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Once by the Pacific

At first glance, particularly upon reading the opening couplet of Frost’s lyric poem, one anticipates a gentle pastoral penned by a New Englander in awe of the mighty Pacific Ocean. The soft alliteration of “made a misty din” in the first line as well as the playful nature of the personification in the second line might lead the reader to underestimate the seriousness of the work. The iambic pentameter and AA-BB rhyme scheme reinforce this idea. However, the third and fourth lines serve a warning and plant seeds of doubt. The reader is well aware of what ocean waves can do to the shore. They can tear away great hunks of land, slowly erode or accrete sand, even deposit flotsam from hundreds of miles away. But lines three and four,“And thought of doing something to the shore. Once by the PacificThat water never did to land before”. depict the waves as living creatures, capable of thought and able to carry out a  threat of unspoken proportions. If any doubt remains, it is wiped away by the images in the third couplet. The clouds are “low and hairy” in the skies and look like “locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.” The personification introduced earlier has evolved into something menacing, not unlike the monster Grendel in Beowulf. Nothing is quite as terrifying as the unknown and Frost has given us a sense of foreboding. The reader begins to wonder, “Is this more than a simple storm warning?”

It is possible to read “Once by the Pacific” as a metaphor for life. The relatively serene opening may be compared to the innocence of childhood. But, as fate decrees, the child will be tested by the flames of adversity, the cauldron of life in which his character is forged. Frost’s outlook, however, is not depressingly fatalistic or gloomy. With the stoicism of the rugged New Englander, the warning issued in the last couplet, ‘There would be more than ocean-water broken Before God’s last Put out the Light was spoken.” gives fair warning of the trials that lay ahead. Forewarned is forearmed and with resourcefulness and fortitude, man can prevail through life’s tribulations.

The attitude of optimism in the face of an uncaring  universe is apparent in other works by Frost. In the poem, “Stars”, a line in the second stanza seems to suggest that the stars, as a force of nature, actually care about man. That line, “As if in keenness for our fate,” evolves into the recognition in the last stanza, “And yet with neither love nor hate,” that they are simply impersonal guardians of the night sky . His words do not reflect a sad resignation to inevitable fate, but the ability of man to persevere and overcome. He does not glorify nature but portrays it in its entirety. He recognizes that beauty walks hand in hand with danger.

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