Citing evidence from Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and/or “Design,” explain the following statement: “Frost sets up a Romantic image or setting, only to deconstruct it—thereby altering our original perceptions of the poem and moving us from a Romantic to a Modernist perspective.”
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I always thought it was a sneaky poem! I very much agree with your statement. On the surface, it seems like such a lovely story of a man and his horse and beautiful, snowy landscapes. Then we realize upon closer inspection that this poem is very creepy. At the end you feel like shaking off the effects. It always gives me the chills.
In my opinion, the move from the Romantic to the Modernist comes starkly in the last stanza. In reality, before this point, there is talk about "snow" and "harness bells" and "sweep of easy wind" and "downy flake": images very romantic in nature! Not in the final stanza, however:
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.
Whether the worries of the speaker are with the rat-race of society or with death, there is negativity here. The entire stanza, specifically the very repetition of the final line, rejects the positive and relaxing images of the peaceful winter scene. The final stanza is obviously meant to put a disturbing twist on winter beauty.
The beauty of the snow in this excellent poem is perhaps undercut by the way that it and the woods where the speaker is stopping are symbolically related to death and an eternal sleep. There is a sense therefore in which this poem moves beyond hackneyed representations of nature as being a source of beauty and inspiration and treats nature in a somewhat more disturbing fashion.
One point of deconstruction is that, rather than implying a binary, Frost directly presents a binary concept within the text. While suggesting a quiet winter evening--it can't be night yet, even though the "darkest evening of the year," or it would be unlikely that he would have enough light to see the "woods fill up with snow" (though those northern climes can be oddly peculiar with snow and light and night ...)--he ends each verse with darkness, which is the binary to the lightsome snow he begins with that is supported by the lyrical rhythm of iambic tetrameter.
The speaker of the poem stops from his quotidien existence to observe the beauty of nature--certainly a Romantic appreciation. But the horse's shaking of his harness reminds him of his duties and the "promises to keep" that require his departure from his reverie. The last stanza certainly reflects this departure from the appreciation of nature, and the speaker's remark that he has "miles to go before I sleep" reflects Modernist concerns with the increasing pace of society--"I have miles to go before I sleep--toward destruction and lack of meaning.
In "Design," the irony typical of modernism appears especially in the final two lines:
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.
These lines seem, in fact, doubly ironic. The first line suggests that design exists in order to "appall" -- to shock, to produce discomfort, to almost literally make one pale. The final line, however, raises the possibility that no design may in fact exist at all, at least not in small matters. In other words, the final line of the poem potentially undercuts the very premise upon which the rest of the poem seems founded.
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