Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening Frost #
This is a deceptively simple poem about watching the snow fall in the woods. The poem portrays the individual’s battle with the world - society; about stopping to smell the roses. About solitude and reflecting on the beauty of nature. Sometimes we are too busy to live; to let go..
According to Plato, “There are three classes of men; lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain".
“Each one of us is always at war with civilisation and to be human is to be torn between one’s drives and one’s responsibilities”. Helen Razer
The simplicity of form and language belie much deeper underlying meanings. The poem seems obsessed with possessiveness as implied by the number of possessive pronouns; Whose woods, his house, his woods, My little horse, his harness bells. There is a hint that the persona is furtively stealing some peace and quiet he may not be entitled to – they are not his woods, not his time, as he has other duties to attend to. Even the horse questions the legitimacy of his stopping.
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.
The atmosphere is tranquil and peaceful with a drowsiness created by the sibilance of the “s” sound, the regular rhyme and the repetition of the last two lines. This creates a soporific or narcotic atmosphere. The writer is absorbed in the darkness of the lovely deep woods. He is almost dazed in a reverie of escapism from the real world.
The change of rhythm of “He gives his harness bells a shake/ To ask if there is some mistake” (You can almost hear them jingle) may jolt him out of his spell, but the soothing sound of the “sweep of easy wind and downy flake” ease him back into a contemplative fugue.
The reference to the darkest evening of the year could suggest the winter solstice; Christmas season in the northern hemisphere – is this Santa?
The conflict in this poem is internal; between promises and enjoyment of the moment; reality and transcendence. Are we too busy with living to live? Do we have time to stop and reflect on life itself? The Conflict comes between the private individual needs and our social communal duty. Both fruitful affection and dependence but also self-respecting and self - reliant independence balancing one another. Public and social commitments played off against individual, private, solitary, private and family needs.
“The business of the day can wait, or I can zip through it extra fast, because while it yields to my exertions, nature doesn’t. We must yield to it”. Frank Bruni Wasting time is sometimes the most pleasant and restorative time of our lives.
The word “promises” conjures all kinds of connotations; duty, obligations, needs, responsibilities, commitments to family, work and society.
As “Sleep” is sometimes a euphemism for death, the dark deep woods may be inviting, though “miles” could indicate they are in the distant future.
The tension is between our consciousness attempting to free itself from ordinary life, to an imagined one – a trance of exotic possibilities, but we are brought back to earth by our obligations – our purpose. The repetition of the last two lines is likely because of defeat, but it can be seen as effective for emphasis and casting a spell on the reader.
In his late Letter to My Mother, Georges Simenon suggests his mother, fought all her life to escape poverty and achieve financial security, tyrannizing everyone around her, most of all her first husband, Simenon’s father, whom she despised for his low earnings. But he was always serene and happy in himself, Simenon observes, while she, despite reaching her goal, “always suffered life, never lived it.” “My father lacked nothing, my mother lacked everything,” he reflects.
This is a delightful poem that appears deceptively simple, but entertains boundless and profound possibilities of interpretation.