‘Love, and a Question’ by Robert Frost

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

‘Out, Out’ by Robert Frost

This is the first thing I thought of. Technically, it is a narrative poem, but it feels like a short story. It unfolds fluently, with an unforced ease, and turns on a perfect note of shock. It’s brief, and spare in terms of any real detail, but it contains a whole life in one moment, and ever since I first read it in my early twenties, it’s lingered somewhere deep in my chest. Life has never felt so fragile as this.

First published in McClure’s, July 1916, then collected in Mountain Interval, 1916. Available online via The Poetry Foundation