“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
Being written by Robert Frost in 1922, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” became one of the most significant and most talking about poems in the whole career of the poet. Moreover, the author himself in the letter to one of his friends called this poem as the best thing that would remind everyone of him. What is so significant and beautiful in this lyric? What is its main theme? Why even Robert Frost could not resist the charm of the poem he has created himself?
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It happened once in the dawn, when Robert Frost after staying awake for the whole, got on his mind an idea about his new poem – “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” He wrote it in a very specific style created by Edward Fitzgerald and called Rubaiyat stanza. From the first sight, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” can remind its readers about some dream or maybe even hallucination about the snowy evening and some horse. However, the poem itself is much more complex and tastes like something really beautiful. It is needed to be mentioned that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one of the poems from Frost’s collection New Hampshire. Later, exactly for this collection, the poet won a Pulitzer Prize – one of the most important awards in the world’s literature. Nowadays “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is the popular poem, which is often taught in universities and schools. It is also considered as one of the most readable poems that were written by Robert Frost. There is a narration in the poem and a narrator is a man who is traveling on a horse in one of the darkest nights. There is no actually mentioning the gender of the lyric hero, but from his speech, one can define that it is a man. Suddenly, the traveler stops just to look at the woods, beautifully covered by snow. Although this man has obligations that he must handle, he cannot draw himself from the allure of these snowy woods in the darkness.
The traveler is almost tearing apart between his feelings and the choice that he needs to make: the man must either stay here and enjoy the beauty of nature or admit that he has obligations and must return and make everything society wants or needs from him. There is a lyric in this poem, the notes of romanticism, especially described in the last stanza of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” There are different interpretations of the poet’s words, different explanations of what he wanted to say. Some of them translate this poem as the hallucination or a sort of meditation concerning death. Other critics think that the main message in this poem concerns suicide while the choice that the traveler has to make is the one between death and return to his ordinary life. Like many other poems were written by Robert Frost, the main theme of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is that moment, when a person is trapped between nature and society, and then he just has to choose either one way or another. Moreover, this theme is not only actual in Frost’s works, but also in the whole American literature. Some critics prefer to make a conclusion that at the end of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” the man will choose the civilization and stand against all temptations of nature, as well. However, the last repetitive lines of the poem, to others' minds, can be translated as quite opposite thing: when the traveler will prefer nature and wilderness than civilization and its obligations. This thing, this moment of indecisiveness is one charming thing about the whole poem. One of the famous literary critics Gray said that readers should not look for meaning in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” it is better to enjoy and at the same time analyze all overtones and undertones (1990).
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Leni Garcia, for instance, decided to analyze “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” in its own way, using Marcelian phenomenology. Being one of the most well-known essayists and specialists in literature, Garcia now is trying to find that gap, that bridge between philosophy and works of literature. He thinks that exactly with the help of Marcelina's philosophy, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is that easy to read and to fall in love with. The main concept of the aforementioned philosophy is concerned with the method of reflection. According to Marcel, reflection does not actually mean the pointed above terms in the usual dictionaries: to reflect means to break some walls or borders. As for “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” here, the main element of reflection is to find the real meaning, the conscious side of the poem. The major reason for this “breaking” and the reflection as the result is that the world today is becoming more and more mechanical. By Marcel, people are losing their humanity, forgetting what it is like to be a human being, not just a robot. In the analyzed poem, readers see, as it was mentioned above, the plot where the traveler is amazed by the snowy nature in the darkest of nights. However, one does not know the details of this moment like why exactly on this evening the traveler decides to take a ride on his horse, or where he is going, for what purpose he is going through these woods on this snowy evening. Moreover, one does not even know what kind of obligations man must endure and why those are so important and so urgent.
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The only thing that readers know is that this man, this traveler is on a long trip and that he still has a long destination to handle before he can have some rest. Besides, one can also see that the lyric hero is quite familiar with these places and yet it seems like he does not know them well enough. The traveler feels unwell about stopping in the middle of the woods at night, and yet the thought about the village near warms his heart for a bit. In the first stanza that tells readers the information mentioned above, the first reflection by Marcel can be seen. It tells that the man, the traveler in this example, is suddenly strongly drawn to something else, like to the beauty of nature in the poem. This sudden urge, sudden interruption from common thoughts is created by esthetics. However, the image of a horse in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” has exactly no esthetics in it. The horse here is more mechanical than a personification itself; the horse, it seems, has nothing to do and is used to go from one destination to another. The horse does not expect anything new, but exactly this stop in some woods makes the animal confused. Moreover, the man himself feels the change in the horse’s behavior – this uncomfortable feeling the animal had. Likely through his horse’s feelings, the main character also feels that change in his daily life which would occur soon. From the point of Marcel’s philosophy, philosophy of reflections, the image of this change is quite destructive because exactly these natural reflections turned upside down the trip and the whole plan about it. This wrong, from the first sight, reflection of reality and events actually helped the lyric hero to make a decision and leave all the obligations and opportunities behind, and dedicate his time to rest. According to Marcel’s philosophy, this certain decision means that the man broke the pattern of ordinary and that he was being reflected by nature and the atmosphere around him.
There was also the secondary as it called reflection in the poem: when after all, after even almost making a decision in favor of rest than to move on in his journey, the man still decided to do his responsibilities. With the help of the whole reflection thing, the author points out his readers’ attention to the fact that the main character from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is getting through some sort of transition. The latter is a transition from a normal reflective human-being to a machine, a robot that has nothing in his life than just to follow his obligations. That is Marcel’s philosophy of reflection in the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (Garcia 1990).
The main things about poems as a whole are that every reader can interpret poems in their own way. In the lyric considered every reader and critic can find two choices of poem’s analysis: surface and its deeper meaning. This kind of duality in the analysis and their meanings lie in the duality of their understanding. Being sincerely and absolutely seduced by the snowy woods around him, the main character still is trying to bring himself back from fantasies somehow, no matter how sweet and tempting they are, and come back to reality. There is a certain contrast in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” between wilderness and people’s freedom: the gap between nature and society; between the real daily life and dreams one can have. There is even contrast in the attitude of the narrator and the owner of these beautiful woods. The first one sees in these snowy dark woods the portrayal of pure beauty that can be compared to the pureness of one’s soul while the second one, the owner who lives in the village, sees nothing more in woods than just a part of business, his economical investment. Two different stanzas, two kinds of attitude – romantic and very much realistic – are told about during the whole poem.
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Like all those poets Romanists, the lyric hero of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is charmed and amazed by the secrets that these snowy woods or this darkness can hide. Moreover, several times in the analyzed literary work, the narrator is asking, communicating with his horse: he is trying to find any answers with the help of his horse. However, it does not matter whether the man speaks to his horse or not; it does not even matter how the narrator understands that he is going to remember this moment for a very long time. Nevertheless, one can be sure that the horse – being just an animal – will forget about that interrupting journey, about this moment in a day or two. Two personas are compared here: these are the traveler and the horse. The man in the poem is tired, exhausted from his life. The image of the horse is represented here also like the image of some man, but now this certain man is used to his life, the routine he has every day. This man does not need to make any decisions just because his life is already decided. Even at the end of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” when both characters are leaving, the horse is behaving like he always does by responding to special signs his master gave him. While leaving the main character is sad and quiet, his horse is in “I just do whatever I always have to do” mood (Hochman 1997).
According to other critics of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” this certain poem can be read in several ways, sort of fashion ways of reading. Some even say that there can be four types of such readings or four types of interpretations. The first one is about seduction when one is driven by this tempting taste of sin and still makes the right decision, a decision to move on. However, as it was mentioned above, the style of reading of this poem can be quite opposite of the first interpretation, when one wants to be seduced by sin, wants to accept it, but the horse, the animal is the creature that takes him away from the decision. Two other interpretations of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” concern the nature, its meaning and meaning of the moment it has created. Nonetheless, if it is said that the poem can be read with the help of any interpretations, why then all the critics are still torturing their minds looking for the meaning of it?! The way to get out from this situation is to admit that every reader has to take in mind his or her own interpretation of the poem or even not just take into consideration readers’ own way of reading, but to take into account the outlooks and feelings of the author himself, too. For instance, it is needed to be pointed out that the life of Robert Frost was not that happy and easy. The poet has suffered grief and loss. Moreover, if any of the critics will try to look inside the poem from the author’s side, maybe there one can find the feelings of the poet or the reflections of the situations he once had.
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Through all the difficulties which are described in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as the darkest of the ever darkest nights, the poet also tried to represent his emotions, the troubles he suffered through the depiction of woods. The man in the literary work, the traveler, sometimes can be also explained as the image of Robert Frost himself. His main goal in the poem discussed is to get to the village, to a certain house, but firstly this man has to overcome all troubles, woods, on his way to it. Moreover, there are certain lines in the poem that represent the strength of the main character, his honor to the responsibilities he has. That is why in addition to the woods, new difficulties appeared like darkness and the allure of snow, of woods covered by it. The horse, as a loyal friend, tries to persuade the man to move on and continue their journey at the same time. The calmness, the purity of the moment when the traveler stops for just a minute to look on what is around him, shows how sometimes difficulties can be presented in a better look than they really are. However, at the end of the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the main character overpowers all pretty sins, sufferings, and difficulties on his way and after all, decides to move on and follow the obligations he has. The lyric hero who is probably the author himself finds the atmosphere around him quite tempting, beautiful, but also depressing in the same time. The author mentions that before having the rest he deserves, the traveler still has many responsibilities, many things to do for the society. What is more, one more comparison can be found in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” between the author himself and the main character: both of them were eager to find some lonely place to stand; they both liked being isolated from society. Additionally, this comparison is one more reason why the traveler was so attracted by the beauty of snowy woods – he was allured to the mood of isolation that existed in these woods.
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“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is not only can be easily considered as one of the best works written by the English poet and dramatist Robert Frost. It is also one of the best poems in the whole world’s literature. It does not matter how many times critics are going to analyze it to look deeper into it: after all, the results would be always different. Moreover, even every reader while reading this poem over and over again, with every time would find different explanations and different meanings of what they have read. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a unique poem as it combines not only different themes and interpretations, but the lessons on how to fight with temptations and difficulties in life, as well, and, furthermore, how to win over them.