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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Remember when Whiners.pro commented on my horrible poetry? Don’t worry, I’m not going to torture you guys with any more of that. Instead, have something worse: pretentious poetic ‘analysis’. It’s analysis in the loosest sense since it’s more an exercise of elongation (an exercise beneficial to many organs, specifically that of the e-peen). Here, I’ll spoil you in advance: all I talk about in this essay is that people feel differently about poetry when they’re angry or sad. Or happy. Or dead. Or mushyrulez. Or mushysuckz. Hey, it’s I Say (read: essay) Wednesday, if az can post a bad school essay I’m entitled to post a bad school essay too

‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ paints a snowy evening scene with opalescent brushstrokes, each colour a different feeling, each shade a different message. Its four Rubaiyat quatrains in iambic pentameter create a stable structure for its euphonic sounds, ambiguous in mood. The reader shapes the words’ tone with inflections diversely melancholic, rapturous, despondent and wistful. Soft, round vowels reinforce euphoric idyll, while hard fricatives in the third quatrain reinforce painful tragedy. Readers’ current temperament influence their perceptions, crafting despair from sadness and serenity from calmness: their accepted interpretations are circumstantial. ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ represents Western imagist poetry as a classic. Thus, imagist poetry interpretations reflect readers’ temper.

The poem abounds in diverse interpretations. It illustrates the narrator humanely killing his dying horse (‘My little horse must think it queer, / To stop without a farmhouse near.’ lines 5 and 6, are quite ominous). The poem represents the gradual decadence of civilized society (the narrator callously trespasses on private property; ‘He will not see me stopping here,’ line 3). The poem highlights the changed 20th-century urban mindset (‘To ask if there is some mistake.’ line 10; the narrator venturing outside the village is strange). The poem relates the narrator, after a long day’s travel, stopping to smell the roses before continuing on (or to watch the snow. ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep. / But I have promises to keep,’ lines 13 and 14 remind the narrator of his responsibilities and shakes him out of his reverie).

All of these meanings have equal ground. As long as one person construes and believes them, an analysis cannot be incorrect. Nevertheless, parodies of ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’s ambiguous nature are numerous; Herbert R. Coursen, Jr. concludes the narrator must be Santa Claus, his reindeer’s harness bells shaking in the night of the winter solstice as he rushes off to keep his promise of delivering presents on Christmas Eve. Regardless, dozens of interpretations exist.

Robert Frost’s phonetic choices support many disparate interpretations. He loved rural life (a frequently recurring theme in most of his poems), and plausibly intended ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ as a purely imagist poem, free of explicit meaning. Philip L. Gerber argues ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’s main focus is not in its meaning, but its sounds. The regular iambic pentameter of each Rubaiyat quatrain is predictable and almost lullaby-esque, which allows us concentration on sound and not form.

In its first stanza, many soft w’s (‘Whose woods these are […]’ line 1, ‘To watch his woods […]’ line 4) and monosyllabic words ease us into a fluffy trance, as if on snow, and their continued abundances (the poem is more than 80% monosyllabic) aid a rapturous interpretation of the poem. However, the second stanza is more jagged, with hard consonants (‘[…] and frozen lake, / The darkest evening […]’ lines 7 and 8) mimicking night’s sinister gloom. The third stanza continues harshly (‘To ask if there is some mistake.’ line 10) with the horse reminding the narrator of his plight (and promise); nevertheless, the fourth relents and reverts to pleasing sounds (‘The woods are lovely […]’, line 13). Assonance proliferates (‘He will not see me stopping here,’ line 3; ‘Of easy wind and downy flake.’ line 12) and the simple AABA-BBCB-CCDC-DDDD rhyme scheme unifies the entire poem.

This is incredibly ambiguous and lends itself to all interpretations. The first stanza is a break from society – or the charm of the village. The second stanza is a fear of the dark – or the obstinacy of his horse. The third stanza is a wondering at nature – or the admonishment of caution. The final stanza is a eulogy for life’s beauty – or an elegy for death’s catharsis. The sounds in ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ only enhance its ambiguousness.

Furthermore, readers interpret poems circumstantially. A good poem reflects the nature of its writer; a masterwork reflects the natures of its readers. Nature lovers empathize with the narrator’s serene admiration of the wintry scene (‘To watch his woods fill up with snow.’ line 4). Poetic analysts interpret its dark nature as the grim inevitability of fate. Degrowth supporters champion his seeming contempt of civilization, as if the owner of the woods cannot truly appreciate nature (‘His house is in the village though; / He will not see me stopping here,’ lines 2 and 3). Depressed folks see in its ending a twisted metaphor of death, the final sleep (‘And miles to go before I sleep.’ line 16).

However, readers are not perpetually morose, nor constantly mirthful; readers’ moods are circumstantial. One who experienced glorious victory reads poems differently after they experience great defeat. As one’s temper changes, one sees life differently.

‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is also popular, perhaps the most celebrated Frost poem. It is correspondingly a prominent example of Western imagist poetry, and represents the entire genre. Descriptions of this poem thus broadly describe all imagist poetry, just as descriptions of one car broadly describe all cars.

Many interpretations exist for this poem. Robert Frost’s phonetic choices enhance its ambiguity. Readers change outlooks with changes in temperament. Finally, literary critics consider ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ an exemplar of imagist poetry. Thus, imagist poetry interpretations reflect readers’ temper.

Perhaps the best mirror is poetic.

7 responses

  1. you forgot the screenshots

    2012/06/21 at 01:00

  2. I’m a pacifist I don’t shoot people

    2012/06/21 at 02:02

  3. What the fuck

    2012/06/21 at 03:20

  4. “A fluffy trance”. That’s poetry right there.

    2012/06/21 at 15:07

  5. I hope you didn’t actually try reading that

    2012/06/21 at 17:19

  6. my face is a fluffy trance as well

    2012/06/21 at 17:19

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