The little old house was out with a little new shed

In front at the edge of the road where the traffic sped,

A roadside stand that too pathetically pled,

It would not be fair to say for a dole of bread,

But for some of the money, the cash, whose flow supports

The flower of cities from sinking and withering faint.

 The poem presents an old house where a peasant family probably lives. The peasant has put up a new shed beside the road. The shed has been personified (personification) to plead. The poet, however, stresses that it does not plead for bread or the basic amenities of life i.e. the peasant has not set up the shed as a means of living but rather as a source of additional income apart from his trade. The peasants who live in the countryside yearn for some city money. Note that there is no difference between the money in the countryside and money in the cities – the only difference being their usage. While money in the countryside was fit only for a hand-to mouth lifestyle, the city money, in excess, could bring in luxurious benefits. In the poem, Frost artfully describes the city money as the incentive for the growth and upkeep of the city’s flowers and beauty.

The polished traffic passed with a mind ahead,

Or if ever aside a moment, then out of sorts

At having the landscape marred with the artless paint

Of signs that with N turned wrong and S turned wrong

Offered for sale wild berries in wooden quarts,

Or crook-necked golden squash with silver warts,

Or beauty rest in a beautiful mountain scene,

The polished traffic is the skillful use of a transferred epithet in the depiction of the urban city-dwellers who passed through the countryside with their minds preoccupied in their profession and the related.  The poet states that in their preoccupation, if ever aside remained a moment, they spent it on scrutinizing and judging the destitution of their surroundings. They appear mad at having the beauty of the landscape marred by the presence of the shed and other rustic signs. The poet goes on to mention a few of the produce being sold at the shed.

You have the money, but if you want to be mean,

Why keep your money (this crossly) and go along.

The hurt to the scenery wouldn’t be my complaint

So much as the trusting sorrow of what is unsaid:

Here far from the city we make our roadside stand

And ask for some city money to feel in hand

To try if it will not make our being expand,

And give us the life of the moving-pictures’ promise

That the party in power is said to be keeping from us.

The paragraph is a Dramatic Monologue by the peasant in charge of the shed. The peasant agrees that money indeed belongs to the city dwellers, however, if they were interested in imparting biased judgment and other uninvited observations, they could keep their money to themselves and move along. Their complaint on the marred scenery does not hurt the peasants as much as the sorrow that is left unsaid. ‘Trusting Sorrow’ is a metaphor and refers to the fact that the peasants set up the shed in the hopes (‘trusting’) of attracting city folk to buy their produce, thus providing the additional income to enjoy the luxuries of life. However, they are disappointed (‘sorrow’) in the fact that no one is interested in their sales, but rather on the elimination of the shed that mars the landscape. Once again, the poet stresses on the fact that the peasants do not want the money as the lone source of income but as an additional allowance that will provide them with the lifestyle depicted in the movies. ‘City Money’ is used by the poet as it differs from country money in usage but shares the same source. Using light satire, Frost admonishes the political party in power for keeping the farmers from enjoying an equal lifestyle like the city-dwellers.

It is in the news that all these pitiful kin

Are to be bought out and mercifully gathered in

To live in villages, next to the theatre and the store,

Where they won’t have to think for themselves anymore,

While greedy good-doers, beneficent beasts of prey,

Swarm over their lives enforcing benefits

That are calculated to soothe them out of their wits,

And by teaching them how to sleep they sleep all day,

Destroy their sleeping at night the ancient way.

Farmers tend to live in rustic areas due to the presence of farmlands. The idea behind the paragraph is that real-estate brokers force farmers from the villages into towns promising them riches and benefits. The farmers will indeed be rich for a while after which they will be left scoundrels ultimately resulting in the benefit of the brokers. ‘Greedy good-doers’ and ‘beneficent beasts of prey’ are both oxymoron (and great use of alliteration). They stand for the estate brokers who try to make the farmers leave the land by promising the farmers benefits that make them complacent, so the farmers will not have to think for themselves any longer as they will no longer be in want. Now sluggish, the farmers have learnt to sleep all the day thereby losing their sleep at night. ‘The ancient way’ spoken of over here simply refers to the lifestyle wherein one works and toils during the day, coming home tired in the evening and thereby taking a well-deserved good night’s rest.

Sometimes I feel myself I can hardly bear

The thought of so much childish longing in vain,

The sadness that lurks near the open window there,

That waits all day in almost open prayer

For the squeal of brakes, the sound of a stopping car,

Of all the thousand selfish cars that pass,

Just one to inquire what a farmer’s prices are.

And one did stop, but only to plow up grass

In using the yard to back and turn around;

And another to ask the way to where it was bound;

Using the terms ‘childish longing’ the poet skillfully demonstrates how the wish for a customer becomes almost an obsession with these peasants. However, it still is in vain. Sadness here has been personified again, as lurking near the open window, almost praying for a city-dweller stop by the shed and at least inquire on farmer’s prices, let alone purchase anything! Citing an example, Frost says that a car indeed stopped by, but it had nothing to do with the shed. It merely revved up its engine, plowing up grass in order to turn around. Yet another car did stop, but only to ask for directions. ‘Selfish cars’ is yet another skillful use of a transferred epithet.

And another to ask could they sell it a gallon of gas

They couldn’t (this crossly); they had none, didn’t it see?

Another car stopped by to ask for a gallon of gas. Now enraged at the thoughtlessness of the city-folk, the peasant rebukes the driver, “No, we don’t sell gas! We sell produce – Don’t you see??”

No, in country money, the country scale of gain,

The requisite lift of spirit has never been found,

Or so the voice of the country seems to complain,

I can’t help owning the great relief it would be

To put these people at one stroke out of their pain.

And then next day as I come back to sane,

I wonder how I should like you to come to me

And offer to put me gently out of my pain.

Once again the poet wishes to draw a fine line between the city money and country money. The country scale of gain is different from that of the city’s as its standards are much lower. Due to these low standards, the country scale of gain cannot provide the happiness (lift of spirit) as they earn just enough to meet their daily needs. This urges the poet to wish that he could put the farmers out of their pain at one stroke. This somehow inspires readers to do so too by augmenting guilt. This poem is a rage that the poet feels wherein he himself empathizes with the peasant farmer. However, he also wonders for the future wondering how he would respond if someone else comes up to him and offers to put him out of his pain at one stroke, tomorrow, once he has steadied himself back to sane. By this, he wonders about the efficiency of such kind of a solution as the farmers may not accept such immediate relief from their problems.

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9 thoughts on “Robert Frost’s A Roadside Stand – finally makes sense!

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