Least Tern > English Class > Poetry in High School > Middle School Poetry Study

Robert Frost

A Guide for Teachers
with selected web resources and reading questions for five poems

from John McIlvain

Bookmarks ~ Spring Pools ~ The Oven Bird
Hyla Brook ~ Once By the Pacific ~ Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Using Inspiration to help students with analysis: Design (sample map)



Robert Frost - The Academy of American Poets - A good biography with some poems.
The Robert Frost Web Site - Includes biography, interviews and recordings.
Amherst Common Interactive Tour Robert Frost Site- includes links to other sites and some interesting material.
Frost, Robert. Bartleby.com - e-texts of early poems (All material from A Boy’s Will, North of Boston, Mountain Interval, and Miscellaneous Poems to 1920 )
Frost poems can also be found in abundance at http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/robertfrost/hylabrook.shtml , a site which includes a message board for comments.

Frost is an excellent poet to read when you want students to try to achieve a perspective that is probably different from their own. Frost’s sensibility is uniquely his own and one that can only be can only be discovered through careful reading. “Spring Pools” celebrates a moment at the end of winter and a common misinterpretation of the poem stems from a kind of disbelief that the poet could be asking for a stay of summer. Similarly, it is not easy to understand in “Oven Brid” the paradox of the bird who “knows in singing not to sing.” In “Hyla Brook” Frost “loves the thing” for what it is – “far than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.” And in “Once by the Pacific”, the poet finds the scene far from pacific, but seems energized by the thought of the oncoming storm. The better known “Stopping by the Woods” asks us all to pause before “the lovely, dark, and deep” before we move on.

The poems are all rich in both imagery and sound, and Frost’s mastery of technique is not difficult to perceive.

Because Frost generally uses a straightforward vocabulary and because the concepts underlying the poems are not difficult to understand, he rewards readers of any age. The poems with reading question which follow could be part of any Middle or High School poetry curriculum. The virtue of reading a number of Frost poems is that once students learn to read Frost’s words carefully, they become more open to what he has written and become more successful at understanding and appreciating the poems themselves.

Each of these poems is short and can be read and discussed in one class. If the questions are given to students to answer on their own, something I recommend as either a “practice” test or a “homework assignment," each poem will take the diligent student approximately a half hour to complete. The questions, especially the multiple choice questions, are designed to focus on keys to understanding the poem as a whole.

In general, I expect students going into the unit to know the following poetic terms: rhyme; rhyme scheme; alliteration; rhythm/meter (this can be hard and the focus is on iambic which is Frost’s rhythm of choice); paradox; irony; metaphor; simile; personification. In reading these poems it is helpful also to know chiasmus, which Frost uses frequently.

Note: the most complete source of terms on the internets appears to be:the Glossary of Terms at the University of Toronto site - http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poetterm.html


Spring Pools - These questions in .pdf format

Spring Pools
These pools that, though,in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods -
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

Put the rhyme scheme to the right of the lines.

1. Indicate the rhythm of any two consecutive lines of the poem by indicating which syllables in the line are stressed - place stress marks (') over the words in the lines.
2. Give an example from this poem of personification.
3. What time of year is it?
4. What is the poet asking the trees to do?
5. Why is the poet asking this?
6. Do you think that the trees will listen to the poet? Why?
7. Does the poet enjoy the time of year he’s writing about? What is the basis for your answer?
8. What makes it possible for the pools to reflect the sky though they are in the woods?
9. What does the poet think will happen to the pools?
10. What is the relationship between the trees and the pools?
11. There are lots of examples of repetition in this poem. Why do you think the poet used this technique? What example of repetition do you think is the most interesting and why?
12. Frost is a famous poet and much of his most famous poetry is about nature. What do you think the poet’s attitude towards nature is in this poem? Are there aspects of nature that he seems to like more than others? If so, what aspects does he like? What aspects does he not like?

The Oven Bird - These questions in .pdf format

There is a singer everyone has heard, ___
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird, ___
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again. ___
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers ___
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten. ___ (5)
He says the early petal fall is past ___
Where pear and cherry bloom went down in showers ___
On sunny days a moment overcast; ___
And comes that other fall we name the fall. ___
He says the highway dust is over all. ___ (10)
The bird would cease and be as other birds ___
But* that he knows in singing not to sing. ___
The question that he frames in all but words ___
Is what to make of a diminished thing. ___

*But : except
diminished : made smaller

In trying to understand this poem, it is important to see the sentences as sentences and not just stop at the end of a line.
It is also important to realize that the poem contains an important paradox (apparent contradiction). The poem was written by the same poet who wrote “Fire and Ice”, so remember he does not always see thing the way you might see them.

1. Write the rhyme scheme in the spaces to the right of the poem
2. Give an example of personification.
3. Give an example of alliteration.
4. ____It is most likely a) March; b) May; c) August; d) October.
5. ____Line five suggests:

a) there are ten times as many flowers in summer as in spring.
b) there are ten flowers in the summer and only one in spring.
c) there are ten times as many flowers in spring as in summer.
d) there are ten flowers in spring but only one in summer.
e) none of the above.

6. ____The “early petal fall” probably took place in: a) late winter; b) late spring; c) late summer; d) autumn.
7. According to the poet, what was the weather like during the“early petal fall.”
(Give the word or words that lead you to think this.)
8. What caused the “showers” (line seven)?
9. What word in the poem is used as a pun? (explain the pun)
10. Who says “the highway dust is over all."
11. Try to explain the following paradox: “The bird would cease and be as other birds/ But that he knows in singing not to sing.”
12. What is the diminished thing? (line 14)

Hyla Brook - These questions in .pdf format

By June our brook’s run out of song and speed. ____
Sought for much after that, it will be found ____
Either to have gone groping underground ____
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed ____
That shouted in the mist a month ago, ____
Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)- ____
Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed, ____
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent ____
Even against the way its waters went. ____
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet ____
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat- ____
A brook to none but who remember long. ____
This as it will be seen is other far ____
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song. ____
We love the things we love for what they are. ____


  1. Hyla brook: a stream near where Frost lived; Hyla is also a name for a species of frog.
  2. sought for: looked for, searched for
  3. groping: tunneling.
  4. Breed: group; offspring.
  5. flourished: prospering, doing very well.
  6. jewel weed: large weed
  7. foliage: leafy part of a plant
  8. but who: except those who


1. Indicate the rhyme scheme beside the poem.
2. Give an example of personification.
3. Give an example of a metaphor that is not personification.
4. Give an example of a simile.
5. What time of year is it according to the poem’s beginning?
6. ____The water in the stream:

a) is now overflowing its banks.
b) is much like it was earlier in the year.
c) seems to have disappeared.
d) has been polluted.

7. The Hyla breed is probably a reference to frogs. When were they “shouting”?
8. What did they seem to replace? (hint: think simile)
9. What replaces them? How can the jewel weed be bent “even against the way the water came”?
10. ____The description of the brook as it is now makes it seem:

a) beautiful.
b) colorful.
c) neither beautiful, nor colorful.
d) both beautiful and colorful.

11. ____ “A brook to none but who remember long” suggests that:

a) most people would not even think this was a brook.
b) it has not been a brook for many years.
c) you need special glasses to think it is a brook.
d) people should go to school to improve their memories.

“This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.”

12. These lines suggest suggest that this poem (song) is about a different kind of brook than most people write songs about. In what way would this brook be untypical of brooks that inspired others to write about them?
13. “We love the things we love for what they are.” Rephrase this line in your own words so that it is clear that you understand its meaning.

Once by the Pacific - These questions in .pdf format

The shattered water made a misty din. ____
Great waves looked over others coming in, ____
And thought of doing something to the shore ____
That water never did to land before. ____
The clouds were low and hairy in the skies, ____
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes. ____
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if ____
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff, ____
The cliff in being backed by continent; ____
It looked as if a night of dark intent ____
Was coming, and not only a night, an age. ____
Someone had better be prepared for rage. ____
There would be more than ocean-water broken ____
Before God's last Put out the Light was spoken. ____

1. Give the rhyme scheme.
2. Circle any words you think help create the mood of the poem.
3. Give an example of personification. ____________________________________
4. Give an example of simile.
5. What time of day is it?
6. ____. The weather seems: a) beautiful, b) cold, c) hot, d) stormy.
7. ____. The clouds seem to be: a) beautiful, b) fluffy, c) scary, d) there are no clouds. e) high in the sky.
8. ____. Which of the following events seems most likely to be about to happen:

a) an earthquake,
b) a hurricane,
c) a snow flurry,
d) perfect weather.

9. Pacific means peaceful. Why is this ironic?
10. Why does the poet say the shore is “lucky” in being backed by a cliff, the cliff lucky in being backed by a continent?
11. ____. “Was coming, and not only a night, an age.” These words suggest that the night will:

a) be an average night,
b) last a long time,
c) moonlit,
d) last a short time,
e) none of the above.

12. The word “rage” suggests someone or something is angry. What or who might that someone be?
13. What is the “more” that would be broken in the line “There would be more than ocean-water broken.”
14. What does the last line suggest that the poet thinks might be happening?
15. “Put out the Light” is a famous line from the Shakespeare play “Othello.” Othello speaks these lines just before he kills his wife, who he feels (inaccurately) has betrayed him. He believes that only by killing her can her "innocence” be restored. How might this relate to the poem?

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - These questions in .pdf format

Whose woods these are I think I know. ____
His house is in the village though; ____
He will not see me stopping here ____
To watch his woods fill up with snow. ____

My little horse must think it queer ____
To stop without a farmhouse near ____
Between the woods and frozen lake ____
The darkest evening of the year. ____

He gives his harness bells a shake ____
To ask if there is some mistake. ____
The only other sound's the sweep ____
Of easy wind and downy flake. ____

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. ____
But I have promises to keep, ____
And miles to go before I sleep, ____
And miles to go before I sleep. ____

1. Indicate the rhyme scheme to the right of the poem (this one is slightly tricky).
2. Underline two words that provide an example of alliteration.
3. Write out an example of personification.
4. ______ These woods are most likely owned by:

a) the speaker in the poem.
b) an acquaintance of the speaker.
c) someone unknown to the speaker.
d) the speaker’s best friend.

5. ____ The speaker in the poem:

a) wished that the owner of the woods were there.
b) seemed relieved that the owner of the woods was not there.
c) came looking for the owner of the woods.
d) is thinking about buying the woods.

6. ____ The horse is apparently:

a) surprised the speaker has stopped.
b) relieved the speaker has stopped.
c) angry the speaker has stopped.
d) unwilling to stop itself.

7. ____ The night described is: a) November 21. b) December 21. c) January 21. d) February 21.
8. ____The speaker interprets the horse’s shaking bells as:

a) a signal to spend the night.
b) a signal to turn around.
c) a signal to keep on going.
d) a signal to turn around

9. ____ Which of the following weather reports would have been the most accurate?

a) a wild and stormy night.
b) a cold and cloudless night.
c) a brief mid-winter thaw.
d) a gentle snow.

10. ____ The last three lines suggests the poet is:

a) going to stay in the woods for the night.
b) going to start on his journey again.
c) unsure where to go because he is lost.
d) afraid to make a decision.

11. There is a tension in the poem about whether the speaker should stay or move on. What is it that tempts him (her) to stay?
12. ____ The line, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep”:

a) sums up what attracted the poet to stop.
b) is the opposite of what the speaker has said until now.
c) is unrelated to what the speaker has said until now.
d) is an explanation for the rest of the stanza.

13. (bonus question) Some critics have suggested that by repeating “Miles to go before I sleep”, the poet meant us to read the line both literally and as a metaphor. What could it mean other than he still has a long way to go that night?


Least Tern

Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain 3/29/03