Even the bravest that are slain
Shall not dissemble their surprise
On waking to find valor reign,
Even as on earth, in paradise;
And where they sought without the sword
Wide fields of asphodel fore’er,
To find that the utmost reward
Of daring should be still to dare.

The light of heaven falls whole and white
And is not shattered into dyes,
The light forever is morning light;
The hills are verdured pasture-wise;
The angle hosts with freshness go,
And seek with laughter what to brave;–
And binding all is the hushed snow
Of the far-distant breaking wave.

And from a cliff-top is proclaimed
The gathering of the souls for birth,
The trial by existence named,
The obscuration upon earth.
And the slant spirits trooping by
In streams and cross- and counter-streams
Can but give ear to that sweet cry
For its suggestion of what dreams!

And the more loitering are turned
To view once more the sacrifice
Of those who for some good discerned
Will gladly give up paradise.
And a white shimmering concourse rolls
Toward the throne to witness there
The speeding of devoted souls
Which God makes his especial care.

And none are taken but who will,
Having first heard the life read out
That opens earthward, good and ill,
Beyond the shadow of a doubt;
And very beautifully God limns,
And tenderly, life’s little dream,
But naught extenuates or dims,
Setting the thing that is supreme.

Nor is there wanting in the press
Some spirit to stand simply forth,
Heroic in it nakedness,
Against the uttermost of earth.
The tale of earth’s unhonored things
Sounds nobler there than ‘neath the sun;
And the mind whirls and the heart sings,
And a shout greets the daring one.

But always God speaks at the end:
‘One thought in agony of strife
The bravest would have by for friend,
The memory that he chose the life;
But the pure fate to which you go
Admits no memory of choice,
Or the woe were not earthly woe
To which you give the assenting voice.’

And so the choice must be again,
But the last choice is still the same;
And the awe passes wonder then,
And a hush falls for all acclaim.
And God has taken a flower of gold
And broken it, and used therefrom
The mystic link to bind and hold
Spirit to matter till death come.

‘Tis of the essence of life here,
Though we choose greatly, still to lack
The lasting memory at all clear,
That life has for us on the wrack
Nothing but what we somehow chose;
Thus are we wholly stipped of pride
In the pain that has but one close,
Bearing it crushed and mystified.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Robert Frost's poem The Trial by Existence


  1. Vada says:

    We know our whole lives before being reborn because the reward is worth the suffering. This poem has seen me through moments I didn’t think I’d survive through.

  2. Cozette says:

    So unrelated to this poem, I have been reading and listening to the viewpoint that we choose to come to earth. We choose our parents and our journey, however painful it may be. There are lessons we come here to learn. So crazy thing happened. I was cleaning up a bedroom and found a bunch of books that I picked up n one of those cases on peoples lawns about 5 months ago. Anyway one of the books was Robert frosts poems.
    I pick it up and flip through it. I read this particular poem because the title intrigued me….. and there it was.
    To me it’s a conformation of some sorts and this theory really resonates with me. Loved how it was written.

  3. Sharon says:

    The choice to be reincarnated seems to me the theme. Only the valorous will choose to return to life on earth. In Buddhism, the truly enlightened one is she, who having attained enlightenment, chooses to return in earthly form to assist others on the path to enlightenment…similar, I think

  4. Jay says:

    On waking to find valor reign,
    Even as on earth, in paradise;

    It’s voluntary. To volunteer is a noble thing. There must be a need to exist and the need may be to wake those who believe they are not in paradise (our real home). That they have to remember: they are not really separated from God.

    Admits no memory of choice,
    Though we choose greatly, still to lack
    The lasting memory at all clear,

    Being born is chancy because the volunteer loses the knowledge of Paradise so as to, somehow, gain it back in the world and show the world that it is mistaken.

  5. sadiasana says:

    very difficult to understand. HOW to understand

  6. sadiasana says:

    thought provoking poem but difficult to understand

  7. frumpo says:

    Only the courageous choose to live, and we choose our fate.

  8. Jack says:

    Oh first reading I thought this was about the final judgement. But on reading it again, I think it’s rather the opposite of that.
    The whole poem seems to describe a scene, a scene in the afterlife (I would say Heaven but since the fields of asphodel are mentioned I think it’s both).
    The ‘light’ in the 2nd verse I think refers to God, who is shining down upon this one hill top and determining which of the souls are worthing or fitting for re-birth.
    The 3rd, 4th verses describe the setting on the cliff as the souls, of their own accord, rather for an opportunity for re-birth.
    In the 5th verses it seems that God reads out to the souls what life they will have on Earth :
    “And none are taken but who will,
    Having first heard the life read out
    That opens earthward, good and ill,”

    I’m not sure about the 6th verse, but I think it talks about the description of this life before them, and how that life might seen ordinary compared to here in eternal glory.

    In the 8th verse I believe that this soul that has been picked is finally give his life, and his soul/spirit has been turned to earthly matter.

    “The mystic link to bind and hold
    Spirit to matter till death come.”

    In the last verse there is a talk of choice, being that it was the soul’s choice to be reborn into a life that had already been read out to him (even though he will have no memory of that).

    Well that’s my interpretation of this, I probably have no idea what i’m talking about but oh well.

  9. Scott says:

    as a Mormon, I can’t help but think this poem is very similar to our doctrine of pre-earth life existence. (it did take me like 15 times reading to actually feel like I knew what he was talking about.) What a great poem.

  10. Fran says:

    There is so much comfort in this poem and so much strength that I can only hope with all my heart that it’s exactly like Frost describes.

  11. De-bor-rah says:

    This poem forced me to sit and look inside where I have not wished to go for a very long time. Ah, the “UNKNOWN”…our Spirits always seem to fear it until we meet. Now I know…I am not afraid anymore.

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