Robert Frost's Sandpiper Comprehension Tasks



Robert Frost’s “Sandpiper” praises the wonderful energy and ability of this “brittle” bird to “outshout” the Atlantic Ocean when it migrates across thousands of miles to another habitat. The message of this uplifting poem is straightforward: even the least significant of us can be tremendously powerful and we should not ignore our own strengths.


At the edge of tide
he stops to wonder,
races through
the lace of thunder.

On toothpick legs
swift and brittle,
he runs and pipes
and his voice is little.

But small or not,
he has a notion
to outshout
the Atlantic Ocean

Comprehension Questions

  1. Where is the poem set? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
  2. How do you think the small bird feels when it “stops to wonder” before trying to fly over the ocean?
  3. Suggest why the metaphor comparing the white waves to “lace” is appropriate.
  4. Is “thunder” frightening?
  5. Do you think the metaphor comparing the bird’s “legs” to a “toothpick” is effective?
  6. The word “notion” suggests the bird has a vague understanding of what it is about to do. Suggest why Robert Frost chose this word instead of an alternative, such as thought or idea. In your answer, try to consider our inability to control our future.
  7. Can a “small” bird “outshout” a massive ocean?


The drama of any story will centre around some sort of important conflict or opposition. In “Sandpiper”, the conflict is between the small bird and the huge ocean it has to travel so Robert Frost tries to emphasise the difference throughout the short poem.

Task 1: Explore how the poet emphasises the massive danger posed by the water. You should consider the impact of the metaphor describing the waves as a “lace of thunder” and the reference to the Atlantic Ocean.

Task 2: Copy out the following mind map which includes various descriptions of the bird:

Sandpiper Imagery

Task 3: By working through each quotation, defining and explaining the significance of the images, write a paragraph summarising how the poet reinforces the fragility of the sandpiper. Analyse one image at a time but make sure you refer to the techniques used by Frost.

Task 4: To conclude the essay-style answers of tasks one and three, suggest why Robert Frost creates such a massive contrast between the small bird and the huge Atlantic Ocean. You should consider the poet’s reasons for writing the poem and what he has learned from observing the sandpiper.

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