This is a truly beautiful poem, but a bit cryptic for me as most Robert Frost poems can be. They’re never about their chosen subject matter but some other ethereal idea beyond it. It’s why I like him.
In this poem he compares a woman to a silk tent. At the beginning of it she is free and floating, but towards the end she is pulled taut by the endless demands of life and love (much as any woman experiences). The comparison puts this image of the poem in the category of a simile – she is like a silk tent.
I think that perhaps the sheet of the tent is her soul, something also light and floating (perhaps, I’ve never seen one so I can’t say for sure). And the cords are those metaphorical ties to the earth, the “supporting central cedar pole.” At least that what think that the tent pole represents, but it is also described very similarly the way a preacher describes god, “it’s pinnacle to heavenward/And signifies the sureness of the soul”. God, according to the preacher, always points to heaven with a steady finger and he is the great stability of the universe assuring us a place in Immortality, assuring us that we are solidly soulful people. In religion, god is a sort of center that the rest of us circle around.
I’m, of course, loosely extrapolating a meaning from this poem, there might be zero religious context what-so-ever. But if my theory is correct it is a nice neat correlation between of the poem with religious imagery: the tent is secured both by the center pole and by the ground as we all are (at least, that’s how the preachers and the priests teach us to see it). So that “ties” is really a synecdoche for a spiritual concept for the obligations we have to the world and to our own soul.
It is also interesting that the sun’s breeze starts out as a saving grace, “has dried the dew and all its ropes relent” and turns capricious towards the end of the poem “only by going slightly taut/In the capriciousness of summer air/Is the slightest bondage made aware.” These last few sentences are the first to introduce concepts of capriciousness and bondage, of a harder reality than a lazy summer afternoon.
She seems mostly light as air, a woman made of gossamer things – of dandelion seeds, thistle down, moth wings. For even with the tautness of the cords, she’s only made slightly aware of the hardness of the world. Perhaps she is a very spiritual woman, or simply someone who isn’t quite there. Perhaps this is a poem detailing her life from carefree child to less carefree adult. Either way, the poem expresses her vividly, but in somewhat of a mysterious matter.
The Silken Tent
by Robert Frost
She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when a sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.