The poem, a domestic epic, employs the convention of in medias res. The central issue, the death of a child, has not been addressed by the parents whose lives are in strange suspension. A staircase, where the action of the poem occurs, symbolizes both the ability of husband and wife to come together and the distance between them.

In their first discussion of this traumatic event, readers learn that the child was buried in the yard by the father during the New England winter, while the mother watched from a window in the staircase landing, stunned by her husband's steadfast attendance to the task. His energy and "carelessness" at a time when she was shaken and immobilized by grief was incomprehensible and infuriating. The husband, meanwhile, has grieved in a different way, reconciling the death of his child to fate and the caprices of nature.

When the poem opens, their separate interpretations and feelings finally are expressed, and each is surprised by what the other says. The husband speaks from the bottom of the stairs, she from a step just above the landing. Significantly, they don't come together on the architectural bridge and, when the poem concludes, readers are not assured that this marriage will regain the closeness it might have had prior to the child's death. The highly dramatic poem underscores the impact of loss and the need for communication or discussion of loss by those involved. When no reconciliation occurs, the loss intensifies to become destructive.


The exchange between the couple emphasizes what happens when difficulties strain relationships. Readers often sense a biographical reference, knowing that Frost lost a child and may have experienced a similar shift in relationship with his wife. For medical professionals, the story concerns the internal tensions that may be suppressed in physician visits, the kind of tensions that may need to be addressed if mental and physical wellness are to be restored.


First published: 1914

Primary Source

Selected Poems of Robert Frost


Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Place Published

New York