American Literature from 1865 to present
1st December 2009
Essay #2: Comparison
Stopping by the wood on a snowy evening
First as I read this poem I though its simplicity itself. The speaker is stopping by some woods on a snowy evening. He or she because of being tired, is tempted to stay longer, but acknowledges the pull of obligations and the considerable distance yet to be traveled before he or she can rest for the night. Frost claimed that he wrote it in a single nighttime sitting; it just came to him. Perhaps one hot, sustained burst is the only way to cast such a complete object, in which form and content, shape and meaning, are alloyed inextricably. One is tempted to read it, nod quietly in recognition of its splendor and multivalent meaning, and just move on. Like the woods it describes, the poem is lovely but entices us with dark depths—of interpretation, in this case. It stands alone and beautiful, the account of a man stopping by woods on a snowy evening, but gives us a come-hither look that begs us to load it with a full inventory of possible meanings. We protest, we make apologies, we point to the dangers of reading poetry in this way, but unlike the speaker of the poem, we cannot oppose. The last two lines are the true culprits. They make a strong claim to be the most celebrated instance of repetition in English poetry. The first “And miles to go before I sleep” stays within the boundaries of literalness set forth by the rest of the poem. We may suspect, as we have up to this point, that the poem implies more than it says outright, but we can’t insist on it; the poem has gone by so fast, and seemed so straightforward. Then comes the second “And miles to go before I sleep,” like a soft yet penetrating gong; it can be neither ignored nor forgotten. The sound it makes is “Ahhh.” And we must read the verses again and again and offer sharp remarks and explain the...