Robert Frost is a four time Pulitzer winning poet, and is an expert in exploring the unknown. There is a certain depth and mystery about his poems that not many can boast of. Today we’ll analyze The Axe-Helve, a wonderful piece set in a rural background.
The Axe Helve by Robert Frost is a narrative by Robert Frost, and is a great piece on people and relationships. It first appeared in 1917, in the Atlantic, and has appeared at other places since.
The Axe Helve is set in a rural setting of the United States, where a man is cutting wood. Though the focus of the poem, on the face of it, is on the axe helve, one could be sure that it has more dimensions to it. For one, it is a poem about relationships between neighbours who are strangers to each other. The interaction between the neighbours is worth noting, and it constitutes the crux of the poem.
In this particular setting, the narrator is cutting wood, when he is suddenly interrupted. The only time when his axe has been caught while chopping wood is when it was stuck in an alder branch. Here he says that the alder branch is personified and is said to have ‘held’ him from striking on another alder branch. This time around, there is another intruder who has caught his axe – his French – Canadian neighbour. He praises the technique with which his neighbour catches his axe, and says that his motive ought to be different from what the alder tree had. He then held it a moment in order to calm the narrator down, and then took it from him. The narrator let him take it away from him, and there is a feeling of insecurity that we can see in the narrator – both in terms of axe skills and as a neighbour. Normally, this experience might have been slightly disturbing, but the narrator is insecure and hence he lets the neighbour take the axe. He also considers the angle that he’s a bad neighbour, and that’s perhaps why he has come to talk to him, and is making sure that the narrator is disarmed first in order to avoid any violent altercation.
Much to the surprise of the narrator, the neighbour didn’t speak of him; he merely talked about the axe. He criticized the axe because it was made in a machine, and this shows the contempt that rural people usually have for products made in the process of industrialization. They consider their time-tested and ancient methods to be the best suited for their needs. Baptiste, the neighbour, then invites him to his house so that he can get him a new axe helve. The narrator is slightly suspicious, but agrees.
His welcome into the house of Baptiste was different from no other welcome, and this shows the aspects and representations of social life that we as people all notice in order to know more about people. The narrator also tries to discern how the Baptiste is feeling about his presence in his house, whether he is overjoyed or is it normal. There is a visual of Mrs. Baptiste, on a rocking chair, speaking broken English and striking a small conversation with the narrator. Meanwhile, it is obvious that Baptiste is an expert with axes. The love for axes is apparent and he teaches him quite a bit about them. Finally when he gets working on it, they strike a conversation about education, and how Baptiste prefers not to send his children to school, preferring homeschool instead. There is a lack of trust for schools that was common with foreigners in that part of the world. He also wondered if what Baptiste desired was the friendship of the narrator.
Later, the axe was likened to the snake in the garden of evil, and that is open to interpretation. Perhaps it is only the shape of the axe while ‘she’s cock her head’ that resembled a snake. At one level, it is argued that perhaps the axe is compared to poetry, and each one must be meticulously made with great detail and attention rather than made mechanically and without attention to detail.