I stay;
But it isn’t as if
There wasn’t always Hudson’s Bay
And the fur trade,
A small skiff
And a paddle blade.

I can just see my tent pegged,
And me on the floor,
Cross-legged,
And a trapper looking in at the door
With furs to sell.

His name’s Joe,
Alias John,
And between what he doesn’t know
And won’t tell
About where Henry Hudson’s gone,
I can’t say he’s much help;
But we get on.

The seal yelp
On an ice cake.
It’s not men by some mistake?
No,
There’s not a soul
For a windbreak
Between me and the North Pole-

Except always John-Joe,
My French Indian Esquimaux,
And he’s off setting traps
In one himself perhaps.

Give a headshake
Over so much bay
Thrown away
In snow and mist
That doesn’t exist,

I was going to say,
For God, man, or beast’s sake,
Yet does perhaps for all three.

Don’t ask Joe
What it is to him.
It’s sometimes dim
What it is to me,
Unless it be
It’s the old captain’s dark fate
Who failed to find or force a strait
In its two-thousand-mile coast;
And his crew left him where be failed,
And nothing came of all be sailed.

It’s to say, “You and I-”
To such a ghost-
You and I
Off here
With the dead race of the Great Auk!”
And, “Better defeat almost,
If seen clear,
Than life’s victories of doubt
That need endless talk-talk
To make them out.”

Analysis, meaning and summary of Robert Frost's poem An Empty Threat

2 Comments

  1. robert n gutsell says:

    This is the first time I’ve read “An empty threat” but I am a Robert Frost enthusiast and I can spot some if his trademark patterns.

    He developped a style in which people living close to their land (farmers, woodworkers etc) would converse in a down to earth, but surprisingly insightful way. These conversational and reflective pieces were often long; so this is a shorter piece.

    The main character recalls his conversation with another in Hudson Bay. It starts in the outside “political” world, and seems clear, then suddnely you find yourself wondering about the increasing depth of the lines. It clearly is not political; its personal and reflective and about transience and impermanence. (In my opinion!)It also suddenly gets communicative with the reader; “you” comes into the poem, and RF is suddenly talking to you.

  2. rob says:

    it was good but then bad

    not

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