A Snowy Evening with Robert Frost Robert Frost once said, “It begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a loneliness. It is never a thought to begin with. It is at best when it is a tantalizing vagueness. ” (“Poetry Foundation” n. d. ). This poem holds a lot of mystery in its meaning which has a variety of interpretations. John T. Ogilvie who wrote, “From Woods to Stars: A pattern of Imagery in Robert Frost’s Poetry” interprets this as a poem about the journey through life. James G. Hepburn who wrote, “Robert Frost and His Critics” took a different approach.
He believes this poem to be about the aesthetics and moral action. This poem contains a variety of literary devices that not only describe the scenery but also the scene itself. Despite its critics who believe this poem to be about the scenery and moral action, Robert Frost’s poem is best understood as a journey through life, because its literary design allows many to have interpreted it this way. “To watch his woods fill up with snow” “To stop without a farm house near/ Between the woods and frozen lake/ The darkest evening of the year. ” “The only other sound’s the sweep/ Of easy wind and downy flake. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” (842-843). The description of the woods is seductive because of the rhyme scheme, AABA/BBCB/CCDC/DDDD. Robert Frost has made comments about the form of this poem, “a series of almost reckless commitments I feel good in having guarded it so. [It is]…my heavy duty poem to be examined for the rime pairs. ” (Frost on Stopping by Woods N. D. ). The English language is not as rhyme friendly as other languages such as Italian or French. The English language is a melting pot of many different languages limiting the amount of words that rhyme.
As John Ciardi says, “In ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ Frost took a long chance. He decided to rhyme not two lines, but three in each stanza. Not even Frost could have sustained that much rhyme in a long poem. ” (Ciardi, How Does a Poem Mean? ). This allows the reader to be hypnotized by the rhythm Frost has created. By repeating the ‘o’ sound, ‘though’ also starts the series of rhymes that will soon get the better of the reader. For example this is seen clearly in the opening lines of the poem, “Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; / He will not see me stopping here/ to watch his woods fill up with snow/. ” (842). As the reader begins to recognize the pattern of the poem it guides them into the same drowsy feeling as the narrator is experiencing. James G. Hepburn, who wrote “Robert Frost and His Critics,” says, “Each of the first three stanzas begins flatly; each rises, with the last line or two lines, towards the spell; but not until the end of the third stanza is the rise powerful, and not until the opening of the fourth and final stanza is the rise sustained rather than broken. So from the above lines and evidence we can interpret these lines as follows. The narrator is most likely returning home from some errand that took him far away from his home. He is riding his horse late at night or late day and has stumbled upon some beautiful scenery. This is when he decides to stop and take in everything that he is seeing. When the narrator first stopped in the woods he has a good idea of whose land this is, which is stated in the first two lines. Rueben A.
Bower who wrote, “The Poetry of Robert Frost: Constellations of Intention” says, “The very tentative tone of the opening line lets us into the mood without quite sensing where it will lead, just as the ordinariness of ‘though’ at the end of the second line assures us that we are in the world. ” Robert Frost did not start this poem with the magical whimsy of the woods but instead with the mood they contain (Hepburn 1962) “Whose woods these are I think I know. / His house is in the village though; / He will not see me stopping here/ to watch his woods fill up with snow/. (842). By doing this he allows the reader to have a better understanding of why the narrator would stop to look upon this beautiful scenery. As Hepburn says in his article, “Robert Frost and His Critics” “The mood that the poem induces in the reader nullifies his acceptance of the intention expressed by the traveler. The sum of the reader’s experience of the poem is different from the meaning of the traveler’s experience of the woods. Presumably the traveler goes home to supper, to his duties, and to the rest of his journey through life; but these things are not the poem. Frost made some comments on the factors mood plays in a poem, “… the poet’s intention is of course a particular mood that won’t be satisfied with anything less than its own fulfillment. ” (Hepburn 1962). This poem isn’t a recreated experience but meant to be an experience in itself. This poem has some interesting symbolism in it takes us on a journey through a man’s life. When the narrator first stops, instead of questioning himself, he questions what the horse thinks, “My little horse must think it queer” (842).
By questioning the horse, he is really questioning his own reasons, which people often do while they make life decisions or everyday decisions. The horse is also a symbol of time the horse is questioning his stopping and urges him to move on to prevent the further loss of time (Anonymous). When the narrator’s horse shakes his harness bells, he then becomes a symbol, as John Ciardi thinks, “.. order of life that does not understand why a man stops in the winter middle of nowhere to watch snow come down. ” The horse is the will power persistent in the subconscious of a man.
The horse urges him to get back to his business by the shake of his harness bells which is indirectly contrast the narrator who would like to stay in the woods. Even though his horse is urging him to be responsible he continues to be enticed by the soft lull of the woods just like the reader is. For example, “He gives his harness bells a shake/ To ask if there is some mistake. ” (842). The sound of the horses harness bells is contrasting against the sounds of the woods described as, “The only other sound’s the sweep/ Of easy wind and downy flake. (843). This is the woods contradicting the symbolism of the horse making their presence relevant. In life there are often two main choices to be made. Similar to this poem the narrator can either stay in the woods or go back to his everyday life. The speaker is going ahead and his ‘sleep’ may be the symbol for the end of his life. The journey in this poem turns out to be more complicated than the life of an average man. The darkness of the woods is symbolic of the ‘easy’ way out or the path people before him have taken.
The wind and downy flakes also have a similar symbolism. While the flakes appear to be soft, they are also cold which is less forgiving. The reader and the narrator share all of the experiences together as the poem goes on. For example, the line “The darkest evening of the year. ” (842) is a correlation between life and the obligations he is carrying. This line also adds an unbroken curve of rhythm. As Ruben A. Bower (1963) goes on to explain, it adds to the sense of moving into a spell-world.
We note the linking rhymes that tie in with the first stanza. Different symbols in this poem though reveal that stop in the poem could be referring to death or the journey through life. In this phrase “Between the woods and frozen lake”, the wood becomes a symbol of life while the frozen lake signifies death. When the speaker reaches the woods, he finds a world offering perfect, quiet and solitude, existing side by side with the realization that there is also another world, a world of people and social obligation. Both worlds have a claim on the poet.
He stops by the wood on this “darkest evening of the year” to watch them “fill up with snow”, and remains there so long that his “little horse” shakes his “harness bells” to ask if there is “some mistake” (842). That little horse’s action reminds him of the “promises” he has to keep and the miles he still has to travel. (843). The theme of this poem is a journey, and not simply a journey through the woods but through life itself. There is an expectant tone throughout the poem. The narrator stops for a brief time to meditate and realizes he needs to continue on his journey through the woods and his journey through life.
This poem also has a “romantic” theme as well as subject. Again the speaker is returning home and stops to take in the beautiful scenery. As the urgency to move on becomes more apparent the narrator begins to regret that he must leave. The narrator is romanticizing what he is passing which is time and pleasure. “He gives his harness bells a shake/ To ask if there is some mistake. / The only other sound’s the sweep/ Of easy wind and downy flake. ” (842-843). For example, the words “lovely” “snow” “lake” “evening” and “easy wind and downy flake” (840-843) are all romantic in nature.
Also the way the narrator talks about nature makes the loving relationship he has with it a romantic notion. “The only other sound’s the sweep/ Of easy wind and downy flake. ” (843). It is also seen in this line, “To watch his woods fill up with snow. / … Between the woods and frozen lake/ The darkest evening of the year. ” (842). As Jeffrey Meyers says, “The theme of “Stopping by Woods”–despite Frost’s disclaimer–is the temptation of death, even suicide, symbolized by the woods that are filling up with snow on the darkest evening of the year.
The speaker is powerfully drawn to these woods and–like Hans Castorp in the “Snow’ chapter of Mann’s Magic Mountain–wants to lie down and let the snow cover and bury him. The third quatrain, with its drowsy, dream-like line: “Of easy wind and downy flake,” opposes the horse’s instinctive urge for home with the man’s subconscious desire for death in the dark, snowy woods. The speaker says, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” but he resists their morbid attraction. ” (Meyers 1996).
The journey threw life and the temptations of death and the peace it may bring some individuals is the theme of this poem. Although some may not agree with this interpretation of Robert Frost “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” like James G. Hepburn who thinks, “This poem is a tribute to the New England sense of duty.. ” (Hepburn 1962). But as you have seen this poem is about a journey through life. The way the poem uses literary tactics lead us to this very specific interpretation. As Robert Frost once said, “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom. ” (Frost on Stopping by Woods N. D. ).
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