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Yearning for the Big Sleep

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Yearning For the Big Sleep

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," a poem by Robert Frost, is a literary example of man's struggle with his life and interest in death. Examining two critics, Samuel Coale and Donald J. Greiner, and their views on "Stopping by Woods," we can piece together the intricate underlying story within this masterpiece. Coale, writer of "The Emblematic Encounter of Robert Frost" and Greiner, writer of "Robert Frost's Dark Woods and the Function of Metaphor" both have dissected and interpreted "Stopping by Woods" through scholarly analysis. They find symbolism in the speaker's feelings, the poem's environment and even the horse and its sleigh. However, both authors have different views on the subject and an even more dissimilar view on the entire focus of what the poem means. Coale focuses more on man's fascination and encounter with nature. He focuses his interpretation entirely on Frost's use of the woods and how in many of his poems, Frost's speakers are enthralled with the woodland. Greiner also focuses on the woods in his critique; however, he takes a more interpretive look at the poem and discusses the images of the woods as a metaphor in Frost's poetry.

The first stanza of "Stopping by Woods" is powerful, mesmerizing introduction to Frost's world. The speaker of the poem is coming from somewhere, a place we do not know, when something causes him to stop. The woods he travels by are being snowed upon; they're serene and artistic, like a Thomas Kinkade painting.

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. (Frost 1-2)

Greiner examines the introduction and delves into the spiritual meaning of this stanza. "Finding himself alone between the opposing worlds of nature and man, the traveler stops to watch the woods fill up with snow," (Greiner 239). Greiner believes that this traveler is not only enthralled by the natural beauty, but something more. He continues with, "Natural interest, though, soon becomes fascination as the woods [...] seem to offer a place of reverie, a welcome interlude from the promises that should be kept,"(239). Greiner views the woods as a metaphor as a way for the traveler to get away from everything, a nirvana for his soul.

Coale, who views the speaker as Frost himself, explains the first stanza as, "Frost does not wish to be seen in the first stanza, as if he knows that his stopping is somehow the wrong thing to do; he is perhaps feeling some guilt, some sense of foreboding as to the true nature of his giving in to the spell of the woods," (Coale 238). Coale sees Frost's action in the poem as one under hypnosis, in a drugged state of mind, instead of viewing it as a natural enjoyment of nature. He does, however, share the same vantage point as Greiner here, " "To watch his woods fill up with snow" initiates his reverie,"(238). He, too, believes that the snow indicates Frost's/ the traveler's daydreaming state.

There is another view to be looked at, as well. The traveler, whoever he represents is seemingly moving from one place to another. It is believed that this trek represents the path every person is forced to take, the path of life. The woods, with snow falling, are cold and enclosed, like death. The traveler is peering into death, looking, a little curious about what's inside waiting for him. This dream-like state is brought on from a supposed feeling of drowsiness and the longing to stop his travels, stop his life path, and delve into death. However, there is something more that stops him, hinders him from his need. It distracts him and brings him back to his life-line.

Frost usually has his speakers share a companion in his poems and here, his traveler has a horse to drag him along his journey. This horse is the representative of having the power to carry someone along, yet having no full control of where you are going. Unlike in Frost's "The Draft Horse," where the beast is "too heavy a horse," (Frost 3) and ultimately is murdered, this steed is a companion, almost a friend, who brings the traveler a sense of duty and purpose. Coale believes that the horse saves Frost from his own hypnotic peril. "Twice the horse interferes with the gathering spell, first in the poet's thoughts [...] and secondly in its actions [...]," (Coale 238). This little horse, dragging its master along in a carriage, is distracting Frost from exploring the deep woods even more. It is the longest night of the year, the winter solstice is upon him, and he wants something from the woods that his horse isn't allowing him to attain. Coale continues with "The [horse's] bells awaken the speaker momentarily from the drift of his mood; [he is] attempting to rescue himself from the relentless and inevitable direction of the poem[...],"(Coale 238). Coale sees the horse as a savior, if not a nuisance as well, to Frost and his hypnotic mood.

Greiner believes that "the horse [...] is alert and almost human in its awareness of the poet-figure's predicament [...],"(Geiner 241). He compares this to "The Draft Horse" where the beast is a burden, dragging along a frail buggy, and traveling through a dark forest. The

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