ABOUT THE POET
Robert Frost ( 26 March 1874- 29 January 1963) was a celebrated American poet of the roaring 20th century. He had a subtle mastery of American colloquial speech and made realistic depictions of the early rural life. His works in poetry mostly included settings from the rural life in New England in the early 20th century. He used poems to examine complex philosophical and social themes. During his early life, individuals honoured and at many times quoted him due to his work and he also received four prestigious Pulitzer prizes.
His first couple of collections A Boy’s Will published in the year 1915 shows a sign of the many themes and techniques that he incorporated. Most of the poems in the collection employ an archaic, Victorian fashion. In this collection, he never applies the conversational style which is highly used in the poetry of his later years. His second collection North Boston cemented his reputation further.
Robert Frost’s poems, The Road Not Taken, published in 1961 Mountain Interval Collection became one of the anthologized and popular works in the American literature. His other notable works include The Road Not Taken, The Death of the Hired Man, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Mending Wall, New Hampshire and others.
With as the unsurpassable works of great literary essence, Robert Frost left for heavenly adobe at the age of 88 on 29 January 1963 at Boston, Massachusetts and has left behind a great legacy to be remembered.
ABOUT THE POEM
The poem – Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening written by Robert Frost was first published in 1923, as a part of his renowned collection ‘ New Hampshire’. The poem is narrated from the perspective of a traveller- who stops on the darkest night of the year to watch snowfall in the forest and in the process of this encounter, he reflects on both nature and society.
It is written with a perfect blend of iambic tetrameter and utilizes a tight-knit chain rhyme.
The poem portrays various themes and gives us a glimpse of surreal outpouring imageries. It was penned down in order to capture the conflict between man and nature and also to accentuate the difference between wishes and obligations we face in our day to day lives.
It should be taken note his this poem within a short while became a popular poem to commit to memory and recite due to its brevity and mysteriously impactful content. Frost himself called the poem – ‘ my best bit for remembrance.’
Within this short poem, we find how the poem gets such a great realization of the duties and responsibilities of life and that he had ‘ miles to go before [he] sleeps’. He rides through the woods with his horse. The poem inculcates all the three facets of the world – the natural, human and animal. It seems that what inspires Frost to take up this poem was his own life experiences when once on a snowy evening he watches the near village ( Franconia) and dreams. Also, an interesting fact is that Frost claimed that he wrote this beautiful piece of work in a single sitting one night, though it almost seems impossible.
STRUCTURE 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. My little horse must think it queer 5 To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. 10 The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
The poem consists of 16 lines and has been divided into four equal stanzas. The rhyme scheme suggested in the poem seems intended to highlight subtly the look and feel of snow. It makes us feel as if, with Frost, we have taken the beautiful moments of our lives to actually visit and watch the vividly wide snowy woods. Each line of the poem is composed of four games or ‘ daDUM’ syllables. There are many imageries and literary styles used throughout. ‘Rubaiyat stanza’ is the rhyme scheme followed, in which the second to last line in each stanza rhymes with the first two and fourth lines in the fourth stanza. It follows ‘AABA BBCB CCDC DDDD’ rhyme scheme.
LINE BY LINE ANALYSIS OF THE POEM
Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though;
The poem commences with the speaker stating that he is aware of the fact who owns these woods. Giving more information about the owner he says that the isolated woods are owned by the person whose – “ house is in the village / though;” This surreal description at the beginning hints at the knowledge that the narrator behold and this is what has made him halt at the darkest night of the year(22nd December) by the “ lovely, dark, and deep woods”.
He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.
The phrase “ he will not see me stopping here” brings out the futility on the owners’ part and suggests that the preconceived human impulse to dominate the natural world is deceived. This also highlights the physical isolation of the human world from the natural. This absence can also be gauged at disinterest on the owners’ part as in spite of owning the beautiful woods, he is absent to witness the falling snow, which the speaker being an outsider enjoys.
My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near
In this stanza, we come across the tamed horse of the speaker on whose back he has been riding to the surreal, mysterious woods. The horse here represents both the animal and the human society. The horse is personified( given human-like characteristics) here and in doing so, he becomes one with the man. He rightly reflects the assumptions of the human world as he finds it a little queer to halt in the snowy evening without a farmhouse. The ‘farmhouse’ here denotes the human civilisation, the criterion of the man-made world.
Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year.
In these lines, we get the description of the exact place where they had stopped. This is between the woods and frozen lake. It is quite intriguing that on such dire conditions the speaker has decided to witness the mesmerising surrounding also, the darkest evening of the year adding on the line. Such could have been presumed by any other human being as silly or disoriented opinion. But this is where the true essence of the poem lies. It shatters all the bantering ramifications and holds its subtlety.
He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake.
In these lines, we again witness how the queerness of the horse makes him shake his harness bells “ to ask is there is some mistake”. This harness bells holds the speaker from fully enjoying the beauty of the woods. Again, a contrast between the human and the natural world is drawn by these lines.
The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake.
Frost has incorporated several literary devices in his poem. In these lines, we come across the use of beautiful imageries and alliteration which gives the poem its rhythm. The only sound that could be heard in the isolated forests is that of the falling snow flakes and easy wind. This falling makes us imagine the breaking sound of ice and the wind moving near our ears. We feel as if Frost has taken us to the woods for a few minutes and we enjoy the ‘lovely’ forests ourselves.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep,
Frost here gives a lively description of the woods denoting them as ‘lovely’, ‘ dark’, and ‘deep’. Reference to dark suggests the mystic nature of them and how it behold secrets from which every human being is unaware. ‘Deep’ refers to the depth of the woods. Depicting them as ‘lovely’ suggests that how the natural world can be both tempting and threatening power.
Although he was fully engrossed in describing the beauty of nature, yet reality hits hard and he is held back by his unfulfilled promises and duties. Such pledges bound him and draw him back to the human society. This shows how man is tied in the unending trail of duties which ought to be completed before we sleep ( referring to the eternal solace -death).
And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
Starting with a refrain, Frost has beautifully illustrated the mortal limitations and bindings. Even if he tries to break this eternal cycle by continuing to watch the tempting place, the speaker knows that – he has ‘promises to keep’- suggesting certain societal urges.
The repetition of the first two lines here is the most important part. It shows that he wants to draw our attention towards these lines. Here, ‘sleep’ denotes death. The post through his poem suggests that there will be many instances where we will come across such tempting things but owing to the short span of our lives, we should move on.
LITERARY DEVICES OF THE POEM
There are a wide range of literary devices incorporated in the poem- Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
- It is a figure of speech in which a comparison between two different things is implied, but not clearly stated. Metaphor in the poem include-
- “sweep of easy wind and downy flake”( last line of the third stanza)
- “ and miles to go before I sleep”
Although these two are no usual metaphor but extended metaphor — heightening the range of the poem.
it is a figure of speech in which abstract ideas are invested with personality and both inanimate and abstract ideas are endowed with the attributes of living beings.
Horse – “ He gives the harness bells a shake/ to as if there is some mistake.”
Here, the horse is personified and made one with the human world.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep”
“The darkest evening of the year”
- The close repetition of consonant sounds, usually at the beginning of words.
“watch his woods”
“sound’s the sweep”.
- it is the repetition of the vowel sounds in the same line.
“he will not see me stopping”
- Repetition of the consonant sounds.
“ whose woods are these I think I know”.
THEME OF THE POEM
There are many themes of the poem but what could be said of poignancy is the theme of nature versus society.
Nature V/S Society
The poem commences with the speaker enjoying the scenic beauty of the woods standing awestruck on the darkest night of the year. Robert Frost has rightly brought up the theme of escapism in the human society. The poet vividly describes the stopping to watch the snowfall while riding on the horse’s back. The poet has shown in the first lines how the owner of these woods is unaware of the poet’s halt and won’t be able to see him admiring the ‘lovely’ woods.
These lines show how the natural world is distinctly separate from the human world. The landowners’ absence and futility suggests that the human world is far away from the natural world.
The only sound that could be heard was that of the ‘ harness bells’. Lack of sign of civilisation isolates the setting of the poem and helps the narrator to enjoy the ‘lovely’, ‘dark’ and ‘deep’ woods.
The beauty of the enchanting woody heavily influenced the poetic persona. Frost’s poem always are adept with the bounty of nature. His greatness lies in the fact that the Victorian poet was able to derive his inspiration from the natural world and in a way juxtapose the human society with the heavenly present. Other poems of Robert Frost which portray similar themes are – Into my Own, The Road not Taken, Acquainted with the Night, The Oven Bird and After Apple- Picking. Throughhispoems, he has amalgamated the very essence of the industrialised 19th century and the escapism sought by all in the lap of mother nature. This escapist idea is countered by the horse drawing cart– representing human society. In order to bring back the speaker from his shooting gaze, he gives his ‘ harness bells a shake’. Such deliberate attempt shows how the human mind and world is bound by earthly promises and duties. This is cemented when the narrator states that – he has
“promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
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