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Robert Frost’s Sonnet Range Finding: Critical Analysis

In the sonnet “Range Finding” (1916) written by Robert Frost, we see a soldier, presumably during World War I, firing his rifle in battle. However, despite the soldier being the one who shot the weapon, the poem more so revolves around the bullet’s journey through nature on route to hit its target. Through Frost’s use of imagery and immense detail he conveys a deeper meaning, as he allows the speaker to describe the damage created by the firing of a single bullet.

As stated, “Range Finding” is a classic sonnet, divided into two stanzas of eight and six lines. Frost utilizes rhyme scheme, figures of speech (e.g., metaphor, simile, personification, etc.), and most importantly vivid imagery to convey his underlying message. Despite the poem being a deceptively simple read, the message conveyed is much deeper than one would think.

With its 1916 publication date and reference to a “battle” in the first line, it’s made clear the poem is depicted on a battlefield. At first glance one might assume the poem is about the human lives affected, as the speaker references a “human breast” (3) in the first stanza; however, the speaker turns the focus away from human life and instead focuses on the flower, birds, and insects caught in the crossfire. In doing so, Frosts’ deeper meaning is to show the serious consequences war can have even on the smallest levels of life. In the opening line, Frost writes, “The battle rent a cobweb diamond-strung” (1). This use of imagery is used to illustrate the destructive path the bullet has, as it effortlessly tears through something that in nature is seen to be powerful, a spider’s web. In line four there is a mention of a “stricken flower”, which is now bent and presumably dead. This scene in the poem serves to illustrate that nature can be destroyed in war just as much, or more than humans can destroy each other. Although neither the flower nor the web was the bullet’s intended target, the damage done is nothing less than devasting.

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Continuing on, in line five there is a mention of a bird who, despite being unharmed, was still briefly interrupted by the zooming bullet, as its nest was placed directly next to the murdered flower. The speaker goes on to say, “And still the bird revisited her young” (5). Emphasizing that despite being caught in the crossfire of a speeding bullet, the mother bird chooses to ignore the disturbance and continues to tend to her baby chicks. In lines 6-8 the speaker mentions a butterfly who had all intentions of resting on the now dying flower; however, despite the bullet interfering with its plans, it too chooses to disregard the commotion and still decides to rest on the flower’s stalk after the “battle” has ended. This scene in the poem serves to illustrate the contrast between the fine beauty of a butterfly and the monstrous events that lie in the poem’s background.

In the second stanza, the speaker turns his focus towards a spider and its web. The speaker mentions that the spider had spent all of the previous night turning thread into tightly stretched cables to create the perfect web; however, its work was ruined in an instant by a single strike of the bullet. The Speaker emphasizes the strength by stating, “A sudden passing bullet shook it dry” (12). Implying that all the glistening water droplets that once decorated the web were knocked off on impact. The spider, unaware to what had just happened, “ran to greet the fly” (13). However, instead of the spider being greeted by its victim, it was simply greeted by disappointment, as it ran to the spot only to discover a destroyed web. This can be seen as a metaphor as just like the spider, nature too is disappointed by the foul acts that humans have brought upon the world, such as war.

Despite the message of the poem appearing to be surface level, it is not. It is obvious the bullet will kill a human at the end of its flight; however, the speaker is not concerned with that horrifying moment; instead, the speaker focuses on the journey the bullet takes to get there. Frost takes an interesting approach and focuses on the minute lives of the flower, birds, and insects affected by the bullet. Through his use of vivid imagery, Frost makes it clear that everyone’s lives in times of war are impacted, not just humans

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