Saturday, October 26, 2013

Explication of "Gathering Leaves" by Robert Frost

Gathering Leaves
Spades take up leaves 1
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise 5
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace, 10
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed, 15
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color. 20

Next to nothing for use.
But crop is a crop,
And who’s to say where
The harvest shall stop?

Robert Frost describes the process of gathering leaves as a part of the harvest which gives him no gratification. The poem takes us through the time consuming process of gathering leaves. At the end of the poem, the speaker is left with nothing but a shed full of dull, weightless leaves. Yet, the speaker knows that gathering leaves is essential for the harvest.

The speaker starts off the poem by saying that it is a difficult process to gather leaves: Spades take up leaves no better than spoons, And the bags full of leaves Are light as balloons” (1-4). The spades used for gathering leaves are inefficient if they take up leaves as well as spoons. Also, the bags full of leaves weight nothing, yet it took a long process of using inefficient tools to get the leaves in the bags. Thus, even though the speaker spent precious time gathering leaves, he only has a weightless bag to show for it.

In addition to having no product to show the work done, the leaves are extremely uncooperative. The speaker says, “But the mountains I raise Elude my embrace, Flowing over my arms And into my face” (8-12). Frost personifies the leaves here. He says they avoid his embrace and care and instead they fight back, making the job of gathering leaves even harder. Frost uses interesting diction here when he refers to the leaves as “mountains” when he previously described the leaves as weightless. Although the leaves are weightless in measured weight, they feel heavy when they are gathered because they do not stay in the bag.

The stanza relates to the emotion that King Lear shares with his daughters Goneril and Regan. Lear raises his daughters with care and gives them everything they ask for, yet they show absolutely no gratitude. Instead, they intend to take away the little power he has left. This relates to the leave because the speaker does so much work harvesting the leaves, but they fight back and are unyielding.

Furthermore to the leaves being uncooperative, the end of this process does not leave the speaker with some sense of accomplishment or happiness. He is left with “nothing for weight” and “nothing for color”. Gathering the leaves gives him nothing. This related to the emotion in King Lear. Lear gives his heart and soul to his daughters and they return this kindness to him with greed. Lear gets no gratification or help.


The last stanza exemplifies the overall theme well. The speaker describes the leaves as “Next to nothing for use. But a crop is a crop, And who’s to say where The harvest shall stop?” (21-24). The leaves are useless once they are brought into the shed. Yet, the speaker must continue this necessary process. He says a “crop is a crop” so it must be gathered. There is no escaping the process of gathering leaves. The speaker wishes the harvest and task of gathering leaves would stop, but he knows that is a mere dream. This relates to the emotion in King Lear of growing older. Lear wishes his aging would stop, but it is inevitable and part of the circle of life. Gathering leaves is an inevitable and ungratifying , but there is no escaping it. 

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