Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Whatever “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” means, it is evident that the poem makes meaning; it has suffered many designs upon it, and even Frost thought that critics had pressed it too much for meaning. Nevertheless, the poem contains tensions and oppositions that are characteristic of Frost’s symbolic terrain in general and of his poetics as well.
Woods are a pervasive image in Frost’s poetry, evident in his earliest poems as well as in his last. Dark and unowned, woods are a metaphor of life’s wildness, and Frost contrasts them, generally, with places owned by human beings and made artful by their craft. Domesticated spaces such as pastures, clearings, even homes, show the presence of human beings; in these places they make themselves at home, spiritually and physically. In “The Constant Symbol,” Frost observes that “strongly spent is synonymous with kept.” The human spirit must risk and spend itself, paradoxically, in order to fulfill its nature.
Poets risk themselves and their skill as they create a poem out of the wildness of language. Consequently, readers of Frost’s verse, like the speaker stopping to watch the woods fill with snow, find themselves in a typically Frostian place: The poem is a partly wild, partly domesticated place, demanding risk and commitment, involvement and acceptance. Poems, like woods, are lovely, dark, and deep, but only if one will risk entering them more deeply and will let them work...
(The entire section is 507 words.)
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This poem presents nature as a standard of beauty that is so strong that it captures the speaker's attention and makes him or her halt whatever they are doing. There are not many descriptive words used to convey what it is that the speaker finds so beautiful, only "lovely," "dark" and "deep." Of these, "lovely" simply restates the whole idea of the poem, which most readers would already have gotten a sense of from the speaker's tone and actions. The darkness of the woods is an idea so important that it is mentioned twice in this poem, emphasizing a connection between beauty and mystery. The emphasis on darkness is strange, and more obvious because the poem takes place on a snowy evening, when the dominant impression would have been the whiteness blanketing everything. Some reviewers interpret the fascination with darkness as a death wish, which Frost discounted. By using light and dark imagery and having his speaker favor the dark, Frost leads the reader toward an aesthetic judgement about nature: that it is fascinating precisely for the things that humans do not understand, for the depths that consciousness cannot penetrate. The beauty of this scene is, of course, not registered by the horse, whom the poem shows to be impatient. Once again, the poem shows beauty to exist in the tension between understanding and non-understanding, which the horse does not have the mental capacity to appreciate.
The only other indication of beauty this...
(The entire section is 849 words.)