Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Poetry Month, Day 1 - Robert Frost, _Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening_

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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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.
I thought I would start with something fairly classic, and you don't get much more classic than Frost and his Snowy Woods. As I read this poem again, I am struck (as always) by the simplicity and the complexity, and how both hide and enhance each other. The rhyme scheme; AABA, BBCB, CCDC, DDDD - both simple and fantastically complex. Frost pulls readers through the poem smoothly, without the reader being conscious (perhaps) of the pull. Also, with just the rhyme, Frost tells us that the poem is ended. 

Simplicity and complexity - this poem is almost insultingly simple in its narrative, presenting a tidy little picture of a man, a horse, an evening trip, and a snow filled landscape. (I confess, the contrast between the snow filled image and our current heat was one of the reasons I chose the poem to begin.) And yet, this very simplicity has made countless readers analyze the poem in almost byzantine ways - is it about life and death? Is it about the devil? Is this a serene, calm poem, or a poem filled with menace? Where was the narrator (Frost?) going, why is he out on "the darkest evening of the year," with miles to go? Who woods ARE these, and is there anything in them besides snow? You see - complexity and simplicity, playing with each other, in tension with each other - there are so many ways to layer this text, and yet it can still be read as entirely simple, entirely straight. 

There is a serenity here, and a meditative element too. There's a reason that Frost's poetry has endured, and why this poem, among all his works, is so widely read.