Love and a Question

Love and a Question is a narrative poem about a predicament that a man faces after a stranger approaches him in need of shelter. The poem is thematically focused on love and its different forms.

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Table of contents
    Written in1915
    Written byRobert Frost
    Form/StyleNarrative poem
    Rhyme schemeABCBDEFE
    Poetic devicesMetaphor, imagery
    Frequently noted imageryNature, winter, night
    ToneUncertainty, contemplative
    Key themesDesire, love, compassion
    MeaningA bridegroom is faced with a dilemma as he has to choose between offering shelter to a stranger or spending the night alone with his wife. The man questions different types of love and discovers his own interests.

    The context of ‘Love and a Question

    Love and a Question, a close-up image of Robert Frost, StudySmarterFig. 1 - A portrait of Robert Frost.

    Robert Lee Frost (18741963) was an American poet whose work explored a wide range of topics such as rural life, social issues, and philosophy. His poem Love and a Question’, which features elements of romanticism, has love as its central theme. Although Frost never ascribed to any poetic movement, his poetry was influenced by romantic poets, such as John Keats and Thomas Hardy.

    A key source of the imagery in the poem is nature, as Frost paints the picture of a cold winter evening in an isolated home surrounded by trees. The majority of Frosts poems are set in rural environments, which was likely inspired by Frosts love for nature around his home in rural New England.

    Robert Frost published Love and a Question as part of his first book of poetry, entitled A Boy’s Will (1915). A common recurring theme in the collection is retreating into nature to escape society. Frost later professed that the collection was largely autobiographical and that the poems expressed his sentiments about his life during early adulthood.

    Analysis of ‘Love and a Question

    The poem

    A Stranger came to the door at eve,

    And he spoke the bridegroom fair.

    He bore a green-white stick in his hand,

    And, for all burden, care.

    He asked with the eyes more than the lips

    For a shelter for the night,

    And he turned and looked at the road afar

    Without a window light.

    The bridegroom came forth into the porch

    With, ‘Let us look at the sky,

    And question what of the night to be,

    Stranger, you and I.’

    The woodbine leaves littered the yard,

    The woodbine berries were blue,

    Autumn, yes, winter was in the wind;

    ‘Stranger, I wish I knew.’

    Within, the bride in the dusk alone

    Bent over the open fire,

    Her face rose-red with the glowing coal

    And the thought of the heart’s desire.

    The bridegroom looked at the weary road,

    Yet saw but her within,

    And wished her heart in a case of gold

    And pinned with a silver pin.

    The bridegroom thought it little to give

    A dole of bread, a purse,

    A heartfelt prayer for the poor of God,

    Or for the rich a curse;

    But whether or not a man was asked

    To mar the love of two

    By harboring woe in the bridal house,

    The bridegroom wished he knew.

    Summary of Love and a Question

    The poem starts when a young bridegroom and his bride are greeted by an unnamed stranger in their country house. The young man didn’t expect any visitors but engaged with him nonetheless. We then discover that the stranger is in search of shelter on the cold winter night. The location is rather isolated, and there isn’t any sign of other people.

    The man is faced with a dilemma: should he offer shelter to the stranger and deny himself a night alone with his wife, or is he to deny the stranger and leave him alone in the frosty night?

    The man ultimately decides to give the stranger some bread and money, and he offers his prayers as he sends him on his way. He thus settles somewhere in the middle, neither flat out rejecting the stranger’s plea nor offering him shelter in his home. The poem ends with an uncertain tone, as the man contemplates his decision and whether he did the right thing.

    The form of Love and a Question

    Frost has written Love and a Question with four stanzas made up of eight lines each.

    The poem has a consistent rhyme scheme, following the pattern ABCBDEFE. This rhyming method makes the poem flow naturally, giving it a predictable rhythm.

    The meter of the poem is much less consistent since it changes in its different stanzas. This follows the uncertain tone that is characteristic of the poem.

    Section analysis of Love and a Question

    Stanza One

    In the first stanza, we are introduced to the stranger as he approaches the home of the newly married couple in search of shelter from the winter night. We discover that the stranger is empty-handed as the only thing he is carrying is his care. The stranger can be imagined to have a look of desperation since the man can tell that he wants ‘shelter for the night’ with a simple glance at his face.

    Stanza Two

    The following stanza develops that narrative as the bridegroom steps out ‘into the porch’ to converse with the stranger. The bridegroom draws his attention to the sky and the trees around his house as he ruminates on ‘what of the night to be’.

    The fallen leaves and berries around the house, alongside the fact that ‘winter was in the wind’, evoke a cold and barren atmosphere. The stanza ends as the bridegroom proclaims his desire to know what the night will bring.

    Stanza Three

    At the start of the third stanza, the narrative shifts towards the bride, who is attending to the open fire’ in the living room. The setting of the warm and cosy cottage reveals the ideal sanctuary from the cold night that’s described in the previous stanza. The passion between the bridegroom and ‘rose-red’ faced wife is revealed when the man stares into the ‘weary road’ but only sees his wife ‘within’.

    The husband realises that he doesn’t want a stranger to come between him and his precious wife. His love for her exceeds any remorse he may have for the stranger.

    Stanza Four

    In the final stanza, the bridegroom makes his mind up to deny the stranger shelter in his home. He does, however, offer him ‘A dole of bread, a purse’ and a ‘heartfelt prayer’. After contemplating his wife inside the house, he realised that his love for her was stronger than any compassion he held for the stranger.

    The poem concludes with the bridegroom worrying about his choice and if he was moral in his actions or not. He didn’t want to ‘mar the love’ between him and his wife by letting the stranger in. He considers whether letting the stranger in would have brought a woeful atmosphere into his home. In the final line, the man reiterates his desire to know the answers to the difficult moral questions he has been facing.

    The imagery of Love and a Question

    A trademark of Frost’s poetry is his vivid descriptions of nature, and Love and a Question is no exception to this. The poem is set in an isolated house situated in a remote area of the countryside, far from any civilisation.

    Frost describes the harsh winter and the desolate atmosphere outside the cabin. There isn’t a window light in sight, which doesn’t give the traveller much hope. Frost’s description of the ‘blue berries’ reflects the sorrowful situation that the stranger is in.

    Frost then describes the contrasting image of the home that’s warmed by an 'open fire’ with ‘glowing coal’.

    Metaphors employed in Love and a Question

    Robert Frost cleverly uses metaphors in Love and a Question to create depth and richness in the poem.

    In the second stanza, Frost mentions that the berries were blue’ outside the house. The choice of the colour blue is perhaps a metaphor for the melancholy that the stranger feels, being alone and stranded on a chilly winter night.

    The description of the house is highlighted with the ‘open fire’ that to which the bride is attending. If the home is where the heart is, then it could be said that the fire represents the passionate love within the heart of the bridegroom. In the end, the bridegroom’s heart only has space for his beloved; there is no room for the stranger.

    The speakers and characters of Love and a Question

    The poem is predominantly narrated by an unknown speaker, but there are also several sections where the bridegroom expresses his thoughts. As a reader, we get the feeling that we are observing this interaction as we find out about the three central characters.

    An important feature of the poem is that Frost doesn’t give names to the three main characters, referring to them instead through the value of their relationships rather than as individuals. Frost emphasises the importance of the couple's marriage by using the titles ‘bride’ and ‘bridegroom’. The identity of the man looking for shelter remains obscure; we only know him as the ‘stranger’.

    The themes of Love and a Question'

    The central theme of the poem is love, and especially the different types of love that we are capable of feeling. The first type on which the poem touches is the compassionate love that exists between all of humanity. Although the man seeking shelter is merely a stranger to the bridegroom, the latter still feels obligated to help him by offering money and food. The bridegroom is empathetic towards the stranger. Yet, despite helping him, he still feels guilt over not providing the man shelter in his home.

    The other form of love that appears in the poem is the romantic and intimate love between the husband and his wife. It’s obvious that the bridegroom loves his wife above all else in the world. The line ‘wished her heart in a case of gold’ clearly conveys this sentiment. The bridegroom’s protectiveness is part of this love. He senses potential danger the stranger might be a thief or a murderer if he were to provide shelter to the stranger.

    The poem ends with the bridegroom questioning his actions. Should he have been more open with his love by offering shelter to the stranger, or did he make the right choice by keeping his bride safe?

    Love and a Question - Key takeaways

    • Robert Frost published Love and a Question as part of his first book of poetry, entitled A Boy’s Will (1915). A common recurring theme in the collection is retreating into nature and away from society.
    • The central theme of Love and a Question is love. The poem assesses different types of love, including the compassionate love shared between humans as well as romantic and intimate love.
    • The setting of Love and a Question is an isolated house in the woods. The house is in a remote area of the countryside, far from any civilisation.
    • The imagery of nature and nature-based metaphors are predominant in Love and a Question’.
    • The three characters of Love and a Question’, the bridegroom, the bride, and the stranger, are unnamed.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Love and a Question

    What is the meaning of 'Love and a Question'?

    The meaning of 'Love and a Question' explores the idea of love and compassion, we observe the bridegroom as he is faced with the difficult decision of showing compassion to the stranger or protecting the love for his wife.

    What is the tone of 'Love and a Question'?

    The tone of 'Love and a Question' is of uncertainty and contemplation.

    When was 'Love and a Question' written?

    Robert Frost wrote 'Love and a Question' in 1915.

    What question does Robert Frost ask in the poem 'Love and a Question'?

    The main question that Robert Frost asks in 'Love and a Question' is about the bridegroom’s offering of love and compassion and if he is morally correct in his decision.

    What is 'Love and a Question' by Robert Frost about?

    'Love and a Question' is about the different forms of love that man is capable of holding in his heart and how this love should be expressed to people in our lives.

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    Team English Literature Teachers

    • 11 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
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