(Poetry for Students)

The Limits of Human Perception
The primary theme of “Deep Woods” is the shortfall of a human being’s ability to perceive nature in its purest form. Although many people believe they are in tune with the natural world and can spiritually connect with animals, trees, oceans, stars, and so forth, this poem is about the more immediate response of an individual confronted with nature here and now. In the first stanza, the person walking through the woods must deal not only with the awe he feels in such overpowering surroundings but also with his physical reaction to it. His heart races, his mind feels like a hunted beast, and his eyes try desperately to trace the path of a vine winding through the branches, but they cannot. Instead, they become “lost in the insanity of line.”

The idea of “line,” along with “leaf, and light,” represents nature’s purity, beauty, and enigmatic qualities—those that make it difficult to understand and keep it out of reach of human perception. Adding to the perplexity of the observer in the woods is nature’s “indifference.” While humans insist on exact answers and clear motives, nature is content to have “No meaning in it.” Whereas people seek drama and heroic actions, “the giant oak” is satisfied not “to fall as heroes should” but quietly to regenerate its life with new vines and branches, even as it leans among a group of birch trees. This behavior is puzzling to mankind. People find it difficult to go about their daily lives oblivious to their surroundings and the actions of loved ones, friends, neighbors, co-workers, government officials, movie stars, famous athletes, leaders of enemy nations, and any other human being capable of eliciting a response in the individual. In the quest to perceive nature as it really...

(The entire section is 737 words.)