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"What Fifty Said"

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"What Fifty Said"
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Robert Frost

What Fifty Said
When I was young my teachers were the old.
I gave up fire for form till I was cold.
I suffered like a metal being cast.
I went to school to age to learn the past.

Now when I am old my teachers are the young.
What can't be molded must be cracked and sprung.
I strain at lessons fit to start a suture.
I go to school to youth to learn the future.

Clarification of literary term 1

Clarification of literary term 2



       Man has always sought to increase his wisdom. As children we are taught to look to the past, so that we might understand the mistakes of previous generations and avoid them. As adults our understanding of the past is comprehensive enough that we may change our attention to that which is to come. We look to the new emerging generations in an attempt to gain but a glimpse at our own future. This generation will mold and form the future in their very hands, to understand them is to understand what is to come. This is the concept presented by Robert Frost in his poem “What Fifty Said.”

     His poem begins through the view of him in his youth. He is blinded by his adolescence and is more concerned with arguing his point than receiving knowledge. Thus the line “I gave up fire form till I was cold.” He is taught by the principles of the past in order to secure his foundation for the future. This is a turbulent time in his life. He is raw potential. It is this period in his life that that he will be forged into the man he will become. As Frost puts it, “I suffered like a metal being cast.” This is analogy exemplifies the depth of Frost’s insight. Metal is heated to an extreme temperature, so that it may be molded into something useful. Just as a young individual is seemingly heated and molded by the corrections of those whose wisdom extends beyond his own.       

Time passes. He is no longer amorphous in shape. He is now as forged steel, solid in structure and form. However, this is not an indication that his transformation is complete. His knowledge of the past might have been the mold that has cast him into shape, but it is the knowledge of the future that will bend him into a usable product. This knowledge in embodied by the immerging generation, which is still in the process of being cast.

This entire process is, in essence, a balance. When young it is advantageous to learn from those who have the experience to guide you, so that you may understand the path that lies ahead. When matured, it is beneficial to look to those whose unbridled ambitions and ideas open your eyes anew, reveling that which once was shaded by shadow of disbelief that accompanies age. Frost’s concept of never surrendering in the quest to obtain knowledge is an inspiration that will echo its message into eternity.   


Additional Information


“What Fifty Said” is poem from Frost book “West-Running Brook.” To view a critical essays concerning this work or other works click the link and scroll to the appropriate point.