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By Steven Joseph McCrystal
Here's one interpretation of Robert Frost's legendary poem called "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." This poem was written in 1922 and is considered one of Frost’s seminal pieces of work. Its delicate beauty was recognized when Frost won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for its creation. In case you need a reference, see the poem below:
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
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’s queer
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 see if there’s some mistake.
The only other sound is 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.
One of the most attractive features of this poem about stopping during a peaceful and tranquil journey through the woods in winter is the simplicity of the poem. The first three stanzas contain three lines that rhyme and one line that sets up the rhyming sequence for the next stanza. Apart from the fourth stanza’s lines all of which rhyme. The effect of this is to carry the reader through this childlike poem very quickly. It’s almost as if the fleeting moment within the poems narrative is expressed and explored by enticing the reader to read it again. Except the second and third time you read it is when you take the time to slowly ponder the meaning of every verse.
The imagery in the first stanza sets the scene: “woods” and “snow.” Anybody that’s had the privilege of walking or playing whilst soft snow falls will instantly relate to the scene described in the poem. When the weather is just right and fresh snow falls there is a feeling of serenity and inner peace that flows through you as the gentle flakes caress your cheeks. This feeling halts the speaker in his tracks whilst they contemplate exactly where they are in life.
In the next stanza the personification given to the speaker’s horse must be one of the cutest verses in poetic history: “My little horse must think it's queer.” Giving this horse human characteristics conveys to the reader that there is a long established relationship between the speaker and his horse. It suggests that the road they are travelling on together is a familiar road because there is an emotional connection between man and beast. When Frost reinforces this idea by carrying the personification onto the next two lines: “He gives his harness bells a shake” and “To see if there’s some mistake.” It’s easy to imagine the horse nodding its head and neighing in response to its master stopping in the woods to admire the beauty that surrounds him.
It’s in the next stanza where the speaker’s contemplations seem to take a little twist towards a more significant and darker mind set: “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.” There is one insight that I am fond of that opens up the full poem for a different interpretation. The last verse seems to travel back to the last line in stanza two: “The darkest evening of the year.” It suggests that the darkest evening of the year isn’t a literal description but a metaphorical one. It suggests that it’s the speaker’s thoughts that are dark not the evening he has stopped in. It suggests suicidal thoughts because the lovely, dark, and deep woods gives connotations of a comfortable grave and a release from the speaker’s monotonous and mundane existence.
However, the speaker then realizes that his obligations supersede any thoughts about dying: “But I have obligations to keep.” The fact that Frost uses the word but conveys a sense of contradiction about the thoughts the speaker is having. The ambiguity of the obligations the speaker has allows the reader to make their own interpretations about them. Maybe the speaker has a family to go home to and bills to pay. Maybe the speaker has a job to finish. Maybe the speaker has Christmas presents to bring home. Maybe the “darkest evening of the year” is the winter solstice. The whole poem is open to interpretation because of its ambiguity.
When the final two lines in stanza four are repeated: “And miles before to go before I sleep.” The reader is drawn further in to the possibility that the poem is about something deeper than the innocent nursery rhyme the poem appears to be. The repetition of the last line reinforces the idea that the poem is about a desire to die because to fall asleep forever is just one connotation of the word sleep. Of course, there is another interpretation that could be applied about the last line of stanza three and that’s one of living and life. It could be argued that the speaker intends to live his life and live it well because they have miles and miles of living to do before the grim reaper knocks on their door. That’s the beauty of this poem’s simplicity it can be read into on many different levels. One minute it’s a child’s poem that’s full of joy and the next it’s a hard hitting poem about death.
In conclusion, this poem is almost magical in its simplicity and it has reached thousands upon thousands of people over the years. I first came across it in 2008 and I fell in love with it instantly. My favorite line is: “My little horse must think its queer.” It always brings a smile to my face when I read it and smiles are truly priceless. All in all it’s a queer little poem which is both happy and melancholy at the same time.
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