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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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Published by bitchesrunwild
S Clark Analyzes the poem
S Clark Analyzes the poem

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Published by: bitchesrunwild on Aug 27, 2013
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“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” Robert FrostS. Clarke
This entry represents criticism of Robert Frost's “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is generally regarded as Frost's masterpiece. The poem was included in Frost's collection
 New Hampshire
(1923) for which he won the first of hisfour Pulitzer Prizes. It is Frost's most famous poem, and one which he himself viewed as his“best bid for remembrance.” It is also perhaps Frost's most frequently taught and anthologized poem. The speaker in the poem, a traveler by horse on the darkest night of the year, stops to gazeat a woods filling up with snow. While he is drawn to the beauty of the woods, he has obligationswhich pull him away from the allure of nature. The lyric quality of “Stopping by Woods on aSnowy Evening” can be heard in the enchanting final stanza: “The woods are lovely, dark, anddeep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before Isleep.”
Plot and Major Characters
The speaker (presumably a man, although no gender is specified), while traveling on horseback (or in a horse-drawn sleigh) on the darkest evening of the year, stops to watch the woods fill upwith snow. He thinks the owner of these woods is someone who lives in the village and will notsee the speaker stopping on his property. While the speaker continues to gaze into the snowywoods, his little horse impatiently shakes the bells of its harness. The speaker describes the beauty and allure of the woods as “lovely, dark, and deep,” but reminds himself that he must notremain there, for he has “promises to keep,” and a long journey ahead of him.
Major Themes
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” like many of Frost's poems, explores the theme of the individual caught between nature and civilization. The speaker's location on the border  between civilization and wilderness echoes a common theme throughout American literature.The speaker is drawn to the beauty and allure of the woods, which represent nature, but hasobligations—“promises to keep”—which draw him away from nature and back to society andthe world of men. The speaker is thus faced with a choice of whether to give in to the allure of nature, or remain in the realm of society. Some critics have interpreted the poem as a meditationon death—the woods represent the allure of death, perhaps suicide, which the speaker resists inorder to return to the mundane tasks which order daily life.
Critical Reception
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was included in Frost's volume
 New Hampshire,
for which he won the first of four Pulitzer prizes. Critics generally agree that its central theme is thespeaker's dilemma in choosing between the allure of nature and the responsibilities of everydaylife in human society. However, the ambiguity of the poem has lead to extensive critical debate.Some conclude that the speaker chooses, by the end of the poem, to resist the temptations of nature and return to the world of men. Others, however, argue that the speaker's repetition of thelast line “And miles to go before I sleep,” suggests an indecisiveness as to whether or not he will,in fact, “keep” the “promises” by which he is obligated to return to society. Many have pointedout that this “ambiguity” is in part what makes the poem great. Another standard interpretation is
that the speaker is contemplating suicide—the woods, “lovely, dark, and deep,” represent theallure of death as a means of escape from the mundane duties of daily life. Still others, however,such as Philip L. Gerber, argue that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is mostimportantly a “lyric” poem, which should be appreciated in terms of its formal, metricalqualities, such as the complex, interlocking rhyme scheme, rather than its content or “meaning.”Gerber notes that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is “widely regarded, metrically, asFrost's most perfect poem.” Critics also point to the mood or tone of the poem, as created by itsformal properties, as one of a person caught up in a reverie; the hypnotic quality of the repeatedclosing lines, in particular, suggests a chant or spell. James Hepburn noted that the inability of critics to secure a particular meaning of the poem is due to the quality by which “It is a poem of undertones and overtones rather than of meaning.” Critical debate over the meaning andsignificance of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” rages on, but few question the statusof the poem as one of the greatest in American literature. Donald J. Greiner has observed of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” that “Its deceptive simplicity, its ambiguity, and itsinterlocking rhyme scheme have been so lauded that it is now one of the most explicatedAmerican poems.” The extent to which this poem has been discussed—perhaps overanalyzed—  by critics was indicated by the parodic interpretation of Herbert R. Coursen, Jr., who, tongue-in-cheek, surmised that the speaker is in fact none other than Santa Claus, the “little horse” whorings its harness bells representing a reindeer, and the “darkest night of the year,” during whichthe poem takes place, a reference to the winter solstice, which is only a few days beforeChristmas. According to this interpretation, the “promises” that the speaker must keep refer toSanta Claus's responsibility to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.
Symbol AnalysisThe woods in this poem are something to write home about. Our speaker can't get enough of them, telling us that "the woods are lovely, dark and deep" (13), as though he were hypnotized.The woods must be all that and a bag of chips, because our speaker is compelled to stop and stareat them on the freezing, dark winter evening. There's a mysterious element to these woods aswell, and we get the sense that the speaker is not alone, even though he is very much by himself.Whenever we see woods in literature, we almost automatically see them in contrast tocivilization. If you've read
, think about the woods Hester Prynne frequents.We also think of woods as being mazelike and full of hidden obstacles, like the Fire Swamp in
The Princess Bride
(watch out for the Rodents Of Unusual Size and the quicksand). These aresome pretty intense woods, so feel free to interpret them how you will. We will offer a few ideas below.
Lines 1, 4, 7, 13: Some interpret the woods as an extendedmetaphor for death.
Line 4: Here we see woods as a clear and crisp image asour speaker describes them filling up with snow
The Natural World
Symbol AnalysisOur speaker is digging the natural world. Picture him hanging out with his horse, between afrozen lake and the edge of the woods, while the snows falls gently all around him. The ideas of the village, of a farmhouse, or of the promises he must keep are not nearly as appetizing to our speaker as the cold beauty of the world around him. There's something very lulling about the"easy wind and downy flake" (12), and we get the sense that the natural world is prettycompelling and pretty good at convincing our speaker to forget about civilization. Nature is powerful in this poem.
Lines 6-8: With these lines, we get a crystal clear image of the snowy woods and frozen lake at night.
Line 11: We can almost hear the sound of the wind in thealliteration of "sound's the sweep."
Line 13: While the fact that the woods are "lovely, dark and deep" might not seem visually helpful, thisdescription actually helps us visualize the image of thewoods even more clearly.Symbol AnalysisAlone as alone can be. That's our speaker on this snowy evening. Why then, do we feel like he's
alone? Is it his little horse that seems to have a mind of its own, is it the landowner who issnug in his cozy house in the cozy village, or is it the presence of something else entirely?
Line 2: The "village" can be interpreted as a symbol for society and civilization.
Line 5: Horses have thoughts? We knew it all along. Thehorse is personified in this line.
Line 6: Farmhouses may not be the most hoppin' places inthe world, but they do usually involve people. Because of this, the farmhouse that our speaker mentions seems like asymbol for society and civilization.
Line 10: Giving his harness bells a shake, the horse is personified once more as he asks "if there is somemistake."Lines 15-16: "Sleep" is a solitary activity, no? In these lines, "sleep" could be interpreted as ametaphor for death.Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is a lonely poem, for our speaker finds himself far away from any other human being. He kind of digs this aloneness, however, and is glad that noone is there to watch him. We get the feeling that he'd rather be all by his lonesome in the

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