1 June 2018 Susannah

Poem of the Month, June 2018 – ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’

Woods on a snowy evening

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

My favourite American poet is Robert Frost, who was born in San Francisco in 1874 but who spent most of his life in New England, writing about the rhythms of life on a farm – mending the stone wall, picking apples, sawing wood, walking through the woods and needing to decide which path to follow. He uses very direct, simple language, often includes dialogue in his poems, and makes you feel you are there with him. Let me share with you my particular favourite:

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.

 

Robert Frost in 1941

Robert Frost in 1941

It is a memorable recreation of a winter incident and a poem that can be read on many levels. On the surface it describes a mood many of us have experienced – that desire to just stop for a moment in our busy lives and contemplate the beauty of the natural world before we have to return to our obligations. It can also be seen as a poem about a man who realises his essential ‘aloneness’ in the world. The poem begins with the poet dissociating himself from other people – the nameless owner of the land is in the village, but probably wouldn’t care that the poet is on his land. The poet even dissociates himself from the horse, who thinks his behaviour odd and shakes his harness bells. This is a man who is very much alone.

He has stopped far from human habitation in the middle of winter, a season that often symbolises death. He responds intensely to the softness of the snow and the dark depths of the woods, even though it appears to be a lifeless landscape. He seems almost transfixed by the beauty of the scene, almost ready to give up life and just sink into the natural world. But the bells remind him that he must continue his journey, through the woods and through life. The repetition of the last line acts like a pervading, repeating gong, tolling him back to life. Sleep is often a metaphor for death, but something pulls him towards life and its responsibilities. There is no doubt that the woods have a great attraction – they are restful, mysterious, seductive. Is this a poem about a death wish? Or is it only about taking time out to appreciate beauty? Is it about the conflict between civilisation and nature? Is it simply about a man out driving a horse and cart?

Enjoy this video of Robert Frost reading his poem:

Share your thoughts on this poem by leaving a comment.

 

  Susannah Fullerton: Poem of the Month, April 2017 – Adlestrop

  Goodreads: Robert Frost

   The Road Not Taken and Other Poems by Robert Frost

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.

 

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Featured image credit- Woods on a snowy evening, Public domain from https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-cold-fog-forest-235621/
Body image credit- Robert Frost in 1941, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1304189

Comments (18)

  1. Suzanne Williams

    Like bed reading about the various interpretations of the poem and hearing Frost reading it thank you.
    Suzanne

  2. trevar langlands

    I do like the Robert Frost poem- have always liked Robert Frosts poetry..have an old book with black n white photos about American poets and where they lived which is very interesting.

    This is a nice one to read aloud.

    It reminds me of an old Aunt from East europe whoo used to tell me tales about riding through the snow in horse and sled with bells on the horse and stopping at peasant stalls for soup…

  3. suzanne

    I love listening to poets read their own works. They own the works with such confidence and Robert Frost is no exception. I would suggest that the way he reads it tells us that this is a man stopped in his tracks by the beauty around him and then realising all too soon that the real world and its demands awaits. Seamus Heaney reading his work is just wonderful too, imbuing his words with such meaning.
    Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It is really special listening to a poet reading his or her own poem. I am currently in Ireland and the other day went to the fabulous Yeats exhibition in Dublin and heard Yeats reading The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Fascinating! And we have the Seamus Heaney Centre still to come on our travels and he reads his own poems superbly.

  4. I love to hear the poet reading his own words. We actors always inflect our own little commands on the words. Poets do it differently. They’re not always the best, but the authenticity is palpable. Thank you.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Miriam, I have heard you read Dickens and Jane Austen, but your comment has made me realise that I have never heard you read a poem. Perhaps when we next meet you would give me that treat? I also find that when I hear a poet read his own work that the inflections can be quite different from those I give the words, and it is so interesting to compare. Hope all is well?

  5. Brian Doyle

    I could listen to Miriam recite a laundry list, wouldn’t have Dickens adored her

    • Susannah Fullerton

      She reads Dickens so superbly. He would have loved her though might not have so adord her comments on his young and virginal heroines.

  6. Brian Doyle

    No, and he possibly wouldn’t like the comments on his behaviour in light of what we now know from yet another brilliant tome from Claire Tomalin

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Well his treatment of his wife was dreadful. I do so love Claire Tomalin’s biographies. I wondeer if she will write another one?

  7. Angela Rodd

    Enjoy your Irish tour! I wish we were with you. Perhaps next time…I well recall our day at Robert Frost’s house on your literary tour of north-east USA when we wandered in those woods together. They were much smaller than I’d imagined. As for poets reading their own work, I’m not a huge fan, unless their voices are pleasing to the ear. T S Eliot’s wasn’t.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Wasn’t it gorgeous there, seeing the woods and the wall he mended. Yes, I agree that some authors do not actually read their own poems well. Like you, I do not like TS Eliot reciting his own work. Love to you and Michael.

  8. Faye hope-Allan

    Remembering Our visit to his farm in Vermont ,I felt a type of sadness reading the beautiful poem , recalling that environment that day .

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Wasn’t that a lovely visit, and so gorgeous to have you in the tour group, Faye.

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