One of Robert Frost's most beloved pieces is "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." In this poem, Frost seeks to accomplish one of the definitions of what is deemed modern. Since modern means of the times, one could not be a modern poet and neglect the changing world of the early 20th century. The world in which Frost lived was one of advancing technology, world wars, and an enormous step away from the natural and into a world of metal and wheels. While Frost lived in this ever-changing world, it does not mean he approved of a steady movement away from the natural world. Frost's displeasure over his technological surroundings left him feeling sad and alone, but it also proved a powerful vehicle for his poetry.
Frost begins his piece with a telling line about the state of the world. The speaker is already in the woods when he begins talking, but it is the information he chooses to reveal first that lets the reader in on his immediate sadness. He says, "Whose woods these are I think I know" (Frost 1). While this may seem on the surface a simple observation, it cues the reader that the speaker is unsure who his neighbors are. In he natural setting here in the woods, there are no residents. People no longer live in nature. He cannot be quite sure of the owner as he continues, "His house is in the village though; / He will not see me stopping here" (Frost 2-3). To assume a plot of land is owned by someone in the village is a bold leap; the land could be anyone's. The more likely guess, made by the reader and not the speaker, is that the speaker also lives in the village, yet he still does not know for sure whose land he is watching fill with snow.
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For neighbors not to know each other, or know each other's property, suggests they are too busy with commitments to enjoy a friendship a simpler time would allow. Line three also offers another subtle hint from Frost that the world is changed. In line one he is unsure of his neighbor; this is true. However, in line three, the speaker says in a definite certainty that his neighbor will not see him stopping there in the woods. To not know the owner of the woods for sure, but to be positive that owner will not be by, clearly illustrates that most people of the time would not bother with the woods. The land is property and nothing more.
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" also seeks a bringing to light of the power technology can have in helping creatures great and small forget their roots in nature and embrace the new world Frost was now a part of. Frost calls the woods "â€¦lovely, dark, and deep" (13) in order to set the tone of a sad wood. The trees and surrounding forest are unhappy with the changing world, and even though the speaker longs to remain there where the simple falling snow is beautiful, he has "â€¦miles to go before I sleep" (Frost 15). The speaker is also sad, sad for the state of the woods, and sad he must depart this place.
The speaker, as far as is revealed in the poem, does not drive a car. Rather, he chooses a more earthy mode of transportation: a horse. The horse is not a means by which the woods can be polluted and destroyed. However, even the horse, a once wild and majestic beast, is accustomed to city life and a world of deadlines and set schedules. The speaker's horse wonders about this unscheduled stop on the journey:
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. (Frost 5-10)
Here, the horse is beyond understanding a setting, which may have once been his ancestors' walking grounds. While mankind has moved from lush green to cold steel, so to have his domesticated animals. Frost wishes to point out the sadness he feels for the woods and the speaker who cannot remain in the splendor of nature untainted, but Frost also wishes to portray the horse in terms of Westernized societal standards of clock watching and familiarity with schedules and time constraints.
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If the horse itself has become so accustomed to being on time and on the go, it speaks volumes to the countless errands and routines this horse has seen and been vehicle for. These duties, the promises the speaker mentions, have evidently left even his horse a stranger to nature. It is not enough, however, for Frost to point out the horse thinking it odd to stop in these woods; he continues the idea that everything man touches is moving away from nature by claiming the horse is more than in an unfamiliar location. The horse thinks the woods are a mistake; it is an error in the day-to-day, man-made schedule in the world the horse is a part of, just like Frost's speaker.
The woods are isolated from everything else the speaker knows. Besides his horse's questioning bells, "The only other sound's the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake" (Frost 11-12). The question to be asked is how much sound does snowy breeze make? The speaker establishes that the woods are "dark and deep" (Frost 13). He also clearly states the woods are "lovely" (Frost 13). The fact the woods are lovely firmly establishes there is not a whipping wind or blizzard-like snow. It is far more likely that the speaker is simply not used to enjoying the peace nature provides, the quite ease of a lonely wood being gently filled with snow. The speaker wishes to remain in this unfamiliar wood, where he enjoys the simple surroundings of nature. While his horse urges him onward, back to roads, lights, and people, the "easy wind" in line 12 is more inviting. However, as the poem continues, the reader is allowed to see that the more inviting natural world does not hold sway enough over man's obligations and promises, promises that must be kept.
In the end, Frost's speaker is a man of his word, but at what cost? Frost has presented a bleak outlook for man in a natural setting. He sees man's visits to the natural world as just that, visits; they are temporary stopovers between obligations. There is no permanent outcome, which would leave man at peace in his own surroundings. Frost piles on the bleak outlook at this point, reminding the reader that while the woods, this natural oasis, are beautiful and peaceful, they are also incredibly out of the way. One does not simply stumble upon them, just as in this technologically-advancing world, to Frost, one does not just happen upon peace or comfort. Both are things to be strived for, needing a journey miles long to discover them:
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 13-16)
Here the reader also sees the only line the speaker repeats.
He is reminding himself he cannot remain here in the woods. Twice he claims he has miles to go. In his mind, the distance from happiness to his normal life is immense; he needs to prepare for a journey. The speaker also repeats that he cannot sleep until he travels these miles. Sleep is a time of peace. The speaker does not say he has miles to go before he is home. Nor does he claim he is on his way to anything happy. Sleep, like the woods, is a peaceful escape from his world of promises and constant comings and goings. The speaker is not thinking in terms of A to B, as a typical journey would imply; rather, he is moving from peaceful place to peaceful place: woods to sleep. In between these temporary respites of beauty and calm are the speaker's promises. He is bound to these obligations, to his world of movement and change. The speaker does not even seem to consider this world of nature, a place which brings him so much comfort just to look at, as a permanent place to exist. While he could not very well live on these exact lands, he could leave his old life behind instead of moving through his man-made obligations and locations. Sadly, he is, by his own construction, stuck. The world of nature is a forgotten place. After all, even his "â€¦ little horse must think it queer" (Frost 5).
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While Robert Frost is considered a modern poet, his rebellion was not against traditional poetic forms. While others were seeking new ways to express poetry in a new world of technology, Frost sought to simplify his verses and reclaim man' s fading connection with nature. This simplification also parallels the easier life Frost saw in living in harmony with nature rather than embracing radical changes in society, which were detrimental to the world's natural order. "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" exemplifies man's disconnect from nature. The speaker is drawn to a natural life, but his promises keep him a tired man. When even the animals Frost creates are uneasy in nature, it is clear what his message is: we are losing our connection to the land. For the speaker, there is not even a choice to be made. In the temporary world of the woods, the speaker seems at peace; he is enjoying a simple snow and a winter's breeze. In his man-made world, his obligations own him. Nature in the world is something to be enjoyed periodically, when a few moments arise. To Frost, this seems to be an affront to his idea of man in harmony with nature. The speaker is Frost's helpless sadness, looking only for a few moments on unspoiled beauty before returning to a world of metal.