Guide to Robert Frost's Into My Own

Into My Own

Introduction

Standing close to a line of “dark trees”, the “fearless” speaker “wishes” they could “steal away” into “their vastness” and discover their place in the world. Robert Frost’s “Into My Own” explores our deep desire to break through the social and psychological boundaries in our lives which prevent us from achieving our ambitions and realising our “true” selves.

Into My Own

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

Setting

The “trees” are introduced by the demonstrative adjective “those”, which locates the speaker in close proximity to the woodland, and they are described by the almost child-like adjective “dark”. Despite being beside the treeline, he is unable to see beyond the first rows. Frost often uses the wild and mysterious woods as a signifier of the future and that is certainly true in this poem.

The second line describes the “trees” as “old” and “firm” with their deep roots and permanence reinforced by the intensifier “so”. They also seem unfazed by the wind and “scarcely show the breeze”. In this way, the poet presents the “trees” as almost impenetrable, making it difficult for the speaker to “steal” into their “vastness”. In turn, this might symbolise our inability to accurately predict the future.

Alternatively, the intimidating “old” and “firm” line of “trees” represent the unyielding traditional values held by sections of society which prevent him from breaking free from his responsibilities and becoming “all” he “thought was true”. Or they could refer to his own overwhelming fears and doubts. In fact, the “trees” could represent any obstacle we face in our lives as we search for self-actualisation.

In the first stanza, the speaker describes the “trees” as the “merest mask of gloom” but “wishes” they “stretched away unto the edge of doom”. The third line suggests the “trees” are finite and their “gloom” lacks the depth he needs to totally escape from his mundane world. He wants a forest that extends beyond the “mask” all the way to the “edge of doom” and his inevitable death.

Their “vastness” brings tremendous danger, excitement and possibility. If they are never-ending, he will never be able to return to “open land” and he will remain “true” to himself. In this way, Frost takes these simple images of setting and shapes them into a story of self-determination and the desire to escape from society’s precepts.

The Speaker

Since the poem was published in Frost’s first collection “A Boy’s Will” (1913), the speaker is probably a young man who “wishes” to find his own way in the world and explore uncharted territories rather than remain in the “open land” that is already defined and controlled. This is a feeling most people have experienced and the reader will immediately sympathise with his predicament.

The speaker “wishes” the line of “trees” were something more substantial he could disappear into and escape completely from his current rut. The poem concludes with the idea that the change in location would not change his perspective or personality. Instead, it would allow him to become his “true” self.

At the start of the second stanza, he declares he “should not be withheld”. It seems nothing can restrain him from fulfilling his potential. However, the use of the modal verb “should” suggests there might be something holding him back, such as the “old and firm” trees and whatever they signify in his life, but the poem argues those obstacles “should not” physically or morally impede his progress.

Perhaps the speaker is worried his journey will only take him through the “merest mask of gloom” and not all the way “unto the edge of doom”. If he is to take the life-changing decision and break into the “vastness” of the woods, he wants to be absolutely “fearless” that he will not end up suffering the same problems in some other “open land”.

Also, needing to “steal” into the “vastness” of the endless woods implies he has no right leave his old life behind and discover a new one elsewhere. Stealing something is usually associated with concealment and secrecy so he must act in a way which will be frowned upon by others.

The speaker clearly understands it is never easy to make the big decisions in life.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Could the title suggest a journey or a change that the speaker is undergoing?
  2. What does the adjective ‘those’ suggest about the proximity of the trees
  3. What is the purpose of the adjective ‘dark’ used to describe the trees’
  4. How are the trees presented in the opening quatrain
  5. What does the verb ‘steal’ suggest about the very beginning of his journey?
  6. Why would the speaker be fearful of ‘finding open land’?
  7. What might the ‘open land’ and ‘highway’ represent?
  8. There are a number of simple alliterative phrases in the poem: ‘should steal’, ‘Fearless of ever finding’, ‘where the slow wheel pours the sand’ and ‘thought was true’. What impact do these phrases have on the rhythm and tone of the poem?
  9. Suggest why the speaker is running away from people he ‘held dear’.
  10. Lines five, ten and eleven are the only lines without end punctuation in the entire poem. Comment on the use of enjambment.
  11. Will the speaker ever turn back? How does this relate to the poem’s title?

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