Wednesday, January 17, 2018


Stopping by woods on a Snowy Evening was first published was first published in the New Republic in March 7, 1923, and republished later that year in a collection of Robert Frost's poems entitled New Hampshire. New Hampshire was the first of Robert frost's books to have both a trade and a limited edition. The limited edition consisted of 350 numbered copies signed by the poet. This collection won Frost a Pulitzer Prize and widespread recognition as an important American writer.

Stopping by woods on a Snowy Evening

This poem is one of the most well-known and widely anthologized short pieces of Frost. The poem has a lyrical frame, and is meditative in tone and movement. The setting is pastoral, one which belongs to the world of description of the scene of the woods and the circumstances under which the narrator had stopped there. But behind this seeming simplicity there runs a meaning which is far-reaching in its effects. Stopping by woods on a snowy Evening, one of the most quietly moving of Frost's lyrics, uses its superb craftsmanship to come to a climax of responsibility: the promises to be kept, the obligations to be fulfilled.

The action of the piece starts in the middle of an incident, at a point where it nears the climax of an experience, However, in under-tones, the experience cases to be personal, and acquires universal proportions, it is not restricted to the personal level. That is the shift in the emphasis, the change from a personal realm of experience to a universal becomes known as the poem proceeds. - Xs the poem progresses, the personal merges with the universal, the specific with the general. This has been brought about by a shift in the emphasis, the rhythm, the mater, the rhyming, the tone and everything about the poet's technique. Indeed, the form and the content of the poem are not two separate things. There are one and the same, each drawing on the other for its effectiveness.

One of the significant things about the poem is that Frost makes the tone and technique of it to convey the meaning he wants to put through. The distinction of Frost is that, he creates voice tones. In this poem the voice is that of the speaker:

“Whose woods there are I think I know.”
The voice is so calm and simple, it is so clear in tone and movement that it can be mistaken to be a prose utterance. It indeed is, if we forget that it is metrical form. It may be the voice of a person talking in a natural way-in the natural rhythms and speech. Now the lines are neither to be read strictly in the metrical rhymic order nor as ordinary speech, but in a special way, by accommodation, adjustment between meters. Thus the speech is the living voice of a person, a dramatic character. There is the pattern of a dramatic speaker's voice in the rhythms.

Now in the poem, there is incident, setting and character, and the character 'has a distinct tone of voice, but in order that the speech may be dramatic there must be action. At the beginning of the poem there is one character: the man talking, “whose woods there are I think I know”. Soon a reference is made to a second person, “His house in the village though.” So there is developed a dialogue context, the second character playing the role of an implied speaker. At the beginning of the second stanza there comes a third character: “My little horse.” The horse is a character in the sense that it contributes to the dramatic tension of the speech:

“He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake”
The shaking of the harness bells is a way in which the horse confronts the speaker with a question. Unlike the second character whose presence is only felt, the horse is a reality, it exists with the narrator in material terms. Thus the real opposition, the dramatic conflict, in the poem is between to speaker and the horse and not the speaker and the unseen somebody. And the opposition is deep. Whereas the speaker is an idealist lost in the magnitude of nature, the horse is a realist and prompts his rider to take a realistic course of action and not get lost in sentimental ruminations.

It is this opposition- character interplay- that gives Stopping by woods on a Snowy Evening the force of a dramatic utterance, though the poem is written in the tradition of the romantic nature lyric. Nature here has a dramatic function to subserve. It acts as a background to the action. The sound of “The sweep of easy wind and downy flake” is in tune with the speaker's voice, a voice mysterious, somewhat terrifying:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep”
It the darkest evening of the year, amid the winter snows, stopping by the woods, alone, even for a moment', must be terrifying indeed. When the horse reminds the speaker of this by giving his harness bells a shake, he springs into life from the reverie, and thinks of the promises he has to keep.

"And miles to go before I sleep" is a symbol for life's journey, which journey must end sometime in eternal sleep. The poet here may be thinking of his obligations to himself, to his family and children, to his fellow-men, for the benefits he has received from them. And in order to keep all the promises, he will have to travel a long distance, to work a great deal. In the winter evening “not only is he drawn by the beauty of these woods but also by the desire to stop struggling, to give up all the duties and promises that life is made up of, and just lie down in peaceful death.” But the horse makes him think of the promises he has to keep, and not wish for death. The poet reflects “I must keep my promises, I have many more miles to go before tonight's sleep brings me rest, before the final sleep gives me eternal peace-relief from the turmoil and burden and responsibilities of my life.”

The poem is unique in the simplicity of language. Monosyllabic words predominate in the poem. The use of the symbolistic technique is masterly. The use and manipulation of rhymes is also masterly. The rhyming of the poem is neither strained nor palpable. The lines flow, without seeming artificial. This is the secret of the success of the poem.

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