Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening has a very clear literal meaning. However, there are many elements to the poem that can lead the reader to reading it allegorically. The need to look past a poems literal meaning comes from the associations readers make between words and other ideas. The elements which make up a poem can be used as tools to look beyond the literal meaning and on to a deeper meaning.
The literal meaning of Frost’s poem is obvious. A man is traveling through the woods on horseback and stops to admire the woods but realize he has many obligations and a long journey ahead before he can rest for the night. The speaker describes the woods as “lovely, dark, and deep” (13). The poem could be described in the same way. It is very pleasant but could also have a deeper-darker interpretation. You can not help but make the association between words like deep and dark to the idea of death. This his how Frost uses diction to bring out a literal and allegorical way of reading this poem. Diction was not the only element that made me think about the poem in an allegorical sense.
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Frost’s choice of words was my first indication there was more than one purpose to the poem. The last two lines of the poem are, “And miles to go before I sleep” (15-6). The repetition of this line made me feel as if Frost had other intentions than its literal meaning. The last word of the poem is sleep. Coincidently, the last time a man sleeps on his journey through life is in death. This association may not be recognized the first time reading the poem. But as a reader I could not resist but to read the poem again after reaching the end and hearing the repetition of this final line.
The final line of the poem pulled me as a reader into the poem to look for a deeper-darker interpretation. The reader is almost in the same situation as the speaker in the poem. However, the speaker in the poem is able to resist the inevitable beauty of the woods because of prior obligations. As a reader I was not able to accept the literal meaning and had to read it again. Here, the literal reading of the poem became clearly different from the allegorical reading. The last line of the poem, “And miles to go before I sleep” (16) makes perfect literal sense. But it could also be interpreted as a metaphor meaning, I have longer to go before I die. Bringing your own sense of death into the poem while reading can completely change your interpretation. This simple repetition of a line can draw a reader into a poem just as easily the speaker in the poem was captured by the simple beauty of nature.
The simplicity of this poem can easily be over estimated. Each of the four stanzas are merely identical. The first, second and third line of every stanza rhyme and the third line sets up the rhyme scheme for the following stanza. However the last stanza is different from the rest. This is the only stanza in which all four lines rhyme. What was the purpose of Frost changing the rhyme scheme at the end of the poem? The intentions of an author are almost impossible to say. But I interpreted this change at the end of the poem to be like the change many things go through at the end of something. All things have to come to an end and most things come to an end through death.
When first reading the poem the simplicity of its rhyme scheme, format, and diction may lead us to interpreting the poem in its most literal sense. But when reading the poem for a second time theses elements that make it seem so simply, can also give you a reason to look for a deeper meaning. Eco believes that the author’s intention is “very difficult to find out and frequently irrelevant for the interpretation of a text.” 1 To interpret is to establish a meaning or significance of something and can highly depend on the reader and the way in which they read the poem. Recognizing the intent of a poem is not necessarily the same as saying you know the meaning. When reading something allegorically compared too literally you need to have a scheme in which you will know when to take something literally versus allegorically. Because the relationship between the two meanings is not always logical. Frost’s purpose of the poem in unclear. But the reader of the poem can use the elements as a tool used to find more than a literal meaning.
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