“Uphill” is structured in a dialogue-question and answer- form where the poet employs symbolism and allegory to carry its meaning. The rich allegory is evident in its representation of a different kind of journey while symbolism is carried in its deeper, spiritual meaning. Its characters and events stand for abstract ideas parallel to the literal sense of a traveler’s ordinary but uncertain journey. Suffice to say, allegory is evident throughout the poem.
Ostensibly, the poem is about a traveler asking another person about a journey which is to come. The traveler seems to be doubtful while the friend is as assuring as can be. The assuring friend aims at calming the nerves of a doubtful person by giving him hope and optimism of future comfort. It is a poem that bears constant assurance that ‘move on, it’s going to be all right’.
It is difficult to discuss this poem using terms like ‘what the poet means is ...’ since it is, like many poems, very rich in meaning. The power of the entire poem is delivered through ambiguity of individual lines and words. In addition the poet expresses emotions by use of a variety of techniques for instance repetition, metaphors, rhymes and repetition. These make it a powerful poem since aesthetics of language are the hallmarks of English poetry. The beauty reflected by the use of rhymes in alternate lines can be taken to reflect heavenly beauty.
To discover the meaning of the poem accurately and identify the speakers in the dialogue, it is important to go through the entire poem on a line by line and stanza by stanza basis. In doing so it is important to mention here that the poem bears Christian undertones especially concerning the traveler’s journey which can be equated to the journey of the soul to heaven.
“Does he road wind up-hill all the way?” There are two perspectives in which the lines can be conceived. First, given the Christian connotation of the poem, it is a voice of a person on the journey of faith, which seems long (and winding) and therefore the ‘traveler’ symbolizing a believer looks upon a source of strength for assurance. The assurance is needed since the road keeps on going on. Secondly the line may be further refined to accommodate the inner struggles that go on within a believer as far as faith is concerned. In both cases there is an expectation that at some point the struggles will be rewarded once the journey ends.
The answer, “Yes to the very end,” assures the believer that is not over until he or she reaches the ‘end’, a metaphor for death. Soon the believer inquires whether the day’s journey will take the entire day (line 3, stanza 1).if a day which is characterized by presence of light could be taken to symbolize life, then a night would fit the symbol of death or the end to life; just as night signals an end to the day. So the believer is agonizing about enduring the entire journey of faith, since life is full of ups and downs and some of them are tempting.
“From morn to night my friend,” is what the second speaker says. Like the first answer the other speaker affirms that there are no short cuts along the way. The target is set and nothing short of its attainment is expected from the believer concerning eternity of his or her soul. However, in as much as facts are laid bare on a serious note, inclusion of the word ‘friend’ in the line shows that the second speaker has assumed responsibility and is committed to assist the traveler by urging him or her on. The second figure can be taken to symbolize a super natural being whose inspiration keeps a believer going.
The second stanza focuses on the night. Repetition of ‘night’ signifies the importance of life after death (eternal life).The ‘believer’ asks whether there will be comfort as night’s rest is taken. Here, once death comes, the speaker wants assurance that expected eternity is as there and to this, the second speaker affirms that there will be a ‘roof’. However the speaker hints that the hours will be ‘slow’, meaning that the pace will not probably be as hectic as the one the traveler is experiencing. The traveler is not yet satisfied. He or she seeks to know whether darkness will conceal the resting place. This may be taken to be a reflection of some doubt on the part of the traveler about possibility of death leading to eternal peace in heaven. The inn that is mentioned here symbolizes heaven for the Christian believer. Its presence is confirmed in no uncertain terms: “You cannot miss the inn.”
No one wants to travel alone. It is for this reason the traveler nervously expresses willingness for companionship when he or she asks, “Shall I meet wayfarers at night?” Wayfarers are travelers. These are fellow believers who might have reached heaven before. This is confirmed when the second speaker says that, “Those who have gone before will surely accompany the first speaker. As he politely chides the doubtful believer, the spiritual voice paints a picture of hope by mentioning that it has been done before and therefore the believer should look forward to accomplishing it.
After receiving the assurance, the traveler wants to know whether he should ‘knock or call when just in sight’ that is upon arrival in heaven. Simply, how does the soul finally get there? Is it important to announce its arrival? Definitely, ‘they’ will not keep the traveler ‘standing at the door,’ comes another assurance. Here, ‘they’ refers to those referred to earlier having ‘gone before.’ These are fellow believers and probably inhabitants of heaven such as angels who will play the dutiful role of hosts.
“Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?” goes another query. Tits clear here tat the issue of comfort still lingers in the traveler’s mind. The believer anticipates that he or she shall make it, albeit weary (travel sore and weak), and a very strong assurance is rendered: “of labor you shall find the sum.” Taken literally, “you will be paid for what you have done.” Sum is a totality of rewards for a job well done. More deeply, Rossetti is saying that you reap from where and what you sow. The traveler referred to earlier will therefore get what she or he deserves. It is related to the earlier line, “Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?” From a christen perspective, it means that after earthly struggles, heavenly comfort is assured.
The comfort, symbolized by a ‘beds for all’ that make it to heaven, powerfully sums up the poem. For the first time the first speaker falls silent; a sign that he is contented. He is now aware that heaven is open to those who seek it; no one is preordained and it takes a life in faith to get there.