Man and the Angels: On Frost’s "Bond and Free"

Bond and Free
Robert Frost

Love has earth to which she clings
With hills and circling arms about –
Wall within wall to shut fear out.
But Thought has need of no such things,
For Thought has a pair of dauntless wings.

On snow and sand and turf, I see
Where Love has left a printed trace
With straining in the world’s embrace.
And such is Love and glad to be.
But Thought has shaken his ankles free.

Thought cleaves the interstellar gloom
And sits in Sirius’ disc all night,
Till day makes him retrace his flight,
With smell of burning on every plume,
Back past the sun to an earthly room.

His gains in heaven are what they are.
Yet some say Love by being thrall
And simply staying possesses all
In several beauty that Thought fares far
To find fused in another star.

Comment:

At first it seems Love clings to earth, which is strangely not capitalized as Love is. We realize why “earth” is not capitalized when the second stanza comes about: Love actually “strains” in the “world’s embrace.”

The earth has no need of walls that shut out fear, nor does Love strictly speaking. The only creature that could leave the same print on snow and sand and turf would be Man. Man, who is loving, loves through straining with the world, with the earth. But such straining comes at a price: it seems like Man so conceived is unfree, perhaps a slave. His goal is security, after all.

Thought has wings, and one has to wonder if thought is a representation of Man. If Love could be said to be not Man himself, but animals instead – perhaps we could say the “hills” are the walls that divide geographic zones – then maybe we can say Thought is angelic. The trouble with this is twofold: the anthropomorphic description of Love in the stanzas above, and the fact that Love and Thought directly relate via the problem of being enslaved or being free (“ankles”).

Thought seems angelic, that’s what is crucial: in reality, it is more like Icarus: those wings could collapse at any second because of the heat of the sun – again, that is not capitalized either. Sirius, the dog star, is capitalized, and we need to wonder about Thought having a more personal lover than Love itself.

The issue is that the freedom Thought has is not the whole issue: it is easy to romanticize eros and say that devotion is everything, and the freedom Thought has is mere wandering. But here, we have a portrait of Thought as devoted. Through creating ideals, one learns to differentiate, and appreciate goods as they are in a hierarchy. Thought, from Sirius’ vantage, sees the whole world.

In fact, he is more intimate with the whole world than one would suspect. If the Platonic metaphor holds for this poem, then one must remember how in the Republic, the guardians, the “spirited,” the ones who would defend the walls and march to war, would ally with the philosophic out of sheer love of them.

The narrator tempts us to dismiss Thought with three arguments: 1) Thought has to return with his tail on fire to earth, 2) We don’t know what his gains specifically are, 3) through “simply staying,” Love “possesses all in several beauty.” I think what I have put forth above explodes two; we can conjecture that the gains of Thought are not to be taken lightly if we look beneath the surface of the verse. Furthermore, if #2 falls, so does #3: Yes, Love does possess all in several beauty by being at rest. But that truth is too literal to take seriously – does Love realize the diversity encompassed? Distinction is precisely what Thought has in its favor, and that absolutely contrasts with the depiction of Love in the first two stanzas, which seems to be, no matter where one is, a rejection of a fear and an unconcern with whether “straining” comes about voluntarily or not.

It is the first argument that the narrator puts forth that is the problem, the eternal problem: how the angelic and the beastly could be reconciled.

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