The Silken Tent by Robert Frost is one of his famous poems. It is a sonnet. The poem attains its appeal from Frost’s use of extended metaphor (elaboration of a single metaphor). Frost has compared Kay Morrison, a woman he loved, to a silken tent.
Several universities include The Silken Tent by Robert Frost in their syllabi. The University of the Punjab has also included this poem in the syllabus for the students of BS English This article, The Silken Tent by Robert Frost – Summary and Critical Analysis will help students understand the poet’s line of thought. It will also assist them in their comprehension of the poem’s theme. This article will provide the reader with quality material for preparing for examinations.
The Poet – Robert Frost
Born on March 26, 1874, in San Fransisco, California, USA, Robert Frost is the most celebrated American poet. He is famous for the uniqueness of his themes. Robert Frost’s realistic delineation of American rural life is exceptional. His use of American colloquial idiom is remarkable. He spent some time in England and his first book of poetry, A Boy’s Will, came out there. He returned to America in 1915. His personal life was full of grief and setbacks. Frost’s father died in 1885. In 1900, his mother passed away. He also faced failure as a farmer. But his poetry remained successful right through his career. He won many prizes for his poetry during his lifetime. Frost received four Pulitzer Prizes, the highest number for any poet. He received the Congressional Gold Medal. In 1961, he became the Poet Laureate of Vermont. Frost died on January 29, 1963.
Text of the poem The Silken Tent by Robert Frost
Background of the Poem The Silken Tent by Robert Frost
The Silken Tent by Robert Frost is about the personality of Kay Morrison. Kay was a married woman who came into his life when he was facing severe circumstances. Robert Frost’s wife, Elinor Frost, died in 1938. His daughter, Lesley, had a row with him which resulted in his alienation from the whole family. The two events combined affected his poetry also. He took to drinking heavily. At this time, Kay entered his life. Robert Frost proposed to her but she refused to marry him. However, she continued to work as his manager. She remained his mistress for a long time and served as an inspiration for many of his poems. The Silken Tent is an example of the same inspiration. In this poem, Robert Frost has employed an extended metaphor to depict Kay Morrison.
Summary of the Poem The Silken Tent by Robert Frost
The Use of the Silken Tent as a Metaphor
The Silken Tent by Robert Frost begins with the poet’s comparison of a woman to a silken tent in a field. This woman is Kay Morrison whom Frost loved. The silken tent here is a metaphor for Kay. In the rest of the poem, Frost elaborates on similarities between the qualities of the tent and the character of Kay Morrison.
The Behaviour of the Silken Tent in Midday Breeze
When the ‘sunny summer breeze’ moves over the field in the noon, it dries the silken tent of the morning dew. It means that when a woman reaches the middle years of her age, she has experienced the positive and negative aspects of life. Now, she is ready to face the winds of the time, which means that she is ready to enter the practical world.
The Role of the Ropes
When the sun and the breeze dry the silken tent, the ropes attached to the silken tent become supple. These ropes are the relations a woman has. The silken tent sways easily with the wind. It means that the woman continues to tackle one relation and the other. The ropes seem to hold the silken tent and keep it steady. But it is not so. The ropes may also be the marital responsibilities of a woman. The woman has to meet all of them rigorously. At times, when she pays more attention to one responsibility, the others put pressure on her.
The Role of the Central Cedar Pole
It is not the ropes that keep the silken tent steady, but the ‘central cedar pole’ actually supports it. This pole signifies the strong character and pure soul of the tent, Kay Morrison in this case. The silken tent does not rely on any of the cords that bind it to the earth. Its stability depends upon the central pole which shows her upright character. It enables the silk tent to hold its relation with the binding ropes affectionately swaying from one to the other.
How Does the Tent Maintain its Relation to the Ropes?
When the silken tent bends more to a rope, the other ropes become taut. Similarly, when a woman gives more importance to one relationship, the other relations feel neglected and taut. Frost says that the silken tent stands strong in ever-changing air and is aware of all the ropes attached to it.
Major Themes of the Poem The Silken Tent by Robert Frost
Although The Silken Tent by Robert Frost is about a single character, it deals with various themes. It is the poet’s mastery and command of depiction that he creates a masterpiece with intertwined themes.
The Silken Tent by Robert Frost is an expression of the poet’s love for Kay Morrison. She was a married woman who came into Frost’s life when he was emotionally shattered. She gave him hope to live and an inspiration to write. The metaphor of the silken tent which Frost uses for Kay shows that he admires her physical charms. While elaborating on this metaphor, Frost’s referring to the cedar pole expresses his admiration for Kay’s strong character and pure soul. It reflects Frost’s love, admiration, and appreciation of Kay Morrison.
Strength of Character
Although the silken tent keeps swaying with the breeze, its central cedar pole helps it maintain its form. Symbolically, this pole is the character of the woman. Frost believes that the silken tent, despite swaying with the breeze, remains loyal to the ropes. He appreciates Kay Morrison’s strength of character. Despite her marital responsibilities, she does not neglect the poet, her lover. Frost attributes it to the strength of her character.
Responsibility and Commitment
The ropes attached to the silken tent are the relations of the woman. Any relationship a person makes imposes a responsibility of maintaining it. The silken tent, swaying with the breeze, may show an inclination to a particular rope, but it does not break with other ropes in the process. In the same way, Kay Morrison had matrimonial commitments, but she never neglected her responsibility of consoling the poet. The poet admires Kay Morrison for this quality. She knew how to meet her responsibility and commitment.
Analysis of the Poem The Silken Tent by Robert Frost
Kay Morrison as the Silken Tent
In his poem, The Silken Tent, Robert Frost employed extended metaphor to describe his beloved Kay Morrison.
A metaphor is a poetic device. The poets use it to describe a person, or an object, as being the same as another. The comparison thus derived may be person to person or person to object. It is notable that the person or the object being compared through metaphor as the same are otherwise unrelated.
When a poet or an author elaborates the metaphor in multiple lines, stanzas, or passages, we call it an extended metaphor.
In The Silken Tent by Robert frost, we find that the poet refers to his beloved, Kay Morrison, metaphorically as ‘a silken tent’. In the rest of the lines, the poet keeps explaining why he refers to Kay Morrison as ‘a silken tent’.
To justify his use of the silken tent as a metaphor for Kay Morrison, Robert Frost resorts to symbolism. He uses symbols extensively in this poem.
The Silken Tent
The word ‘silken’ symbolically refers to the delicacy, beauty, and attractiveness of the woman. Frost appreciates Kay Morrison’s physical charms. The silken tent as a symbol also shows how intimate their relationship would have been.
The ropes attached to the silken tent stand for the relations and responsibilities of Kay Morrison. When ‘the sunny summer breeze’ blows, the silken tent sways from one side to the other. It highlights Kay Morrison’s attitude to her responsibilities. At one time she pays attention to one of her responsibilities, and the others are taut. It seems that they are the binding force of the silken tent. But the poet opines that it is not a fact. She does not rely on the ropes for her stability.
The Central Cedar Pole
The central cedar pole symbolizes the real strength of the silken tent. It shows that its strength is not the ropes outside. Instead, it is inside the silken tent in the form of this pole. The pole enables the silken tent to maintain its position despite the blowing breeze. Its erectness reflects ‘the sureness of the soul’. It is Kay Morrison’s strong character and purity of soul that she meets the demands of her relations and responsibilities.
The Capriciousness of Summer Air
This reference to ‘the capriciousness of summer air’ is reflective of the lightness of Kay Morrison’s character. It shows that she has a playful nature and likes to indulge in feminine pranks. Also, it may be a reference to various chances she has of making new relations. But she remains aware of the relations she already has.
Awareness of Bondage
This bondage is the relations and responsibilities of Kay Morrison. Frost appreciates her awareness of all the relations and responsibilities. He admires her spirit in meeting all the requirements of all her relations. She fulfils her marital commitments as well as her responsibilities outside this commitment.
Structure and Form of the Poem The Silken Tent by Robert Frost
The Silken Tent by Robert Frost is a sonnet that consists of fourteen lines. It follows the rhyme scheme: abab, cdcd efef gg.
The Silken Tent by Robert Frost is an expression of his admiration for Kay Morrison’s character and personality. It is an apt tribute from a lover to his beloved. The poem is evidence of the fact that Robert Frost was so intimate with Kay Morrison that he could delineate her in his verses. It also shows how much Frost valued his relationship with Kay Morrison.
Here is a very good article on the poem, On His Blindness by John Milton.