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The Mocking Echo in His Mind

Posted by C Moon on October 14, 2007

cliff of moher

In his poem “The Most of It,” Robert Frost presents tension between one’s pursuit of “counter-love, original response” and the hard reality that everyone is in fact alone.

The poem begins with an indirect statement, “he thought he kept the universe alone,” recognizing that he is alone and lonely. Though he sometimes cries out for original response, what he can hear is the repetition of his own voice, “mocking echo.” Frost’s choice of words, “mocking echo,” is so exquisite that we immediately realize the intensity of the narrator’s solitude. Though he wants and needs “counter-love, original response,” only “copy speech” is returned in response to his cries. Despite his effort to gain a new, genuine reply by not using the same diction again, the nature does not respond other than giving back what he has given. The nature is in front of him, but the nature lacks human presence. In the middle of his loneliness, suddenly there appears some sort of reply to the narrator’s cry, “the embodiment.” That is, “a great buck” appears. How to interpret this is quite ambiguous. A great buck appears powerfully, but the narrator states at the end of the poem “and that was all,” which implies that he is not fully satisfied with the response from the nature. The narrator’s feeling is also revealed when he chooses the word “embodiment” to call the response, which itself is vague in its meaning. Though the buck constitutes a due response from the nature to his cry, he is not fully satisfied with the reply because the buck is also a part of the nature, short of “proving human.” Throughout the poem, Frost uses the third person “he,” without any explanation about who “he” might be. Hence, “he” is not a specific person but any human being.

Frost uses simile such as “pouring like a waterfall” and helps readers to visualize the scene. However, the dominant poetic element in this poem is imagery, both sound imagery and sight imagery. “The voice,” “the mocking echo,” the “cry,” and the way the buck “crashed” and “splashed” constitute sound imagery. The way the buck “crashed” and “splashed” emphasize the dynamic nature of the wild and the loneliness of the man. The “talus” and “the boulder-broken beach” of the “tree-hidden cliff across the lake” and the way “a great buck powerfully appeared” by “pushing the crumpled water up ahead” and by “stumbling through the rocks with horny tread” constitute sight imagery. The “talus” and “the boulder-broken beach” convey the scale of the “tree-hidden cliff.” Robert Frost does not use exaggerated words in the poem, but he generates the expected effects through careful choice of words.

Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets, not only because he produces a poem that is easy to understand, but also because he produces a poem that makes me think. “The Most of It” portrays man’s yearning for a genuine response to his voice, man’s solitude in the Nature, and somewhat ambiguous response from the Nature.

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The Most of It -Robert L. Frost

He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder-broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter-love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff’s talus on the other side,
And then in the far-distant water splashed,
But after a time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush–and that was all.

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Photo Credits: “Cliffs of Moher” by Matt McGee on Flickr

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2 Responses to “The Mocking Echo in His Mind”

  1. Clay Burell said

    I love Frost too.

    I have a question for you, which means you get to leave a reply here to continue the conversation.

    My question is this: Does this feel like homework to you?

    More, does this read differently than what you write as “school essays”?

    More, do you think AP graders would like this writing? Or do you think they would prefer a schooly 5-paragraph essay?

  2. Catherine Moon said

    Haha, I am glad to answer your questions πŸ™‚

    1) Does this feel like homework to you?

    I have to say, it did not. Though we had to write about poems, like other normal assignments, the freedom in choosing the poem and what to write about made this enjoyable. I had a great time searching for and reading through poems πŸ™‚ Well, in some ways, it took me more time than doing a homework, since I couldn’t choose one poem to start writing about, but I liked this new experiment.

    2) Does this read differently than what you write as “school essays”?

    In some ways, I felt differently from the start of my writing. I wrote the essay in a much relaxed environment, both because I read the poem on my bed (haha;;), and because I talked about what I wanted to. I did not have to limit myself to what would have been assigned when writing a school essay, and could expand my thoughts in the direction I wanted to take. I did not have to feel the pressure of writing good, and did feel free to experiment with new writing styles. In those respects, I could hear my voice more clearly from this than from my school essays.

    3) Do you think AP graders would like this writing? Or do you think they would prefer a schooly 5-paragraph essay?

    Hmm.. I think they would prefer this to a schooly 5-paragraph essay. Schooly 5-paragraph essay would sound stiff, in that it fails to convey the writer’s voice to the reader effectively. It may even sound like following a computer program, returning the results for the user’s request in the exactly same structure. Similar to us not wanting to eat the exactly same foods everyday, the AP graders would become bored if they have to read formula-like, monotone essays all day.

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    I have a little concern, though. I think I am fairly well shaped in talking about the meaning of the poem. But I am not sure of myself whenever I try to discuss other aspects of the poem, such as the sounds and the stress patterns. I cannot hear them clearly 😦

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