Essays and Criticism
The Meaning of Stopping By Woods
Perhaps no poem of Robert Frost is more anthologized and studied than "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." The poem appeared in Frost's collection, New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes (1923) for which he won one of four Pulitzer Prizes. Even Frost called the poem his "best bid for remembrance." "Stopping," describes an unremarkable moment: a driver stopping his horse-drawn buggy to look at the woods, his horse shaking the harness bells which the driver thinks is the horse's way of saying, "There must be some mistake," and the driver deciding it is time to move on. It is not known who the person is, nor whether male or female. Neither is it known from where or to where the driver is going, nor why, and the promises the driver must keep also go unexplained. Finally no clue is supplied as to where this scene takes place. Here then, is a poem that functions as a perfect vehicle upon which to heap meaning, since, one is likely to think, the mere situation of stopping and looking at woods surely cannot be all there is to the poem. The reader feels compelled to read into and perhaps even over-read the poem. Frost complained that the poem was over-interpreted, especially when critics remarked that "sleep" probably meant death. Still Frost should be expected of some good-natured trickery here: the poem seems deliberately fashioned to lure its readers into either a simplistic under-reading or an anxious over-reading. The poem itself comes to function...
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The Intricacies of Frost's Famous Poem
With the exception of "The Road Not Taken," "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is probably Frost's best-known poem. As with many well-known poems, we may feel that familiarity equals understanding or that a poem we have read or heard enough times can't surprise us anymore. This is especially the case with "Stopping by Woods," which is not only one of the most popular American poems, but is also one written in a clear and seemingly direct style. We might even say that we like the poem precisely because of its simplicity and effortless feel. But as with a person we've been-acquainted with for a long time but don't really know, a familiar poem may change when we encounter it in unfamiliar circumstances. Where once we saw only surface and clearly defined qualities, suddenly we see depths and ambiguity. For this to happen with a poem, we often only need to stop and reflect on our experience, like the speaker in Frost's poem. One of the messages of "Stopping by Woods" seems to be just that—pausing and reflecting on experience help us re-enter life with a new understanding and sense of direction.
The plot of "Stopping by Woods" is straightforward: a man (we assume) narrates his experience of driving some sort of horse-drawn vehicle by privately owned woods on a snowy evening. He stops, and then contemplates how strange his halt must seem to the horse, given that it is cold and dark and there is no farmhouse in sight. The horse shakes his harness bell, an...
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Robert Frost's Favorite Poem
Robert Frost revealed his favorite poem to me. Furthermore, he gave me a glimpse into his personal life that exposed the mettle of the man. I cherish the memory of that conversation, and vividly recall his description of the circumstances leading to the composition of his favorite work.
We were in my hometown—Brunswick, Maine. It was the fall of 1947, and Bowdoin College was presenting its annual literary institute for students and the public. Mr. Frost had lectured there the previous season; and being well received, he was invited for a return engagement. I attended the great poet's prior lecture and wasn't about to miss his encore—even though I was quartered 110 miles north at the University of Maine. At the appointed time, I was seated and eagerly awaiting his entrance—armed with a book of his poems and unaware of what was about to occur. He came on strong with a simple eloquence that blended with his stature, bushy white hair, matching eyebrows, and well-seasoned features. His topics ranged from meter to the meticulous selection of a word and its varying interpretations. He then read a few of his poems to accentuate his message.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Mr. Frost asked if anyone had questions. I promptly raised my hand. There were three other questioners, and their inquiries were answered before he acknowledged me. I asked, "Mr. Frost, what is your favorite poem?" He quickly replied, "They're all my favorites. It's...
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