The Hypnotic Effect Of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”

1482 words - 6 pages

The use of death as a theme is common practice in poetry, but the ways in which it is employed can be very diverse in meaning. An effective poem can send a message about death that is easily absorbed and refrains from forcing that message upon the reader. That kind of poem is written with the intent of conveying its meaning to a reader without that person realizing it, and only after having taken time to process the poem will understanding follow. Robert Frost was able to write in this way. In the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, Robert Frost portrays death as a material entity. Death takes on the physical form of the woods, and the man who has stopped in front of them is ...view middle of the document...

In a minor key, they are caught also in the implicit comparison between the owner of these woods, who apparently regards them as a purely financial investment (he lives in the village) and the narrator who sees them, at least potentially, as a spiritual one.
From the start the woods are an attractive force that acts on both speaker and reader, but one which can not be explained entirely. This allure is the bait in Frost’s trap of getting the speaker and the reader to confront death.
In addition to the speaker’s separation from other people, there is also a parting between the speaker’s instinct to leave the woods as they “fill up with snow” and his need to understand what the woods mean to him. Instinct versus thought is represented in the contrasting feelings of the speaker and his horse in the second stanza and first half of the third:
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. (5-10)
Instinct tells the horse to move on down the path and get to the safety of the village; on the other hand, the speaker doesn’t wish to proceed and continues to be entranced by the woods. These opposing thoughts are also observed by Richard Gray:
This contrast between what might be termed, rather reductively perhaps, 'realistic' and 'romantic' attitudes is then sustained through the next two stanzas: the commonsensical response is now playfully attributed to the narrator's horse which, like any practical being, wants to get on down the road to food and shelter. The narrator himself, however, continues to be lured by the mysteries of the forest just as the Romantic poets were lured by the mysteries of otherness, sleep and death.
Frost’s trap is sprung when the speaker refuses to move on, ignoring his instinct in favor of fulfilling his curiosity toward the woods. That curiosity is what gives the speaker his chance to confront death.
During the process of separating the speaker’s mind and body, Frost also lures the reader into his trap by using the poem’s structure. Frost lulls the reader into a trance using perfect iambic tetrameter, in which each line of poetry has four sets of two syllables each, with the first syllable being unstressed and the second being stressed. This rhythm is immediately felt by the reader due to the almost completely monosyllabic (one syllable per word) first stanza:
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. (1-4)
Consistent throughout the poem, minus being wholly monosyllabic, the pattern of unstressed to stressed syllable is complimented by the poem’s rhyme scheme of aaba/ bbcb/ ccdc/ dddd (corresponding letters are the end rhyme to each line). No rhyme is forced upon the reader, making the poem easy to scan. Clint Stevens praises this...

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