Stylistic Analysis of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, Nazneen Zahra

Stylistic Analysis of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

Nazneen Zahra

Department of English Language and Literature

University of the Punjab

The study is based on the stylistics analysis of the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening” by Robert Frost. It aims at exploring the graphological, morphological, lexical, phonological, foregrounding and figurative structures in the poem to find out meanings and themes that the poet wants to convey. The study unfolds the expression of thoughts through different literary techniques and how these enhance the impact of the poem.

Stylistics is the study of the meanings of any text by looking at its linguistic features. This is literary analysis from a linguistics perspective and is more objective. This highlights the use of the words, their arrangement and the feelings and responses they create. This finds out the relation between meanings and interpretations and structural elements of the text.

Robert Lee Frost, an American poet, was born on 26th of March, 1874 in San Francisco, California. He is known for the realistic description of rural life and use of colloquial language. The settings in his poems are rural which he employs to observe the various philosophical and social themes. He talks about ordinary men, their actions and the use of dramatic monologues and scenes are due to his knowledge of people. He reflects on human nature, the relation between nature and man and his reaction towards natural aspects. Frost was honored as a popular poet in his lifetime and respected by critics as well. He died on 29th January, 1963 in Boston.

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.

 

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

 

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

 

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.

In the poem, the speaker stops at a place near woods to watch the snow fall on an evening. He seems uncertain about the place and its owner while his horse stands confused and wants to know why his master has stopped at this lonely place. The speaker stays quite absorbed in nature and fascinated towards woods. While he is engrossed, the horse rings his bell to make him aware of his journey and responsibilities he has to fulfill. At the end, he decides to move on. The narrative is simple talking about the continuation of time and life. The mood of the poem is speculative and the speaker reflects on life, death and nature. The setting is rural and environment is peaceful. The element of doubt and ambiguity is evident; at one point he is captivated to continue his reflection on woods while on other, he knows he has to move on to fulfill his duties of life. The poet has presented a snowy night scene and highlighted the speaker’s thoughts and feelings.

The researcher has covered following levels of stylistics analysis in this study.

Graphological Category:

This lyrical poem is made up of four stanzas of four lines each. The poem contains the rhyming scheme of AABA CCDC EEFE GGGG. The rhyme of every next stanza follows the rhyme of the third line of the previous one like in second stanza the third line ends at ‘here’ giving way to the rhyme of next stanza, similarly the word ‘lake’ for ‘shake’ and ‘sweep’ for ‘deep’ respectively. This rhyming scheme creates rhythm and music in the poem. First and third stanzas contain two lines making a sentence while second and fourth make one sentence. The poet has used punctuations marks like comma, semi colon and full stop and mostly they are present at the end of the lines to give pause or end the sentence.

Foregrounding:

Deviation and parallelism are the forms of foregrounding which show irregularity in form. The poet had deviated from the normal rule of capitalization as the every first word of each line is capitalized. There are repeated words like ‘I’, ‘think’ and ‘woods’ which highlight the speculative point of the point and the speaker’s attraction towards woods. The last two lines are repeated which shows the emphasis on the poet’s responsibilities and being a reminder to break his trance; they are in repetitive structure and add musical quality. There is deviation in the structure of the first sentence as it does not follow the normal pattern of subject and verb. The poet has used apostrophe instead of ‘is’ to create a deviation in spelling.

Lexical Category

It is a personal poem with the use of simple and formal diction without any kind of slang. The language is descriptive and evaluative as it describes the scene as well as expresses the speaker’s ideas and feelings. Various parts of speech are incorporated for semantic and syntactical purposes.

Noun Pronoun Action Verb Adjective Adverb Preposition Conjunction
Woods I Think Little Here Up Though
House These Know Frozen Near In And
Village His See Darkest   With If
Horse Whose Stopping Harness   Without But
Queer He Watch Some   Between Before
Farmhouse Me Fill Easy   Of Whose
Lake My Stop Downy      
Evening It Think Lovely      
Year   Gives Dark      
Bells   Ask Deep      
Shake   Keep        
Mistake   Go        
Sound   Sleep        
Sweep            
Wind            
Flake            
Promises            
Miles            

 

The nouns used are related to nature and human to create a connection between the two as the speaker is there fascinated towards nature and speculating on it. Concrete nouns highlight physical presence and natural imagery while abstract is employed to hint about future. The verbs show speculation, movement and continuity as one is in continuous tense while others are in present indefinite and infinitive to indicate his present state and the compulsions he has. The title of the poem contains gerund ‘stopping’ in it to show the continuity of the speaker’s journey. Pronouns refer to place and persons and draw attention to two personas of the poem, the speaker and his horse. Adjectives describe nature and speaker’s perception enhancing the scene as well as the woods. The two different words like lovely and dark are incorporated to describe the two sides of woods and they present his two ways of looking at them. Adverbs and prepositions show the place while co-ordinate and sub-ordinate conjunctions combine different clauses to create coherence in the poem. The sentences are declarative and in three forms like simple, compound and complex and the length of sentences depend on the ideas they reflect. There are noun phrases, prepositional phrases and verb phrases in the poem. Noun phrases are ‘my little horse’, the darkest evening’ and ‘only other sound’. Prepositional phrases are ‘between the woods’ and ‘in the village. Verb phrases are ‘I think’, ‘I know’, ‘will not see’, ‘stopping here’, ‘fill up’, ‘must think’ and ‘I have’ while infinitive phrases are ‘to watch’, ‘to stop’, ‘to ask’, ‘to keep’ and ‘to go’.

Morphological category

The poem contains a lot number of both free and bound morphemes. Mostly used are the free morphemes while less used bound morphemes are in the form of suffixes. Suffixes are in the form of plural nouns, the different forms of verb and adverb. There are two kinds of affixes; derivational and inflectional. Woods, darkest, gives, bells, promises, miles and stopping are inflectional while frozen, sound’s, lovely and before are derivational. Allomorph sounds present in bound are of ‘s’ and ‘z’.

Free Bound Prefix Suffix Two Morphemes
Whose , See, Me Woods Mistake Woods With-out
These, Here Stooping   Stopping Farm-house
Are, To, Watch Without   Frozen  
I, Fill, Up Farmhouse   Darkest  
Think, With Frozen   Gives  
Know, Snow Darkest   Bells  
His, My, Little Gives,   Sound’s  
House, Horse Bells   Lovely  
Is, must, It, Mistake   Promises  
In, Queer, A Sound’s   Miles  
The, Stop, Near Lovely   Before  
Village, Between Promises      
Though, And, Miles      
He, Lake, Before      
Will, Evening        
Not, Of, Year        
Harness, Shake        
Ask, If, There        
Some, Only        
Other, Sweep        
Easy, Wind        
Downy, Flake        
Dark, Deep, But        
Have, Keep, Go        
Sleep        

 

Figurative category

Figurative speech has functional and artistic purposes to create meaning and beauty in the poem. Imagery is both visual and auditory like the natural scene and sound of bell respectively. The whole poem is symbolic as it is reflection on life and the symbols used are woods, snow, lake, sleep, village, bell and horse. Woods stand for complexity of life, snow, lake and sleep for coldness and death, village for civilization, bell for reminder and horse is the speaker’s other self. There are two kinds of feelings; one is of attraction and other is reminder of responsibilities. There is personification in which human qualities are attributed to the horse like think and ask. The exaggeration/hyperbole is present in “the darkest evening of the year” and “The woods fill up with snow”.  The harness bell is a metaphor for the signal that the horse gives to his master. By one person’s perspective and experience, the poet is exploring something larger and central to human condition and this is synecdoche. The word sleep is employed with denotative and connotative meanings as one meaning is to rest but other indicates death. The poet uses onomatopoeia where the sound of wind is sweep. The poem contains alliteration at different places like ‘whose woods these are’, ‘his house is in the village’ and ‘to watch his woods fill up with snow’. There are consonance sounds of s, th and w and assonance sound of o. The last line gives the idea of climax in which the poet returns to reality knowing that he has promises to fulfill and reminds himself about his journey.

Cohesion and Coherence

From the beginning till the end, the whole poem is linked and there is a constant connection between all parts of the poem. All the sentences are linked and the poem moves smoothly carrying its theme and ideas in a flow. It starts from one point and then referring to it, connects all other concepts.

Conclusion

The poet employs diverse words and techniques to convey his meanings and create a great impact on the reader. The analysis of words and devices incorporated help the reader comprehend the message and theme of the poem in a better way. Frost has made use of words in such a way that these descriptions create a visual image in front of reader and the figurative language even make it more decorative. The objective of this analysis is to investigate how the words operate in the poem and communicate the thoughts and ideas of the poet. As the literary texts are layered and there exist many interpretations, there is no final meaning in language. This stylistic analysis explores the language variations in the given poem.

Advertisements