Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Robert Frost, "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 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 ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's 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.


From New Hampshire (1923)

It might seem an oversight to take up the theme of snow without mentioning Frost, especially this well-known poem. It's become commonplace that the poem expresses the speaker's temptation towards death; however, such a gloss often separates us from the poem rather than helping us to know it more intimately. For example, let us look again at the imagery used for death here. Yes, dark woods with the threat of being buried in snow; but the terms Frost actually uses convey a much more positive disposition towards death. In the first stanza, death is aligned with passivity and time passing in inaction ("stopping ... To watch"). The third stanza gives a description of ultimate calm and tranquility, approaching nothingness in a Buddhist negation of the self: "The only other sound's the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake." The steady iambic tetrameter rhythm and smooth sound repetitions throughout create the effect of a lullaby (culminating in the repetition of the final lines) ... death is not the terrifying black unknown but idealized as the perfect sleep, "lovely, dark, and deep". The speaker does not grudge being pulled back into the world by "promises"; though desiring relief (the poem does not depict suffering; it is only implied), he is resigned to life as well as death, knowing that the end will come in due course.

(More about Frost here: www.poets.org/rfros)

No comments: