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He begins by saying She is as in a field a silken tent on line 1. The tent here is a metaphor for a woman or women in general, whilst the field in which it is set perhaps represents society and her family. The woman is a 'silken tent', silken here suggests femininity as opposed to the rough canvas of other such tents. The centre pole symbolises the soul of the woman, whilst her personality is represented by the capricious breeze that causes the tent to move and sway, reflecting her limited freedom. Like a tent, a woman also has strong support inside of her, being her spirit, which has constraints on her freedom in a similar way the guy ropes would hold the 'silken tent' in place.
Frost has cleverly reflected the relationship between a tent and a woman in the form of the poem. The poem is one long, graceful sentence that is completely free and relaxed in its manner, whilst being held within the strict boundaries of the Shakespearean sonnet form. In the same way, the poem describes a woman whose life unfolds in a very relaxed, natural way, within numerous strict boundaries.
The tent metaphor works perfectly to represent a woman, as the tent seemingly stands alone in complete freedom, until the sway causes the guy ropes to apply gentle pressure and she is sharply reminded of her responsibility as duty calls her to go back to her place. It reflects the idea that there is bondage in the life of this woman, meaning that ultimately she is free but within her confinement. Although she is not "strictly held", she is like the tent "loosely bound" with countless ties that are revealed when a "capricious breeze" comes into play. As the wind blows, symbolising the idea that chaos will happen, the woman remains strong, maintaining her femininity and beauty.
Another interpretation through the symbolic language could be suggesting a relationship between a man and a woman. Like silk, the woman is light, smooth and precious, like the relationship they share. The spiritual dimension of their relationship is obvious within the language as Frost writes, "its supporting central cedar pole, That is its pinnacle to heavenward". The pole also represents the masculine strength and support for the feminine side, which is the 'silken tent'. It could be interpreted that there are sexual connotations behind the imagery of the silken tent and the central pole being the "pinnacle to heavenward".
The tent is imagined "At midday when a sunny summer breeze Has dried the dew", any morning dew which would have soaked the tent's guy ropes to make them taut have evaporated, and the ropes are now "gently" swaying. At a subconscious level, this imagery conveys a sense that the woman being described is not tense or nervous, but is relaxed and comfortable to be around. It does not reflect the idea that the woman is 'blown around' by every bit of wind, but is strong. The woman's 'job' in a sense is to be warm and pleasant, "a sunny summer breeze". On line 13,"capriciousness of summer air" signifies the naughty, more playful side of the woman, 'summer air' being the more passionate side to her nature. The tent's pole conveys the strength and almost backbone of her character, being able to be free within her confinement with happiness. Her character derives in part from her deep attachment to friends and family, from "countless silken ties of love and thought". It symbolises the idea that she is very much at ease in her situation; her relationships do not entangle or bind her to limit her freedom.
Although the poem sounds relaxed and peaceful, like 'the sunny summer breeze', the underlying message is about the bondage of women in "silken ties" to family and society in general. The main symbol shows that women are tied in place by their love, loyalty and trust to everything around them, be that their family or society. The last line is seemingly important, "slightest bondage", showing here that the woman is owned by the man and those in her life, ultimately she will never be completely free from the 'ties' and 'poles' holding her down.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci was written by John Keats in the early 19th century, towards the end of the "Romantic period". It is ultimately about the dangers of obsession, mainly that of a romantic or erotic kind, but looking closely comparisons can be drawn between this and Robert Frost's The Silken Tent.
One of the biggest symbols Keats explores within La Belle Dame Sans Merci is that of nature and flowers. He uses the nature of the knight's surroundings to add to the tone of the poem, creating a desolate and empty setting. On line 3, the speaker says, "The sedge has wither'd from the Lake" This suggestion of it being autumn adds connotations of old age and imminent death, suggesting the inevitable outcome of the Knight by the end. The suggestion that it is autumn is made clear by line 4, "no birds sing". The absence of birds makes the setting seem bleak and isolated. This leaves an empty setting where the unknown speaker and the knight are seemingly the only two living things amongst the landscape. Keats purposefully chose this as his setting to mirror the knight's own emotional desolation.