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Explication of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

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  • Pages: 7
  • Word count: 1565
  • Category: Poetry

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When I heard that we were going to read “Stopping by woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, I was extremely pleased, as I was very familiar with this it. I first read it as a child and it has ever since been my favorite poem. Explicating this poem gives a much deeper meaning than the words first indicate. The main underlying theme the poem explores is the wonder and sereneness of nature, while at the same time subtly pulling the reader away and towards the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

The denotative meaning this poem is a man with his horse and carriage stopping by woods on a snowy night. Just the title of this poem gives the reader a sense of calmness that comes with the image of a snowy evening in the woods. Frost could have used a different wording for his title of this poem, such as “Stopping the Carriage in a Forest During a Snowstorm on a Dark Night,” but he chose the words snowy evening and woods for his title instead. I think that snowy is possibly the softest derivative for snow in the English language, it has no hash syllables. Evening is another word that is very soft and peaceful sounding, especially when combined with snowy.

In the first stanza, the man driving the horse describes stopping near another man’s woods whose house is in the village. The man is watching the woods fill up with snow. In the first line he first mentions the wood which immediately gives the reader an outdoor and a rural feeling. This is followed in the next line by the narrator saying he knows the man who lives in the village that owns these woods. This mention of the village leads the reader away from the peacefulness of the woods filling up with snow and back into the village. I think that the purpose of frost mentioning that the man who owns the woods is to illustrate the irony of how something so peaceful and natural can be owned by someone who lives away in a bustling city.

Line three, “He will not see me stopping here,” implies that the narrator knows that the owner of the woods won’t come out to check on his property because he is in the village. This line also gives the reader a clue that maybe the man is on a journey and cannot stop to take in the beauty of this wonderful scene that is occuring. Line four, “To watch his woods fill up with snow” brings the reader’s focus back to the woods that are filling up with snow. This invokes an image of the woods becoming full with the snow as opposed to the snow falling on the woods which would not have the same effect.

The second stanza begins with line five, “my little horse must think it queer.” Little horse is another reference to nature. Also when he talks about his horse, the reader gets a sense of what the horse is thinking. The horse sees no point in stopping here, while the beauty of the woods causes the man to stop, which I think is a metaphor for the saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the second line the narrator mentions that there is not a farmhouse near which continues to give the reader a sense of the seclusion of the woods while at the same time it hints toward the unnaturalness of farms and farming. “Between the woods and frozen lake”, line seven, invokes an image that is purely natural. This line gives us a sense that the narrator feels surrounded or enveloped by the snowy woods.

The last line seems like an ominous passage like the last line, but at the same time could be interpreted to have a lighter more tranquil meaning. The situation in the last two lines something that described in a different manner could easily be taken as hostile or scary, being completely surrounded by snow woods as dark is starting to set in, but Frost has described the situation in such a beautiful and tranquil way that it is hard to think of it this way. In line eight, “The darkest evening of the year” implies that it is December sometime around Christmas and dark is starting to set in. To me this is the most peaceful time of the year despite the days being dark and cold which I think is what Frost to relay to the reader.

The first two lines, nine and ten, of the third stanza should be read as one complete thought. “He gives his harness bells a shake / To ask if there is some mistake” is an example of personification. It gives the horse a personality and he becomes another character in the poem. This is significant because in a way it distracts the man from his sort of trance that the beauty of the snowy woods has put him in. This passage is also illustrates how the wonderful moment that the man is having is suddenly interrupted by something manmade, the harness bells of his horse, bringing him back to reality so to speak. The second half of the third stanza, lines eleven and twelve, “The only other sound’s the sweep / of easy wind and downy flake” gives the reader a purely natural and soft image. Even the words have very soft syllables. This passage illustrates once again how natural and welcoming nature can be. It also gives the reader a very soft image, of the sound of snow.

The last stanza of the poem I think has the most impact as far as demonstrating how in this modern world we cannot leave our everyday modern lives that are full of commotion and business and even for the most perfect place or situation such as the snowy woods of Frost’s poem. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep” in line thirteen gives us the last image of the faultless woods before the turning point of the poem. This line gives the woods a mysterious and mystifying quality, as if one could look upon their beauty forever. Then, just as we feel that this image of this perfect snowy wood cannot get any better, the narrator says in line fourteen, “But I have promises to keep”, and it is then that we know that it is over. These promises that the narrator speaks of are without a doubt the responsibilities of everyday life that he must get back to. These responsibilities bring to an end this perfect picture of the snowy wood. The last two lines, fifteen and sixteen “And miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep” illustrate further the irony that the man cannot stay and look upon this natural wonder, but instead he has to keep on his journey and leave this serene place.

The meter and rhythm of this poem also play an important role in determining the underlying theme and meaning. The meter of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is iambic tetrameter with no irregularities. The iambic meter is very easy to detect in this poem, giving it a definite galloping feel, which represents the journey by horse. It is also important that there is four feet per line, as there are four steps to a horse’s gait. The meter of this poem certainly correlates to the journey that the man is on.

Another literary device that frost is alliteration. Throughout the poem, Frost uses the “s”, “w”, and “h” sounds extensively. All of these sounds are very soft and contribute to the overall peaceful feeling of the poem. The “s” and “w” sounds as well as making the poem more soft sounding are also sounds of the wind. When the wind blows through a snow covered forest, it sounds just like the “wh” sound in whose which is the first word of the poem. Also, the “s” sounds throughout the poem sound like wind carried thorough the leafless branches of a tree.

Rhyme scheme also plays a role in the poem, giving it unity and emphasis. The rhyme scheme of the poem is AABA BBCB CCDC DDDD. This rhyme scheme unifies each stanza to the next and unites the poem as a whole. The last stanza is given extra weight by rhyming the last word of each line. This adds to the main idea of the poem by emphasizing that the man has many more miles to go on his journey and therefore he cannot stay and enjoy the beauty of the snowy woods.

Explicating “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost gives the reader a much deeper view into what Frost was trying to relay to the reader. Many devices contribute to the main theme of the poem; the wonder and beauty of nature and how the modern society cannot stop and simply enjoy what God gave us. The devices that Frost uses are his language, rhythm, meter, and alliteration. All of these devices come together to form a very insightful and moving poem.

Works Cited:

Frost, Robert. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Literature A Pocket Anthology. Comp. R.S. Gwyn. New York: Penguin Academics, 2005. 616-617.

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