Fifthly: Some of Robert Frost’s poems, especially those from North of Boston (1914), are in effect short stories. ‘The death of the hired man’ is a prime example, though the lines “Home is the place where, when you have to go there/ They have to take you in” are assuredly better in poetry than they could ever be in prose. ‘The ax-helve’, from a different volume, New Hampshire (1923) is another good candidate. It does not build to any dramatic conclusion, just quietly finishes, with the French immigrant craftsman completing the task of making a new axe helve for the poet; yet it is perfectly rounded as an event, filling an evening. But counter-intuitively, I would choose an earlier poem, ‘Love, and a question’ from A Boy’s Will (1913) as my Frost short story. It is only four stanzas long, each of eight lines. It is a very short story ending on a question that reverberates well beyond the poem’s end.
A bridegroom is asked for hospitality by a stranger on his wedding night. The cottage in which the groom and his bride are awaiting nightfall is isolated; winter is coming on. The groom would normally be generous, but –
whether or not a man was asked
to mar the love of two
by harboring woe in the bridal house,
the bridegroom wished he knew.
First published in A Boy’s Will, David Nutt, 1913. Available to read online here