Robert Frost’s poems take the minds of his readers through journeys of every experience imaginable. Frost, whose background was heavily influenced by New England, uses his former experiences to weave delicate threads of poetry. In his poems he uses subtle forms of symbolism to convey a deeper underlying meaning to his initial words. In addition, his sense of rustic, pastoral themes lets nearly every reader with any type of background relate to his words. In two of Robert Frost’s poems, “Desert Places,” and “I Stopped by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” he demonstrates these uses of pastoral and symbolism. Though both of the poems are set in the winter, they express very different tones and themes. One has a feeling of disheartening isolation while the other has a feeling of welcome seclusion. Although different, they show that the same setting can have completely different impacts on the speaker depending on their specific mindset at the moment. Although these seemingly simple poems are constructed of short, straightforward stanzas and verbiage, they are anything but.
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In Robert Frost’s poem, “Desert Places,” the speaker is a man who is roaming through the countryside on an ideal winter evening. He is entirely surrounded with thoughts of loneliness. The speaker spectates a snow covered field as a forsaken, uninhabited place. “A blanker whiteness of benighted snow, with no expression, nothing to express” (Robert Frost). Whiteness and snow are two important symbols in this poem. The whiteness symbolizes open and empty spaces without boundaries to restrain. The snow is a white blanket that covers up what was left behind making people forget about what may have happened. As the snow continues to come down on, burying everything, eliminating all distinction, the field becomes a lifeless, deceased “idea”, unmarked and unreflective of anyone or anything. This is the very thing which gave it its negative identity as a desolate field (Kolchak). The snow has effectively removed the signs of man’s connection to whatever may have been there. This annihilation is portrayed as death, an ultimatum of which in cosmic and spiritual approach overwhelms and over powers all life, leaving the speaker alone in a motionless universe, himself touched by the metaphorical death of which he speaks.
In “Desert Places” The poem’s speaker seems to be envious of the woods. “The woods around it have it–it is theirs.” The woods represent two different worlds of isolation versus society (Kolchak). Both have something that belongs to the speaker, something he wants to become a part of. The isolation and loneliness he speaks of is one that he wishes to have. He wishes to be alone in order to contemplate his ideas without the distractions of the outside world. Yet, while he wishes for the isolation, the way in which he phrases his words shows that he also wishes for company.
In the line, “The loneliness includes me unawares,” The speaker has shown a lost passion for life. He cannot express his feelings easily because of this feeling of numbness. The speaker is well aware of his situation, that he is alone in the world (Ogilvie). He is going through a stage where he just does not care about his earthly ties and feels extremely paranoid. “They cannot scare me with their empty space” (Robert Frost). He believes that no one cares how he may or may not feel, he does not need anyone else. “I have in me so much nearer home, to scare myself with my own desert places”. The speaker is now beginning to realize that he was in this situation because he had shut himself off to the world. He acknowledged that this winter “wonderland” represented his life. He had let misery and solitude sneak into his life and completely take over just as the snow had crept upon the woods and noiselessly consumed it. He realizes that if he lets these feelings run his life, ultimately it would die out much like the snow did to environment around him.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” conveys a happier, more positive meaning than the previous poem. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is about slowing down and trying to enjoy life. The speaker wishes he had done this more often and wants to try and relive the times that he had skipped by. This poem, like “Desert Places,” forces the speaker to choose between worlds of isolation and society. The quote, “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep,” shows that he chooses the latter, a world of society. The speaker of the poem was shown to be an extremely busy man who always had commitments to honor and places to be. A sensation of disappointment and regret is nearby throughout the poem.
The speaker seems concerned about what the rest of society would think about him just stopping in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason. His horse represents society. “My little horse must think it queer, to stop without a farmhouse near”. He admits that just stopping does seem odd. He is also somewhat concerned about the man who owns the woods. The man almost feels guilty for looking so lovingly at this other man’s woods. “He will not see me stopping here, to watch his woods fill up with snow”. I think that the speaker’s life may be a little better off since he stopped to take a deep breath and enjoy all that really matters, the simple things.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is the opposite of “Desert Places”. The settings were exactly the same; calm, dark wintery evenings, but they express totally different feelings. “Desert Places” is a very depressing poem with a dark tone. The other is very happy and it makes you wish that winter was already here.
These two poems are very different but they are also the same in some ways. They show two extremes of the same emotion. Being alone can be positive or negative it just depends on the state of the mind. Loneliness can be very depressing or it can be a time to collect your thoughts without the pressures of the outside world crashing down. Winter is the perfect season to reflect upon when expressing solitude. Winter can make everything seem dead. It can be a very depressing time of year. Snow covers everything living and the cold seems to chill to the very soul at times. Winter can also be very uplifting. It can wipe the slate clean with its pureness and it can be a time of starting over. Snow’s whiteness can, in a way, blind you with its beauty and make you forget about your troubles. Winter for me is a time of silent reflection. I could sit for hours and gaze at the blowing snow.
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Robert Frost creates two winter scenes with different outcomes. The first, “Desert Places” is a sad poem about loneliness and lost enthusiasm. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a rather uplifting poem about enjoying simple things in life. Frost seems to draw upon his experiences from living in rural New England and converts those experiences into beautiful rustic, pastoral poetry.
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