I always enjoy delving further into things to extract their meaning. To dispel ambiguities that could prompt thoughts of dissection, I am speaking of conducting literary analyses!
Two Wednesdays ago, I was presented with Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening in English class. I have always significantly enjoyed the work of Robert Frost, liking it wholly precisely because of its profound, sometimes dark connotations. Some who read his work, however, are surprised to find the [supposedly] hidden messages within it; when one informs them that Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening speaks of a man’s avoiding a death by freezing, many are shocked. Let’s look below, however – I will make comments alongside the original text.
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. (1)
The first stanza may seem minutely bland until we read the remainder of the piece. (1) However, we’ve a hint – if you are to watch woods filling up with snow, then you must stop for quite some time.
My little horse (2) must think it queer (3)
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
(2) A horse is an animal that humans rely on – one that guides them, and allows them safe transport from one location to the next. This is the man’s consciousness.
(3) This sentence, along with the three that follow it, is interesting. The narrator is stating that his horse – his guide and companion – must think the situation bizarre; he then describes an exceedingly daunting setting (one devoid of life, plain, and dark). This forces us to ponder why he would not be frightened. This accurately depicts the distancing of a person from his consciousness prior to death – the man’s mind is still minutely useful, but his holistic existence is losing its ability to reason. This stanza attempts to convey that somewhere in the depths of his thinking, he is aware that it is absurd to cease moving now, but that his body is almost another entity entirely.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake. (4)
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake. (5)
(4) His consciousness now makes itself known – interestingly, the motion of “shaking” is typically associated with jerking a person from a reverie.
(5) The man, however, is tempted by the gentle sounds of the snow. Note the usage of the words “sweep”, “easy”, and “downy” – all light, pleasant, seemingly innocuous. The snow is soothing, easy, downy (think of the down utilized to stuff soft pillows and warm blankets). The entirety of this stanza is charting the battle that he has with himself – his consciousness is acting up, but there’s the lull of the snow.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. (6)
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep, (7)
And miles to go before I sleep.
(6) The placement of the comma is suggestive of the fact that the second clause is being utilized to explain the first – the woods, then, are lovely because they are dark and deep. Their depth and darkness is pleasant. This confirms the suspicions raised in (5).
(7) We end somewhat happily, with the man acknowledging that he has miles to go before he sleeps – in other words, years to go prior to dying. He repeats the fact – is he irritated with it, fatigued, or simply determined to reassure himself?
Who, we may wonder, is the “he” in the first stanza? I would assume that he is a deity, given that the woods are his, but that the house in the village also is. The house is metaphorical – the god’s house stands where humans are. The man is attempting to convince himself that his god will not see his cowardly departure, and that he can succumb to the temptation.
Gah! I’ve chills.