Departmental


Ants truly are a curious race. They are used in “Departmental” by Robert Frost because of the way they act about different things due to what they are and their way of life. This poem actually is a metaphor relating to humans.
The deeper meaning in the poem is masked through the use of ants. The way ants act is only the nature of animals that cannot reason. So the poem starts out with a lighthearted tone about an ant which notices a downed fellow ant and reports it to the one in charge of cleaning and transporting the remains. But the whole poem is about how humans sometimes act like lowly creatures such as ants. Humans act just like these ants, but the ants are not the heartless ones. They cannot be blamed for their actions. This behavior is metaphorically explained by the speaker with a tone that shows the heartlessness of humans.
This tone of heartlessness is backed up by the actions of humans we see every day. A member of the human race has a problem in their life, and only those closely related to the person even care. It has become such a part of every-day life that humans only see death and suffering and problems as the business of those related. This is what the speaker is referring to when he calls this action “not ungentle, but departmental.” Hence the title of the poem. The behavior is ordinary and accepted, not hateful or something we should be sad about. It is just another area of life that we departmentalize, like a business company or a ‘department’ store.
To say that we departmentalize these things is to divide each occurrence into sections. Take the death of a person, for example: the departments would be those involved, and those who don’t care or who aren’t involved. The ‘involved department’ would consist of the morgue and the immediate family or those who do care. Everyone in the rest of the world is a member of the ‘uninvolved’ party.
The poem in its physical layout and position on the page is typed specifically for a purpose. The sentences are varying in length, but typed very narrowly down the center of the page. The last word of every line rhymes with one or two neighboring lines. This narrow type is meant to symbolize the narrow-mindedness of humans; that we only see what affects us.
The images in the poem are created successfully through the use of details, and the comparison of ant and human behavior. “The selfless forager Jerry,” who had died is mentioned in the poem. He was just another ordinary gatherer who passed away, and someone has to go drag him in. He became the burden of the undertaker’s department. Later sentences that contain descriptions like ‘calmly’ and ‘formal’ show that ‘the solemn mortician’ was just doing his job.
The nature of humans can easily be called heartless, but we take it for granted that people will have problems and that not everyone in the world can or should be involved. The ants of the world are much like humans. But the ants are just being ants. Humans have their own nature. Although we believe we have qualities that put us to a completely different category than ants, more often than not, humans act like ants.