Sunday, February 19, 2012

Frost...For Fun

In honor of "F" Week at ABCWednesday, I thought we'd have some fun with Frost.  His poetry is so clear on the surface, but so deep - so  much can be 'read' into it.  I say read, and not overanalyze - there's a difference, don't you think?

Please enjoy the poem below - along with some other 'food' (it is "F" week) for thought.  Please write your impressions, feelings, questions about this poem. On Friday, I will post some professional poets' and literary critiques' impressions (not mine).  I hope you join in reflecting on the poem now and come back and react to the "professional" responses as well. [But, if you don't have time skim the poem, take a look at the JFK inaugural clip, and please leave a comment.]

Some Background:
Lawrence Rabb, (Morris Professor of Rhetoric at Williams College and an award-winning poet), discusses "How to Pay Attention to a Poem."  He notes that:
"Any best read with what Henry James called "the spirit of fine attention," It's about noticing, and then noticing what you notice...
"A good poem resists paraphrase, refuses to let its meaning become too simple..." 
"No good poem, especially one as mysterious and reticent as 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,' ever exhausts itself, even as it turns itself over to you, the reader. So you may secretly carry it around, discovering - perhaps by surprise... remembering it as a kind of revelation and finding it has changed, since you yourself have changed."
A few things to keep in mind:
  • Lawrence Rabb also provides a slew of questions to focus on while reading this poem.
  • Frost typically repeats the last line of the poem - his way of telling us its complete.  Does this send us an additional message?
  • Keep in mind the visual and musical imagery relayed through the words he uses.
  • In a letter to Louis Untermeyer, Frost called this poem, "my best bid for remembrance." Why?
Extra tid-bit I couldn't resist:
A clip of JFK reciting Frost at his inauguration, discussing the role and significance of poetry to statesmen and an incredible glimpse into a world gone by.

The Poem:
What images come to mind? What do you think it's about?  Any surprises, questions, insights? 
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost
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.
For educators and parents:
  • This type of exercise is wonderful for building what Levine termed "Higher Order Cognitive Functions" or what others might refer to as analytical thinking.  Asking readers to think about the poem, however, not only builds cognition, but a more acute awareness of language, rhythm and rhyme, while helping to focus attention to details.  Savoring poetry provides great 'games' to play with kids of all ages as they explore language, thought, and the world around them. 
  • Not always providing immediate answers is a typical Piagetian (after Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget) approach to helping learners progress to higher levels of understanding.  When intellectual challenges are presented, the thinker must devise 'rules' or 'schema' that are tested and reconstructed as needed.
In closing: 
The Dead Poet's Society:

Have a great few days, I hope you return after Friday for Part II which will be filled in below
In the meantime, please leave your thoughts, insights and comments.

Frost's "Stopping by Woods..." Part II
(to be posted on Friday...)

Here now, are more morsels and tid-bits to help reflect and understand this poem:

John T. Ogilvie (from "From Woods to Stars: A Pattern of Imagery in Robert Frost’s Poetry." South Atlantic Quarterly. Winter 1959) reflected:
Frost relays a recurrent image of "the world of the woods...offering perfect quiet and solitude" that  exists "side by side with teh realization that there is also another world, a world of people and social obligations.  Both worlds have claims on the poet."
" We are not told, however, that the call of social responsibility proves stronger than the attraction of the woods...the poet and his horse have not moved at the poem's end.  The dichotomy of the poet's obligations both to the woods and to a world of promises... conisists in the way the two worlds are established and balanced.... What appears to be 'simple' is shown to be not really simple, what appears to be innocent not really innocent..."
Reuben A. Brower (from The Poetry of Robert Frost: Constellations of Intention. New York: Oxford UP, 1963. Copyright © 1963 by Reuben A. Brower) wrote:
 "The dark nowhere of the woods, the seen and heard movement of things, and the lullaby of inner speech are an invitation to sleep - and winter sleep is again close to easeful death... [Forst's] poetic suggestions are in the purest sense symbolic...though we feel their power. There are critics who have gone much further in defining what Frost 'meant'; but perhaps sleep is mystery enough... Frost might be described as a poet of rejected invitations to voyage in the 'definitely imagined regions' that Keats and Yeats more readily enter."
Richard Poirier (from Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing. Copyright © 1977 by Oxford University Press) wrote:

For greater depth of discussion and reference, please see:Modern American Poetry: On "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

Have a great weekend and come visit again soon! 


  1. Wonderful post ~ Frost poem has lasted over time because it has a universal message ~ especially to young adults beginning life ~ also at other points of the Life Cycle ~ It speaks to life's journey and sometimes not knowing where 'we are at' ~ yet continuing on moment by moment ~

    'miles to go today
    moment by moment
    grateful to be here.'
    carol mckenna ~

    Thanks for linking up to Magical Monday Meme ^_^

  2. I have always loved the simplicity and the internal expression in Frost's poetry. In this poem in particular, I believe he is speaking of regret, that he wants to "stop and smell the roses" but knows he has little time. He has an agenda.

    I am a new follower, stopping by from Magical Monday.

  3. Hello - I'm now your newest follower via Monday blog hop. Hope you'll stop by soon and follow me too.

    Have a great week.


  4. Meryl, This is wonderful! I love the poem and your thoughtful way of looking at it! I love that video clip, too. Thanks so much for sharing this at Teach Me Tuesday!!

  5. I am from A Not So Moody Monday 2/20. Please follow back if you do not mind.
    I wish I could write like you. A lot of learning ahead.

    My blog:

  6. One of the reasons one reads the Bible over and over is that YOU are (presumably) different from who YOU were 3 years before. Same with poetry and other readings.

    PS -"Could you say fame/infamy is in the eye/head of the beholder?" You just did.

    1. The poem is beautiful, but I have always disliked explaining the means of a poem. I felt like a hangman dismembering a victim, or ,in a more civilized way, but just as cold, a biologist dissecting a beautiful flower. You might be wiser in the end, but if you have a heart, also a lot sadder.A poem should be enjoyed like you enjoy listening to music. When I was a student I had to explain and analyse many poems. Such a pity.
      This poem of Frost is excellent: it's like a painting, something I miss in modern poetry.

      Well anyway thank you for your interesting post! Have tomorrow a wonderful day!

      Wil, ABC Wednesday Team.

    2. I agree, poems are personal and shouldn't be dissected. That's why I wrote in the post that they should be read and felt, not over-analyzed. Just curious what these images bring up for you. I love though ho you wrote that "'s like a painting, something I miss in modern poetry." True...and the layers... Thanks for commenting!!!

  7. I think the woods are a person's own mind ... if that makes sense. LOVE Dead Poets Society ... will have to get teh movie for my teenager! Stopping in from the hop today … would love a follow via Google+ and GFC … BTW … I could really use some answers to my post today – if you have the time please stop by and comment  thanks!

  8. This would be a good poem for teens to study because beyond the surface beauty of the words, there lies the idea of choice. Responsibility or taking a darker path. Thanks for sharing this!

    abcw team

  9. I agree with Roger, how one interprets a poem can change depending on their stage in life and experiences that have shaped their psyche.

    I remember reading this in high school and, aside from it's lyrical cadence, I didn't really stop to think much about it. Now, it speaks to me altogether different.

    Now, I read in it the dynamic between the craziness of schedules and peaceful respite we all need in our busy lives. Sometimes there's a struggle between what we "ought" to be doing and what we "need" to be doing to preserve our sanity. The house in the village represents the responsibilities associated with our lives. We get so caught up in the busyness of life, we don't notice the lovely, dark woods and silent snowfall that's calling to us to stop and enjoy for a while. The bells on the horse "shake" us back to reality if we get a little daydreamy, and remind us we have "miles to go" before we can even think about resting. The Catch22 is that unless we take time and enjoy those snowy evenings in the silent woods along the way, the miles never end!

  10. I find that how I read and what I take from a poem can change depending on when I read it. This poem is certainly one which has many layers of meaning for me. Carver, ABC Wednesday Team

  11. Hi. I'm your newest follower from the hop! Hope you will visit

  12. Frost poetry is fascinating.

    Forty Three

    Chubskulit, ABC Wednesday Team

  13. What an interesting site you have! I can't believe I've never been here. I'm here from the hump day hop and following on GFC.

    Would love a follow back at one of these blogs: or

  14. A fascinating post. That poem makes me feel lonely but also hopeful. It's been many years since I've read it so thanks for sharing it.

  15. Great post! new follower from the hop, hope you come by! :)

  16. I am of the mind set that a reader will take away from the poem what they feel or need at the time of reading. At this time the woods are telling me to rest and be still enjoy the silence while I can, as there is much work to come tomorrow.
    thanks so much for all your encouraging thoughts & words during my recovery. It helps to know that someone out there is looking or listening for me :o) ~Faythe @ GMT~

  17. Hi Meryl, that's a beautiful poem. I enjoyed reading it and also reading the comments from others. I'm not very good at understanding poetry. But in reading this my first thought or visual was that the woods is life itself, it's lovely, dark and deep. I'm not sure about the other parts, maybe stopping at a farmhouse represents different points in our lives where we aren't sure of the things we do or maybe the decisions we make. But through it all we keep going on...

    Thank you so much for such a thought provoking post.

  18. 'To stop without a farmhouse near' could be suicide. But minus that thought, the poem is a piece of art I love and enjoy.

  19. I've always loved Frost's poetry - depending on where you are, you can interpret each poem differently - that's why he was so brilliant. :)

    Thanks for linking up for Random Tuesday Thoughts - I'm now following you! :)

    Valentine Spoilage, Where’s My Water Addiction, The Hunger Games Dilemma

  20. Thank you for visiting Wordless Wednesday at I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your photo this week! I hope to see you again soon.

    Have a great weekend... it's coming soon!