A Roadside Stand

About the Poet: 

Robert Lee Frost was an American poet. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. A popular and often-quoted poet, Frost was honoured frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.
“A Road Not Taken”, “Mending Wall”, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”, “Birches” are some of his most famous poems.

Theme 

The existing division between the rich and the poor in the society is the main theme of this poem. The poet’s plea for consideration for the simple people of the countryside whose lives have shown no progress. He expresses his pain at their sadness and sorrow and seeks support and relief for them. He hopes someone would work unselfishly for their rehabilitation and not exploit them. He brings out the wide disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ with pitiless clarity and humanity and seems to suggest that the economic well being of a country depends on a balanced development of villages and cities.

In this poem, Robert Frost, who is regarded for his realistic depiction of rural life, has brought out the apathy of the rich, city dwellers towards the poor, roadside shed owners. The owner has made a new shed with a hope of selling his vegetables and fruits to the city dwellers who pass by in their cars. But unfortunately, the rich and sophisticated people of the city are insensitive to the needs of the shed owners, the latter’s desire is to sell their goods and earn an amount sufficient for their survival. The powerful and influential people had promised them support but now the shed owners feel let down and cheated. They have also heard that they would be moved to villages, closed to the market area and theatre. Here, they are told that they will not have to worry about their earnings and would sleep peacefully at night. In reality, the so called benefactors would benefit from this move and not the shed owners. They would simply lose their hold on their land and would be dislodged, giving them sleepless nights once again. The poet is unable to bear the pitiable plight of the shed owners who wait for a car to stop. The cars do stop occasionally but the passengers have their own selfish motives to achieve. One of them stops to inquire the prices of the vegetables, another stops to reverse the car and yet another to merely ask where the road leads. The poet is alarmed when someone stops at a shed to ask for a gallon of gas. The poet  is agonized to see the miseries of the shed owners and he hopes that one day someone would come to their rescue.

Summary      

A Roadside Stand deals with the lives of poor deprived people. Furthermore, the poet contrasts the struggling lives of the countryside people with the insensitive life of the city dwellers. The city dwellers don’t even bother to ponder on the harsh condition of the roadside stand people. The city dwellers don’t think about the struggles these roadside people have to go through in order to sell their goodies. These poor people have nothing to do except wait for the passing cars to stop and purchase their products. If at all a car stops by, it is to know about directions or to make complain about something. The poet deeply sympathises with these impoverished people and feels compassion for them. This sympathy is evident in the portrayal of the roadside sheds in a poignant manner.

There has been an extension of the shed in front by the occupants of the little old house. Furthermore, this extension is around the edge of the road where the passage of traffic takes place. It seems like the shack-owners want to implore the passers-by to purchase something from the shack. These deprived people have a huge desire for the currency.

Unfortunately, the traffic goes past ignoring the shack. If by chance the traffic does stop, it would come with a feeling of disappointment.  They are very disturbed to see the poor unattractive signboards. There is an offer of wild berries shack for sale in a wooden quart (a quarter of a gallon). This place offers a peaceful natural stay for those who can afford it. The poet becomes angry at this attitude of the ‘polished traffic’ and asks them to move ahead.

The poet shows more concern for the sadness of the shed-owners than he does for the landscape blemish. He believes that these people have a longing to handle some city money. This money can reduce their suffering as one can see in movies. The political party that enjoys power is the one that deprives them of a happy life.

The poet makes mention of the news which points out the relocation of the poor villagers to the vicinity of shops and theatres. There were big promises to ensure good care for them. However, the government authorities became negligent of these promises. Furthermore, the poet is angry at this behaviour and calls them “greedy good-doers”. He calls them “beasts of prey” who indulge in the exploitation of the poor villagers.

The villagers pay a heavy price as they had to lose their land. The civic authorities are successful in fooling these naïve villagers.  They promise them a better life and a good sleep. However, these civic authorities are the ones who sleep peacefully while making the lives of villagers miserable. Work during the day and sleep at night was the norm in ancient times. However, there has been a reversal of this norm as the villagers are not able to sleep at night.

The poet expresses his distress while explaining the endless wait of shed owners for buyers. There is an ambiance of sadness all over the place.  Sometimes a car stops but that is to enquire about the farmer’s price. Furthermore, others who stop just want to make use of the backyard. One of the cars stops for a gallon of gas. Moreover, this demonstrates the sense of alienation between urban and rural life.

The poet regrets that money is not abundant in the country-side. Furthermore, money can raise spirits while a lack of it dampens it. The villagers have a tendency to express their grievance about a life which has a lack of money. Moreover, the poet becomes very emotional and contemplates their pain. He certainly wants to change their lives in one go but understands that this will be a futile act.

A Roadside Stand summary shows us the great contrast between the comfortable life of city dwellers and the harshness faced by the impoverished rural people.

The poem …

 

The little old house was out with a little new shed
In front at the edge of the road where the traffic sped,
A roadside stand that too pathetically pled,
It would not be fair to say for a dole of bread,
But for some of the money, the cash, whose flow supports
The flower of cities from sinking and withering faint.

 

Meaning …. Someone from among the village folk had a shack beside a highway that ran to a city nearby. The man extended his shack to the front to open a make-shift counter to sell his farm items like berries or its squash. It was a small entrepreneurial venture to make some little money to meet his needs. Caravans passed along the highway, but few stopped to buy anything from him. In fact, no one evinced any interest in his items, even avoiding to cast a glance towards it. Even a miniscule fraction of the money the city dwellers were awash with eluded the shack-owner. He vainly looked at the passers-by, with eyes seeking attention. His rudimentary counter didn’t merit any traveler’s curiosity.

 

The polished traffic passed with a mind ahead,
Or if ever aside a moment, then out of sorts
At having the landscape marred with the artless paint
Of signs that with N turned wrong and S turned wrong
Offered for sale wild berries in wooden quarts,
Or crook-necked golden squash with silver warts,
Or beauty rest in a beautiful mountain scene,
You have the money, but if you want to be mean,
Why keep your money (this crossly) and go along.

 

Meaning .. No doubt, the travelers belonged to the well-to-do class. The glitz and glamour they are used to was singularly lacking in the way-side counter. Seldom did they look at it. If ever they did, it was more to express disgust at the poorly painted and poorly displayed North-South direction board. Clearly, they remained aloof. The humble farmer’s soliciting eyes had little impact on them.
The farmer offered wild berries kept in antique-looking jars, the freshly extracted juice kept in not-so-enticing containers. The city folks passing past the humble counter looked joyfully at the rocks and mountains that stood in the backdrop, but felt it below their status to stop over to buy such fresh produce from the lowly grower’s farm. Their wealth had made them blind to such humble, but priceless offering coming straight from the fields.

 

The hurt to the scenery wouldn’t be my complaint
So much as the trusting sorrow of what is unsaid:
Here far from the city we make our roadside stand
And ask for some city money to feel in hand
To try if it will not make our being expand,
And give us the life of the moving-pictures’ promise
That the party in power is said to be keeping from us.

 

Meaning … The ramshackle sack stands as a blot against the beautiful backdrop of greenery and the distant mountains. For the bloated travelers, the shack is a spoiler of the landscape, a grotesque imposition. They avoid looking at the counter, unmindful of the fervent desire of the humble villager’s struggle to fight the hardships of life with a tiny portion of the cash from the travelers’ over-flowing wallets. The indifference of the wealthy city folks is clearly disgusting. The political power is clearly tilted in favour of the city-dwellers.

 

It is in the news that all these pitiful kin
Are to be bought out and mercifully gathered in
To live in villages, next to the theatre and the store,
Where they won’t have to think for themselves anymore,
While greedy good-doers, beneficent beasts of prey,
Swarm over their lives enforcing benefits
That are calculated to soothe them out of their wits,
And by teaching them how to sleep they sleep all day,
Destroy their sleeping at night the ancient way.

 

Meaning .. A new relocation plan for these poor villagers is in the offing. In the pretence of giving them the comforts of urban life, these simple folks will be forcefully uprooted from their land and made to live inside the urban limits, beside the theatres, and malls. No one bothers to take their consent, nor to study how disoriented the village folks will feel in their new habitats. By sweat-talking the gullible rural folks, the land sharks will fleece them of their ancestral lands, and condemn them to live in the urban centers. Such trickery will never be called to account, and the villagers will painfully struggle to adjust to the new ways of earning a living. Undoubtedly, the change will bring them misery. Their simple life style will be destroyed, and in their new habitat, they will ‘lose sleep’, implying that life will become riddled with difficulties. On the other hand, the manipulators and the wolves in the garb of benefactors will enjoy their lives in greater luxury.

 

Sometimes I feel myself I can hardly bear
The thought of so much childish longing in vain,
The sadness that lurks near the open window there,
That waits all day in almost open prayer
For the squeal of brakes, the sound of a stopping car,
Of all the thousand selfish cars that pass,
Just one to inquire what a farmer’s prices are.
And one did stop, but only to plow up grass
In using the yard to back and turn around;
And another to ask the way to where it was bound;
And another to ask could they sell it a gallon of gas
They couldn’t (this crossly); they had none, didn’t it see?

 

Meaning ….. The poet feels distraught. He knows he is expecting something that this cruel world can’t deliver. This resignation makes him angry and sad. The humble farmer looks on expectantly at each and every passing cars hoping that they would stop and make some purchases. However, his wait remains futile. The passengers in the cars seldom bother to stop near the sack. Buying anything from such a poorly exhibited stall is below their dignity. The humble farmer looks on vainly hoping that he could sell something at least to carry home a little cash. At rare intervals, cars do stop, but it is either for asking some direction to the city, or taking a turn in his backyard, or for filling gas. The farmer’s heart breaks when such visits, which are few and far between, do not result in any tiny business for him. The attitude of the wealthy folks leaves the poet exasperated.

 

No, in country money, the country scale of gain,
The requisite lift of spirit has never been found,
Or so the voice of the country seems to complain,
I can’t help owning the great relief it would be
To put these people at one stroke out of their pain.
And then next day as I come back into the sane,
I wonder how I should like you to come to me
And offer to put me gently out of my pain.

 

Meaning … The poet regrets that despite the enormous wealth of the country, and its vast sources of earning, social welfare, and concern for the downtrodden in rural areas have never been the national agenda. The conscience of the nation is muted and muffled towards the citizens who barely scratch a living off their lands. The compassionate poet dreams that he could, in one masterstroke, banish the sorrow and suffering of the toiling, and deprived masses from the morass of poverty. But, when the magic spell would get over, hard realities would bite. It would make the sagely poet sad again. He wants his readers to offer a helping hand to overcome the shock.

 

Poetic devices/figures of speech

 

The use of personal pronoun shows poet’s involvement and draws reader’s concern.

‘didn’t it see’ -The use of ‘it’ for people indicates they are inhuman

 

Transferred epithet –1)polished traffic (the traffic is not polished, people are polished)

                                 2)Selfish cars

 

Metaphor -               1) the flower of cities from sinking and withering faint;

                                 2) Swarm over their lives

                                 3) Teaching them to sleep they sleep all day

 

Oxymoron and Alliteration - Greedy good doers; beneficent beasts of prey

 

Personification:

  1.  A roadside stand that too pathetically pled(also alliteration)

  2.  Sadness that lurks near the open window there/ that waits all day

  3.  Voice of country

 

Textual Questions and Answers

Question 1. The city folk who drove through the countryside hardly paid any heed to the roadside stand or to the people who ran it. If at all they did, it was to complain. Which lines bring this out? What was their complaint about?
Answer: The lines that bring out the irritation of the passers-by are:
Or if ever aside a moment, the out of sorts
At having the landscape marred….
They complained that the disfigured paint of the stall spoilt the beauty of the landscape, the signposts pointed the wrong way and the stalls were not maintained.

Question 2. What was the plea of the folk who had put up the roadside stand?
Answer: The people of the roadside stand sat in prayer that some city traffic should stop by and buy their wares so that they could make some money to improve their life beyond mere survival.

Question 3. The government and other social service agencies appear to help the poor rural people, but actually do them no good. Pick out the words and phrases the poet uses to show their double standards.
Answer: The poet uses the word ‘greedy good-doers, beneficent beasts of prey’ and ‘enforcing benefits that are calculated’.

Question 4. What is the ‘childish longing’ that the poet refers to? Why is it in vain?
Answer: The poet refers to the tireless longing of the stall owners for some car to stop by and give them an opportunity to make some money. But they wait in vain because the cars just pass by without thinking of the hope and longing of the sad faces peeping from the windows. If at all they stop, it is to ask the way or to take turn.

 

Question 5. Which lines tell us about the insufferable pain that the poet feels at the thought of the plight of the rural people?
Answer: The lines that express the poet’s insufferable pain are:
I wonder how I should like you to come to me
And offer to put me gently out of my pain.

 

Reference-to-context Exercises
 

Read the extracts given below.

Question 1.
 

It would not be fair to say for a dole of bread,
But for some of the money, the cash, whose flow supports
The flower of cities from sinking and withering faint.

 

Answer the following.
(a) The poor are working instead of begging for their bread. (True/False)
(b) The cash and money is flowing to the poor. (True/False)
(c) The cities are in need of some of the __________ .
(d) Besides sinking, the cities without cash flow would be __________ faint.

 

Answer:
(a) True
(b) False
(c) money
(d) withering

Question 2.
 

The polished traffic passed with a mind ahead,
Or if ever aside a moment, then out of sorts

 

Answer the following.
(a) The polished traffic in the poem refers to posh cars only. (True/False)
(b) The posh occupants of the cars were annoyed at seeing the wayside stall. (True/False)
(c) The traffic passed by thinking of the journey __________ .
(d) They paid heed to the unsightly __________ shed for a moment.

 

Answer:
(a) False
(b) True
(c) ahead
(d) roadside

Question 3.
 

Offered for sale wild berries in wooden quarts,
Or crook-necked golden squash with silver warts,
Or beauty rest in a beautiful mountain scene,
You have the money, but if you want to be mean.

 

Answer the following.
(a) The shed sold wild berries in wooden quarts. (True /False)
(b) The shed sold silver squashes. (True/False)
(c) The rich passers-by did not buy his wares because of their __________ .
(d) The shed owner concluded that the rich passers-by had the __________ .

 

Answer:
(a) True
(b) False
(c) meanness
(d) money

Question 4.
 

… but if you want to be mean,
Why keep your money (this crossly) and go along.
The hurt to the scenery wouldn’t be my complaint
So much as the trusting sorrow of what is unsaid:

 

Answer the following.
(a) The cross shop owner told the passer-by to keep his money. (True/False)
(b) The country folk are not hurt by the ugly sight their shed creates. (True/False)
(c) The shed owner is hurt at what is left __________ .
(d) The shed owner feels city folk are mean by __________ their money instead of sharing it.

 

Answer:
(a) False
(b) True
(c) unsaid
(d) keeping

Question 5.
 

Here far from the city we make our roadside stand
And ask for some city money to feel in hand
To try if it will not make our being expand.
And give us the life of the moving-pictures’ promise.
That the party in power is said to be keeping from us.

 

Answer the following.
(a) The shed is built far from the city. (True/False)
(b) They ask for some of the city’s taxes to feel it in their hands. (True/False)
(c) The kind of life promised to the poor shed owners is one seen in __________ .
(d) By feeling the money in hand, the poor want to know if that would make their progress __________ .

 

Answer:
(a) True
(b) False
(c) moving pictures
(d) expand

Question 6.
 

It is in the news that all these pitiful kin
Are to be brought out and mercifully gathered in
To live in villages, next to the theatre and the store,
Where they won’t have to think for themselves anymore.

 

Answer the following.
(a) The news has spread that the relatives of shed owners are being taken together. (True/False)
(b) The wayside shop owners are to be settled next to the __________ .
(c) The new settlement of the shop owners is referred to as a __________ .
(d) Through what means have the shed owners come to know about the settlement?

 

Answer:
(a) False
(b) theatre
(c) village
(d) news

Question 7.
 

While greedy good-doers, beneficent beasts of prey,
Swarm over their lives enforcing benefits
That are calculated to soothe them out of their wits,
And by teaching them how to sleep they sleep all day,
Destroy their sleeping at night the ancient way.

 

Answer the following.
(a) The welfare workers are enforcing benefits on the poor settlers. (True/False)
(b) The welfare measures being introduced has deprived the poor of their resourceful ways. (True/False)
(c) The welfare measures have taught the settlers to __________ all day.
(d) By sleeping all day, the villagers’ sleep at night is __________ .

 

Answer:
(a) True
(b) True
(c) sleep
(d) destroyed

Question 8.
 

The sadness that lurks near the open window there,
That waits all day in almost open prayer
For the squeal of brakes, the sound of a stopping car,
Of all the thousand selfish cars that pass.

 

Answer the following.
(a) The shed owners sit by their open windows sadly. (True/False)
(b) The shed owners join together in an open prayer. (True/False)
(c) What word is used for the sound of the brakes?
(d) The car owners do not stop and help the shed owners by buying their goods. The cars are dubbed as ________ .

 

Answer:
(a) True
(b) False
(c) squeal
(d) selfish

Question 9.
 

Just one to inquire what a farmer’s prices are.
And one did stop, but only to plow up grass,
In using the yard to back and turn around;
And another to ask the way to where it was bound;
And another to ask could they sell it a gallon of gas
They couldn’t (this crossly); they had none, didn’t it see?

 

Answer the following.
(a) One passer-by stopped and enquired about the price of farmers’ goods. (True/False)
(b) One of the cars had stopped to use the __________ to turn his car.
(c) The shed owner was cross when one of the car owners asked if he sold __________ .
(d) In which direction did the car owner ask for directions?

 

Answer:
(a) True
(b) yard
(c) gas
(d) his destination

Question 10.
 

And another to ask could they sell it a gallon of gas
They couldn’t (this crossly); they had none, didn’t it see?

 

Answer the following.
(a) The ‘another’ in the passage indicates another shed owner. (True/False)
(b) The amount of gas that the buyer wanted was a ton. (True/False)
(c) Though the shed owner sold gas, he had none at that time. (True/False)
(d) A passing traveller asked the settlers if they could sell him a __________ of gas.

 

Answer:
(a) False
(b) False
(c) False
(d) gallon

Question 11.
 

No, in country money, the country scale of gain,
The requisite lift of spirit has never been found,
Or so the voice of the country seems to complain,
I can’t help owing the great relief it would be
To put these people at one stroke out of their pain.

 

Answer the following.
(a) Money can never lift up spirits in the country. (True/False)
(b) The voice of the country __________ about the lack of country money.
(c) The poet wants to put the country folk out of their __________ .
(d) The country folk do not have the requisite money to lift their __________ .

 

Answer:
(a) False
(b) complains
(c) pain
(d) spirits

Short Questions and Answers

Question 1. What is the untold sorrow of the owners of the roadside stand?
Answer: The untold sorrow of the roadside stand owners is that nobody pays attention to the efforts of the country folk to make some money. The city folk just pass by their stalls without helping them to maike some money. Their lives have not progressed at all as they merely earn to survive.

 

Question 2. What is the poet’s complaint in the poem?
Answer: The poet does not complain like passers-by that the landscape has been marred. He is complaining about the lack of opportunity and encouragement to these people in the countryside. He is upset about the sorrow of those who had set up the roadside stall in the hope that people would stop by and some money would tickle into their palms.

 

Question 3. Why do country people ask for money?
Answer: The country people ask for money to improve their lives. They set up stalls on (he roadside in the hope that they would make some money by selling goods of daily use and make their life better, as they had seen in movies and as had been promised by the party in power.

 

Question 4. What was the news that was doing the rounds?
Answer: There was news that the people in power were planning to move all these rural people to the city next to the theatre and the big stores. Their lives would be secured and they would not have to worry about themselves any longer. They were promised that they would soon be pulled out of their poverty.

 

Question 5. How would the innocent be soothed out of their wits?
Answer: The selfish good-doers would outwit the simple innocent people into believing that their intentions and efforts were for their improvement, while they would be seeking their own profits from the labour of these folks.

 

Question 6. Why are the cars called ‘selfish’?
Answer: The poet has used a transferred epithet here. He actually means to call the car owners selfish as they just pass by without a thought for the plight of the owners of the roadside stands and if at all they do stop, it is either to complain or to turn their car round.

 

Question 7. What is the sadness that lurks near the open window there?
Answer: The poet is referring to the disappointed faces that wait in vain at their stall windows for someone to ask for their wares and drop some money in their palm. But their hopes for a better living are belied.

 

Question 8. What is the open prayer made by the country folk?
Answer: The country folk make an open appeal to the city dwellers that they should not be selfish. They expectantly pray for the city cars to stop at their roadside stand and help them lead a better life.

 

Question 9. What is the trusting sorrow? What remains unsaid?
Answer: The country folk trust their rich brethren in the city to come to their help but they feel sad when their trust is breached by the city people through their indifference. Although the city people have said nothing but their silence speaks volumes about their cold and indifferent attitude to the rural poor, who feel hurt by it.

 

Question 10. Which things irritated those passers-by who stopped at the roadside stand?
Answer: The passers-by got irritated by the tastelessly painted roadside stand. The thought that the artless decor of the stand was in disharmony with their surroundings and it had destroyed the scenic beauty of the landscape. Even their ‘N’ and ‘S’ on the signboards was wrongly presented. They did not approve of the things offered for sale.

 

Question 11. Why did the people driving along the highway think that the landscape was marred?
Answer: The people driving along the highway objected to the tastelessly painted roadside stand. They thought that the artless decor of the stand was in disharmony with the surroundings and had destroyed the scenic beauty of the landscape. Although the shed had been recently renovated but it could never impress the city dwellers. They were always critical and felt that these unhygienically maintained roadside stands marred the beautiful mountain scene.

 

Question 12. Who actually stopped near the sheds put up by the farmers at the edges of the road?
Answer: The poet states clearly that three cars stopped but none inquired about the prices of the farmer’s produce. One car stopped to reverse, and another asked the way to where it was bound. The third foolishly asked if they could sell it a gallon of gas.

 

Question 13. What would be the great relief for the poet in reference to these village folks?
Answer: The poet says loudly that he would be happy to own the great relief if the pains of these people were removed at one stroke. Obviously, he is much moved by their pathetic plight of life. He wants something to be done to improve their lives economically.

Question 14. What hope does the poet nurture about himself when he asks that these people should be put at one stroke out of their pain?
Answer: The poet hopes that these people are put at one stroke out of their pain. The poet wants that the authorities should come to him and offer to put him ‘gently out of my pain’. The poet identifies himself with the village folks as far as their economic conditions are concerned.

 

Question 15. What is the poet’s attitude to the good-doers and why is it so?
Answer: The poet condemns the good-doers for they actually take away the villagers’ freedoms to think for themselves. They force benefits on them which lull them into doing nothing and destroy their peace of mind and their lives. He criticizes them for exploiting the villagers for their own gains.

 

Question 16. What different attitudes do the city dwellers display to the country people?
Answer: The city dwellers are indifferent to the plight of the country people and ignore the stands selling their goods. They get irritated with them for spoiling the landscape with their wrong signboards. They also exploit them for their selfish gains by offering them hollow charity which spoils their lives.

 

Question 17. On what occasions do the country people express their anger at the city elite?
Answer: The country people get angry with the city elite when, despite having money, they do not buy any of their goods. Again when a car stops and asks for gas which they obviously do not have, but does not ask the price of what they are actually selling.

 

Question 18. What do the country people want?
Answer: The country people want a share in the wealth enjoyed by the city people which they also have a right to, so that they can improve their conditions and lead better lives just as those promised by the movies and which the government has denied them.

Question 19. Why are the country folks disappointed?
Answer: The country folks have put up a roadside stand to sell their wares to the city dwellers. They desperately hope to earn some city money so that they could support their lives with it. They are disappointed because the city dwellers rush away in their polished cars with their minds focused only on their destination. If ever they pause, they are rather critical in their comments. They complain that the roadside stand had marred the scenic beauty of the landscape.

 

Question 20. Bring out the contrast between the urban rich and the rural poor.
Answer: The urban rich are on the move, they are in a hurry, they are speeding looking ahead. They have no time to inquire about the goods put up by rural poor for sale. On the other hand, the rural poor are standing and pleading for help.

 

Question 21. How does the poet describe the double standards of the government and other social service agencies towards the poor rural people?
Answer: The poet is sad that the government which came into power had many promises for the wellbeing of rural poor folks. But it and other social agencies did nothing for that. These poor rural people put up their roadside stands to sell what they produce. But no passer-by buys them. The poet feels much pain at their poor plight.

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