Robert Frost's The Runaway: Summary, Analysis & Message

Instructor: Joe Ricker
''The Runaway'' is a poem by Robert Frost that exemplifies the fear of youth with new or unfamiliar experiences. Continue reading for more on how Frost uses simple settings and imagery to evoke a message of reassurance.

An Iconic American Poet

Robert Frost is one of the most prominent poets in American literature. After gaining some notoriety in England for his work, his popularity as a poet bloomed in the United States. Frost went on to win four Pulitzer prizes for his poetry. ''The Runaway'' was published in 1918 after some students at Amherst College asked him to write a piece for the weekly newspaper. Frost was known for using rural New England settings and simple syntax to convey deep philosophical perspectives in his poetry, which is evident in ''The Runaway.''

Flee to Safety

''The Runaway'' offers an observation of a rural setting where a young horse is frightened by its first experience with snow. As the snow falls, the horse is at a wall, seemingly ready to jump over it and flee. When the narrator and his companion (or companions) come into contact with the horse, the horse runs away across the pasture.

The narrator then personifies the horse, which is when an object or animal is given human characteristics. The narrator explains the horse's fear in a manner of how a child would experience this and beg a parent for explanation of the new, unfamiliar experience. Unfortunately, there is no parent to explain this, and the horse continues to run around among the falling snowflakes in terror. The final lines of the poem convey the message of the poem, stating that someone should come and soothe the young horse.

Parallels to Youth and Fear

Despite its straightforward content, a scared little horsey in a field during the first snow of the year (and the first time the horse experiences snowfall), there is a deeper theme in the subtext of the poem: fear of the unknown. The horse, which is young, also represents youth and daunting, unfamiliar experiences, which might make running away an initial reaction. The simplicity of snowfall is something easily explained to a child seeing it for the first time; however, to the horse, the sky is essentially falling. Like many new and unfamiliar experiences for humans, such as political or social change, there is a certain fear or trepidation that is invoked in the unknown of what might happen. Frost writes:

The little fellow's afraid of the falling snow.

He never saw it before. It isn't play

With the little fellow at all. He's running away.

There is a bit of sadness in the poem as well. The narrator points out that there is no parent to explain what is going on, and nobody around, for that matter, to get the horse to a place where it would feel more comfortable. This promotes a call to empathy for youth by those who are more experienced and knowledgeable to explain that things might seem scary and weird, but they'll be okay.

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