Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening represents one of the most famous and popular of all American poems, and its author, Robert Frost, sits comfortably in the canon of American poets along side titans like Emily Dickinson and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Written in 1922 and published in 1923, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening at first read appears to be a moment shared between a man, his horse, and an empty wooded lot filling up with snow on a winter night, yet the simplicity belies a density which lingers in the mind of the reader.

The success of the poem rests in the simplicity of its language and the sharp contrast of that language with the comparatively complex structure of the rhythmic verse. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is representative of the work of Robert Frost as it presents a natural scene using simple language which speaks to a deeper emotional and psychological experience.

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Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his poetry four times and influence a generation of poets, leaving an imprint of the world of poetry that remains to this day. Numerous American poets including Maya Angelou have “publicly expressed their indebtedness to Robert Frost as a significant influence in their work.

His poetry eased a country through three wars and crossed the boundaries of the popular and critical audiences. Though his poetry is grounded in the landscapes of New England, it appealed to readers at home and abroad, thus making Robert Frost one of the most beloved American poets of the twentieth century” (Deese 1). Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening owes its existence to primarily to the farm in South Shaftsbury, Vermont that Robert Frost purchased in 1920 (Deese 6).

According to critic Hayden Caruth, Robert Frost’s “best poems, nearly all of them from his first two or three books, were poems in which meaning and feeling had come together spontaneously in their own figures and objects. They were esthetically functional creations in the fullest sense” (Caruth 35). Naturally a shy soul, Robert Frost’s literary and social obligations frequently engendered a nervous reaction in Robert Frost that his retreat back to the South Shaftsbury often soothed (Deese 6).

In October of 1921 Robert Frost and his family moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Robert Frost took up the position of writer in residence at the University of Michigan, and after a grueling period of public readings, Robert Frost “returned to Shaftsbury in June of 1922 to take a break from academic life. He enjoyed getting back to the farm, and the work of gardening, splitting wood, and caring for the chickens was good for his health” (Deese 6).

The simplicity of farm life imbues the language of the poem; there are no words above two syllables, and the descriptions are clean and plain. “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” (Frost 36). The significance and emotions of the poem linger in the minds of the reader, largely as a result of the specific “arrangements of images, rhythms, sounds, and syntax” (Caruth 35).

According to legend Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening was written at the tail end of a long and frustrating night. Robert Frost wrote the poem “at dawn in a state of near-exhaustion, after working all night on a longer poem that wasn’t going well” (Caruth 35). According to critic Mark Richardson, the act of poetry that most “appeals to Robert Frost is the way a poet carries himself recklessly, or not, through his formal commitments” (Richardson 314).

We see this evidence of this in the following lines: “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” (Frost 36). Of his poetry Robert Frost remarked “now this – what the critics don’t seem to talk enough about – is the performance in the poem – the way the sentences come, the way the lines fit the verse and the way the lines change” (Frost 12).

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening contains a muscular flow of energy which Robert Frost achieves through a combination of single syllable words and careful rhyming structure, as evidenced herein: “My little horse must think it queer, To stop without a farmhouse near, Between the woods and frozen lake, The darkest evening of the year” (Frost 36).

The energetic flow builds from the beginning of the poem, through the rhyming structure and the use of the words queer, near and year, and then reaches its apex in the repetition of the final two lines.

Robert Frost was a master of form and in fact credited form with the success of his poetry. When “discussing the ever disputable relationship of substance and form, Robert Frost suggested that subject matter can carry the poet most of the way, yet form is the last assignment of the material. Form exists when one principle is locked in its opposite…not like the clash of good and evil, it is the clash of two goods. I would as soon write verse without form as play tennis with the net down” (Richardson 314).

Specifically of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, in which he claimed he had entrenched himself in and then had to decide how to extricate himself without “marring the pattern he had set up. The fun of a poem [Frost said] is the recklessness with which you plunge in. It is like going to the North Pole so you can prove that you can get back” (Frost 12).

The gentle interjection of the horse into the narrator’s reverie slows the movement slightly, only to be taken up again by the rapid fire syllables that occur in the last line of this stanza: “He gives his harness bells a shake, To ask if there is some mistake, The only other sound’s the sweep, Of easy wind and downy flake” (Frost 36).

The poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is indicative of the work of Robert Frost as it offers the reader the experience of a natural vista using deceptively simple language which speaks to a profound emotional and psychological complexity. The poem’s success and longevity remains the straightforwardness of its language and the pointed contrast of that language with the dense structure of its rhyming verse.

Works Cited

Carruth, Hayden. “Robert Frost.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review (1975): 35-41. Web.

Dreese, Donelle N. “Robert Frost.” Twentieth-Century American Nature Poets. Ed. J. Scott Bryson and Roger Thompson. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Print.

Frost, Robert. “Likens Poem to a Polar Trip.” Springfield Union 16 (1937): 12. Print.

Frost, Robert. Selected Poems. New York: Gramercy Books, 1992. Print.

Monte, Steven. “An Overview of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Poetry for Students. Detroit: Gale Publishing. Print.

Richardson, Mark. The Ordeal of Robert Frost: The Poet and his Poetics. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1997. Press.

Saunders, Chris. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost: Chris Saunders Suggests that the Narrator of this Elusive Short Poem is Drawn towards Oblivion in the Woods (Close Reading).” The English Review 13. 1 (2002): 34-37. Web.

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