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If one were to ask Robert Frost the profound meanings of his poems, one would have gotten the reply, “If I wanted you to know I’d had told you in the poem (Stopping by Woods).” One of the most renowned poets of the twentieth century, Frost is most famous for his use of vivid images and attempt to appeal to the senses through nature. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is viewed by many to be one of his greatest works. The pensive mood of the poem tells the story of a traveler enjoying a quick stop by a snowy wood along his journey. He desires to stay, but knows he is obligated to continue on with his travels. On the surface, this is a brilliant description of the beauty and serenity that surrounds the traveler as he is by the woods. If one looks closer however, one can see Frost has intended a much greater meaning. Through the use of vivid imagery, a lullaby – like rhyme scheme, and subtle symbolism, Frost is able to communicate his feeling towards death.
One of the most prominent and abundant features of this poem is imagery. Frost’s rich descriptions and minute details allow the reader to see the poem come to life. The poem opens with Frost immediately taking the reader to some winter wood far away from civilization and creating a feeling of ease. The traveler says that the owner of the woods will not be able to see him taking the respite. The idiom “To watch his woods fill up with snow” clearly shows the purpose of his stopping so he can absorb the glorious snowfall.
The second stanza helps cement the idea of isolation as the traveler believes his horse to be baffled as to why they would stop so far away from the nearest farmhouse. “The darkest evening of the year” helps further the display the feelings of winter as the winter solstice falls between December 20 and 23. Frost then follows with a personification:
“He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.”
The traveler’s ears are met by the sound of ringing bells from the horse, possibly inferring he was pulling a sleigh. This noise breaks the silence of the sound of a light wind and the delicate falling of snow. The final stanza begins with the traveler regretting that “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep”, displaying their wonderful and peaceful beauty. He must regretfully press on with his journey because he has obligations to meet, responsibilities to attend to, and many miles to go before he reaches the end.
The rhyme scheme also lends itself to the mood and helps create a sense and atmosphere of peace in the face of death. All of the lines in the poem rhyme with each line in their own stanza except for the third line in the first three stanzas. Since each line has four stressed and unstressed syllables, it is written in iambic tetrameter (Gualdoni). The end rhyme is like a child’s lullaby creating feelings of peace and serenity in the reader, the very same feeling felt by the traveler in solitude near the snowy wood. It shows how calmly the traveler is taking the opportunity from where he has come to where he must go. Looking forward, he ultimately realizes that he must complete his journey before he can finally rest in the peace he desires.
Most significant in the poem is Frost’s use of symbolism to present deeper meaning behind the figurative language and rhyme scheme. From the first stanza, one cannot resist the attempt to find the real meaning of Frost’s words. His religious ties are immediately felt when he states:
“Whose woods are these I think I know.
His house is in the village though.”
Frost could be referring to the fact that these are God’s woods as He is the ruler and creator of all creation. “His house” evidently, must infer that it is a house of God or church. The next line that raises question is, “The darkest evening of the year.” As previously stated, it could be referring to the winter solstice. Most likely, though, Frost is referencing a dark time in his life that could have possibly led to the contemplation of death. The third stanza shows the peacefulness felt by Frost at the time. The final stanza brings more controversy but creates a clearer meaning as well. At this point in his life, Frost realizes that he can never fully be satisfied unless he continues on with the journey. He understands the obligations left to fulfill to his family and others around him. He knows that he will not be able to “rest in peace” until he himself knows he has reached the end of his journey.
While there are many interpretations to this poem, all can agree that Frost’s use of imagery, rhyme scheme, and symbolism help present his feelings towards death. As Frost once said, “Somebody says (to Frost), ‘why, is poetry a way of saying one thing and meaning another?’ Yeah, kind of… that’s what poetry is, as near as you want to come to it (Robert Frost).” The way Frost is able to use figurative language and symbolism through nature helps make Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening a pleasant mystery and one of his most well-known poems in history.
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