For Once, Then, Something


Frost, Robert




In Robert Frosts's "For Once, Then, Something," the speaker gazes into a well in search of what lies beneath his own image shining on the water. Mocked by unnamed "others" for always being "wrong to the light" and unable to penetrate the well’s depths, he persists in his well-gazing until he finally catches a glimmer of "something white" below the surface. Unsure whether what he has seen is grand and abstract or small and tangible, he tells himself that at least it was "something." This poem raises questions about what it means to see beyond ourselves, what it is we seek when we reflect, and whether it is possible to apprehend the reality under the surface of things. How might our own self-image obscure our vision in moments of reflection? What would it mean to be "right to the light" when we reflect?

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The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged. Ed. Edward Connery Lathem. Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1969.


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Identity and CommunityKnowledge and UncertaintyWisdom and Contemplation

Big Questions

How do we define who we are?What do we know for sure? What do we not know?What is the value of uncertainty?Why do we reflect? What makes reflection difficult?What do we hope to learn from meditation or contemplation?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Who might the "others" be who "taunt" the speaker? Why does the poem begin with them?
  2. What might it mean to be "wrong to the light"? What does the speaker see when he looks into the well?
  3. What do you make of the "something white, uncertain" that the speaker finally sees? Why is he unable to identify it?
  4. In what tone of voice do you imagine the last line being spoken? Why?
  5. Do our own searches for deeper meaning and significance in our work tend to turn up "Truth" or "a pebble of quartz"? Are these the only possibilities?
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