduated in 1892 from Lawrence High School, where he and his future wife, Elinor White, served as co-valedictorians. Robert then made his first attempt to attend college at Dartmouth College; after only a few months, he returned to Lawrence and began working a series of part-time jobs.

Marriage and Children

Elinor White, who was Robert's high school sweetheart, was attending St. Lawrence University when Robert proposed to her. She turned him down because she wanted to finish college before marrying. Robert then relocated to Virginia, and then after returning to Lawrence, he again proposed to Elinor, who had now completed her college education.

The two married on December 19, 1895. The couple produced six children: (1) Their son, Eliot, was born in 1896 but died in 1900 of cholera. (2) Their daughter, Lesley, lived from 1899 to 1983. (3 ) Their son, Carol, born in in 1902 but committed suicide in 1940. (4 ) Their daughter, Irma, 1903 to 1967, battled schizophrenia for which she was confined in a mental hospital. (5 ) Daughter, Marjorie, born 1905 died of puerperal fever after giving birth. (6) Their sixth child, Elinor Bettina, who was born in 1907, died one day after her birth. Only Lesley and Irma survived their father. Mrs. Frost suffered heart issues for most of her life. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1937 but the following year died of heart failure.

Farming and Writing

Robert then made another attempt to attend college; in 1897, he enrolled in Harvard University, but because of health issues, he had to leave school again. Robert rejoined his wife in Lawrence, and their second child Lesley was born in 1899 . The family then moved to a New Hampshire farm that Robert's grandparents had acquired for him. Thus, Robert's farming phase commenced as he attempted to farm the land and continue his writing. The couple's farming endeavors continued to result in unsuccessful attempts. Frost became well adjusted to rustic life, despite his miserable failure as a farmer.

Frost’s first poem to appear in print, “My Butterfly," had been published on November 8, 1894, in The Independent, a New York newspaper. The next twelve years proved a difficult time in Frost's personal life, but a fertile one for his writing. Frost's writing life took off in a splendid fashion, and the rural influence on his poems would later set the tone and style for all of his works. However, despite the success of his individual published poems, such "The Tuft of Flowers" and "The Trial by Existence," he could not find a publisher for his collections of poems.

Relocation to England

It was because of his failure to find a publisher for his collections of poems that Frost sold the New Hampshire farm and moved his family to England in 1912. This moved proved to be life-line for the young poet. At age 38, he secured a publisher in England for his collection, A Boy's Will, and soon after North of Boston.

In addition to finding a publisher for his two books, Frost became acquainted with Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, two important poets of the day. Both Pound and Thomas reviewed Frost's two book favorably, and thus Frost's career as a poet moved forward.

Frost's friendship with Edward Thomas was especially important, and Frost has remarked that the long walks taken by the two poet/friends had influenced his writing in a marvelously positive manner. Frost has credited Thomas for his most famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," which was sparked by Thomas' attitude regarding not being able to take two different paths on their long walks.

Returning to America

After World War 1 broke out in Europe, the Frosts set sail back to the United States. The brief sojourn in England had had useful consequences for the poet's reputation, even back in his native country. American Publisher, Henry Holt, picked up Frost's earlier books, and then come out with his third, Mountain Interval, a collection that had been written while Frost was still residing in England.

Frost was treated to the delicious situation of having the same journals, such as The Atlantic, soliciting his work, even though they had rejected that same work a couple of years earlier.

The Frosts once again became owners of a farm located in Franconia, New Hampshire, which they purchased in 1915. The end of their traveling days were over, and Frost continued his writing career, as he taught intermittently at a number of colleges, including Dartmouth, University of Michigan, and particularly Amherst College, where he taught regularly from 1916 until 1938. Amherst's main library is now the Robert Frost Library, honoring the long-time educator and poet. He also spent most summers teaching English at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Frost never completed a college degree, but over his entire lifetime, the revered poet accumulated more than forty honorary degrees. He also won the Pulitzer Prize four times for his books, New Hampshire, Collected Poems, A Further Range, and A Witness Tree.

Frost considered himself a "lone wolf" in the world of poetry because he did not follow any literary movements. His only influence was the human condition in a world of duality. He did not pretend to explain that condition; he only sought to create little dramas to reveal the nature of the emotional life of a human being.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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