The Span of Life – Robert Frost – Analysis

The Span of Life

The old dog barks backward without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.

Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

Anapaestic tetrameter

Scansion –

^ – / – – – / ^ ^ – / ^ ^ –
The old / dog parks back / ward without / getting up.

– / ^ ^ – / ^ ^ – / ^ ^ –
I / can remem / ber when he / was a pup.

Line 1 …
Four accented syllables are bunched together –‘old dog barks back’ making it difficult to read with each syllable having a strong consonant ending. The difficult construction of this line mirrors the difficulty when getting old and responding to life … the end of the span of life … in this case metaphorically stated in terms of a dog who can no longer get up to confront the reason for the bark (bark and back being onomatopoetic). And of course when we get old we look backwards in reflecting on the past. Perhaps the poor dog lamented the fact that he did not sniff out the track less travelled.

Line 2 …
This line is in complete contrast in construction. It is a very fluid easy flow of words. This correspons to the easy mobility of youth. No elaboration is given on the nature of the dog when young. The reader must create imagery based on his or her life experience, and perhaps reflect beyond the literal to his or her own early days.

And of course the span of life is a brief affair.

There is much more behind this two line poem after an initial reading. And like Haiku and Tanka several readings and more thought is necessary.

Robert Frost on Wikipedia

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