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Tuesday, December 20

More Frost

I’d forgotten how much fun Frost’s poetry is, forgotten how much I loved his poetry. As I understand it, the man himself wasn’t easy to live with or befriend, always with a darkness in him and often in his poetry.

Which takes me to “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It’s easily one of his best-known poems, and is often mistakenly read as a sort of children’s poem, a Christmas card set in words. The rhyme scheme is interesting. It hooks each stanza together by taking the off-rhyme of the preceding stanza and making it the dominant rhyme of the next. So the four stanzas go: aaba, bbcb, ccdc, dddd. Only four rhymes throughout. And the last line simply repeats the next-to-last line, sort of rounding it out and finalizing the pattern. Then look at the scene itself and that ambiguous final repeated line, “And miles to go before I sleep.” Critics have most often considered the poem a Frostian death wish. The speaker (Frost?) is hurrying home through the dark and snowfall of a late December evening, but decides to stop to “watch the woods fill up with snow.” And these woods, far from home or any human connection, are “lovely, dark, and deep,” and seem to beckon him. There’s the death wish critics point to. The speaker, though, has obligations (promises) and miles to go (years) before he can enter those lovely, dark woods.

It’s not as though this is the only darkness in Frost’s poetry. That frightening conclusion to “Design” is one example. “Desert Places” is another.

The setting here is almost exactly like that in "Stopping by Woods," but not as evocative to the speaker. In fact, here the loneliness is frightening, a blankness of the countryside paralleling the emptiness of the speaker's soul. The speaker (Frost?), in the last stanza, is saying that what the scientists say about the immensity of the universe and how insignificant mankind is doesn't frighten him as much as the spiritual emptiness, the desert places, within himself.

Just for the fun of it, here are several other statements Frost made, both tongue-in-cheek humorous as well as dark. "So Eden sank to grief" (mankind's loss of Paradise), "So dawn goes down to day" (loss of youth and its brightness), "Nothing gold can stay" (nothing precious lasts as life moves toward death). Not much humor there.

In "It Bids Pretty Fair" we have an unusual hint of optimism: Mankind, despite our propensity for war, will probably be all right as long as nothing goes wrong with the sun. Finally, his mocking epitaph, forgiving God for His practical joke on all of us, granting us life and then taking it away after too short a time. Again, the light and dark of Frost's outlook as seen in his poetry.

One last word about form in his poetry. He wrote many of his poems in blank verse, a form often used by Shakespeare. Blank verse consists of ten-syllable lines alternating with unaccented and accented syllables but without rhyme, the cadence of ordinary speech as seen in the first four lines of another of his best-known poems, "Mending Wall." For those of you who remember such arcane information, it's unrhymed iambic pentameter.

There, that should have bored my readers sufficiently. Now we're done with Frost and moving toward the frost of Christmas.

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