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4/18 poetry rec - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
4/18 poetry rec
Ah, since sjepstein pointed out that it's a requirement for a New England writer to acknowledge two powerful words--Robert Frost--I've been trying to decide which Frost(s) to put up. My mother is still ransacking her poetry books since I asked her for suggestions (I feel like such a good librarian--inspiring two days of poetry reading!), and she reminded me of this one, which really is one of my favorites:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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


Mostly, I like this poem on a literal level, because I can see the scene perfectly, and have felt this kind of urge to turn aside and see things. (Most madly when I've been on long bus or train trips and I just want to get off at some random point and explore, but really can't.) There's a kind of regretful feeling when you realize that if you go down that tempting little road just to see where it leads, you could get lost, and people are expecting you, and maybe it will lead someplace really interesting that you won't be able to explore further because you're due at work on Monday, and anyway, if it's a distance, how will you get home? I think that, just on a literal level, it's a neat poem.

But I think the reason the poem has staying power is that it's not just about that one literal experience, but about how easy, tempting and restful it sometimes seems to just say, "Oh, screw it--I'm out of the game." Not necessarily suicide, though I've heard the poem interpreted that way, but even just kind of giving up, crawling into a corner somewhere, and calling it good, going into the mind and out of the world ("the village"). But there is a life, and promises to keep, and you have to go back to it, even when it's a whole lot less attractive than the alternative. Miles to go, and all.

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Comments
hamsterwoman From: hamsterwoman Date: April 18th, 2006 05:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
We are poet twins today! (And I'm not even a New Englander... though I do have a connection with Frost's birthplace.)

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy evening" was actually the first poem I read in English, and, though there are other Frost poems that are bigger favorites of mine, I do like this one very much.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 18th, 2006 06:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ha! Glad I didn't go for "Fire and Ice," which is totally on my short list!
hamsterwoman From: hamsterwoman Date: April 18th, 2006 06:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh... that would've been just freaky. :)
From: spitc1899 Date: April 18th, 2006 05:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love Robert Frost. Do you know "Choose Something Like a Star"? It's my absolute favorite of his poems. It's hard to find though. I actually found it for the first time set to music when I was in choir in high school. Incidently, I friended you awhile ago. I love your stories, and I enjoy reading you insights on writing in general. And you have great taste in poetry. :o)
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alphabet26 From: alphabet26 Date: April 18th, 2006 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
That is a beautiful poem. I had to memorize it in fifth grade and it's just such a lovely little story--only 108 words, a drabble! ;P. Thanks for posting it.
lady_moriel From: lady_moriel Date: April 18th, 2006 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
That was my first favorite poem...I admit I haven't read as many by Frost as I should (well, that's true of all my favorite poets), but I love his work. I love the rhyme scheme he used here, too--the third line of each stanza ends with the base rhyme for the next stanza, if that makes sense.
moonlinnet From: moonlinnet Date: April 18th, 2006 08:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I LOVE that poem so much. =) My friends and I know it by heart.

There's a kind of regretful feeling when you realize that if you go down that tempting little road just to see where it leads, you could get lost, and people are expecting you, and maybe it will lead someplace really interesting that you won't be able to explore further because you're due at work on Monday, and anyway, if it's a distance, how will you get home?

I get that feeling ALL the time.
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: April 18th, 2006 09:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
In the strictly literal sense, if I'm going down one of those roads I'm probably already a bit lost rather than exploring -- but so far I've always found my way back eventually. ;) I'm not sure whether this holds for me metaphorically or not.
sea_thoughts From: sea_thoughts Date: April 19th, 2006 12:29 am (UTC) (Link)
I never thought of it as suicidal. I saw it more as someone who, in his mind, is offered the opportunity to leave and refuses it. The repetition of that last line seems to show the speaker's weariness and determination at the same time: miles to go, miles to go, stopping now won't do any good.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 19th, 2006 12:54 am (UTC) (Link)
My English teacher suggested this interpretation.

Woods= woman who is not the speakers wife.

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.

He is admiring the woman, what ever he chooses to do; her husband is not around and will not know.

My little horse must think it queer,
To stop without a farmhouse near,

This not a respectable or normal thing to do. Horse may = conscience

Between the woods and frozen lake,

He does not want to go home, he is unhappy with his life.

The darkest evening of the year.

He is just about ready to give into temptation

He gives his harness bells a shake,
To ask if there is some mistake.

Horse = conscience again

The only other sound's the sweep,
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
He wants her…
But I have promises to keep,
but he’s a married man…
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep
and can’t have that satisfaction
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purple_ladybug1 From: purple_ladybug1 Date: April 19th, 2006 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)
We studied this in AP Lit last year. We read a fun mockery of people who read too much into poetry and other literature. The essay "interpreted" this poem as being about Santa Claus visiting a house on Christmas Eve.
lacontessamala From: lacontessamala Date: April 19th, 2006 06:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh, exactly. People read so much into things sometimes. I mean, sometimes it's there, but sometimes it's just a nice poem with good imagery. I recall that Frost specifically said this poem was not about death in any way, and he seemed surprised that so many people wanted to interpret it that way.
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fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 19th, 2006 04:00 am (UTC) (Link)
It depends on how you look at it--I don't personally subscribe to it, but that "dark and deep" phrase does reflect a death wish mentality, which is, I think, what the person who came up with that interpretation was going for.

You picked that imagery on purpose, right?

No--that was actually literal imagery, not poetic. Like I said on yesterday's rec, one of these days, I'm just going to end up walking to Vermont because I can't stop picking my way around the side roads. This is why I don't like freeways. Not enough opportunities to say, "Hang it, I'll bet this one ends up going in the same general direction, and I can see stuff I haven't seen on the way home." ;)

I don't know a lot of Frost's history at the time the poem was written, so I suspect the "suicide" interpretation probably comes from reader response theory. I can see it, metaphorically--you go out from your life, stop at the edge of the forest and consider going in to be buried in snow and freeze to death, but ultimately return to the things you're obliged to do, even if they aren't making you particularly happy. You still have to shoulder them, and there's no taking the easy way out. Did this poem come from the same thematic place as "The Road Less Traveled"? (Seriously asking; I'm not at all sure of its history.)
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gloryforever From: gloryforever Date: April 19th, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just curious. Have you taken the Harry Potter IQ Test? It's not at all easy, it really tests whether you know your Potter facts well.
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