Monday, March 5, 2018

Stopping by Woods

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.

March 7th of 2018 marks the 95th anniversary of the first publication of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," a popular poem written by Robert Frost in 1922.

Practically everybody in the USA studies this poem in high school. I remember that in sixth grade, some girls in my class performed the poem as music, to the tune of a pop song.

I think this poem is popular because it's beautiful. And simple. And it speaks to that wistful part of each one of us that would like to sit and contemplate the beauty of nature.

So why is a poem being featured in a blog about myth and story?

Because I believe this poem is also a story -- a kind of flash fiction in verse. Flash fiction is very short fiction (sometimes as short as six words!) that hints at a larger story. 

The narrator is out riding alone. We don't know where he has been, but on his way home, he stops to soak in the beauty of snow falling in the woods.

The little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

The horse is more practical than his master. He shakes his harness bells, as if to say, "We really ought to be getting on home, don't you think?"

But the man, the narrator, is lost in contemplation. This perfect moment will never come again. 

None of us, however, is free of responsibilities, people to care for, animals to feed, appointments, meetings, messages to answer, duties to perform.

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.

The poem gives us such a brief glance at our main character's life -- and isn't that what flash fiction does? I'm old enough to remember when people took pictures with cameras (not phones) that had flash attachments. When you took a picture in a dark setting, the bulb would flash, illuminating the subject for just the blink of an eye. What we see in this poem is just a momentary flash into this man's life.

The story problem seems small, not epic, compared to say War and Peace or Les Miserables. A man, enthralled by the beauty of nature, is longing to stay and watch the snow. 

And, of course, the story ends as it should -- with the man answering the call of duty. He must leave this captivating scene and get home to do what must be done. I'm guessing that horse is hungry, for one thing. Maybe his wife is sick. Maybe he has promised to help a neighbor. And promises are important.

But where is the character arc? Does the main character change or grow? 

I sense that somehow this man is forever changed -- as are we, the audience -- by the simple act of stopping by woods on a snowy evening. He is now strengthened and prepared to travel those "miles to go before I sleep." A simple but moving story in only 108 words.

Robert Frost

Image credits:
   Winter pine wood: Author: Aleks G 
  Moravian Beskids in winter:
   Horse in the Snow:  Source: Katursnow.jpg
   Sketch of Horse  and Buggy:  Randolph Caldecott 
        (yes, THE Caldecott), Public Domain
   Camera with flash: Author: Richard F. Lyon (User  Dicklyon)
   Robert Frost: Photo by Walter Albertin, Public Domain


  1. Just for me...this lover of all things snowy and especially this poem...and finally a winter to enjoy instead of last year's deprival. Thanks for this lovely lovely visit.

    1. Thanks, Judy. We did get a better opportunity to contemplate nature this winter. Thanks for stopping by my blog!