Poetry Critical Analysis: Example

Robert Frost
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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.

-Poem & author are introduced

-Thesis: the poem offers a "dual realization" in which both speaker and reader reach a profound understanding.

-Plan of attack: the essay will look at characterization and tone as it pertains to the understanding the man attains.

Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is a poem of dual realization: the speaker and the reader of the poem both encounter an epiphany. Oddly enough, it comes at the end of this rather simple poem about a man and his horse riding through a forest. By examining characterization and tone, one can see the understanding that comes to the man is that commitment must always take precedent over selfish longings and endeavors.
Body #1:
-Topic sentence states the purpose of the paragraph

-I've quoted several lines of poetry as evidence

-In the analysis of evidence, I've slightly shifted the topic as it echoes my thesis statement and anticipates the next body paragraphs

In the first and second stanzas, it is apparent that the man's motivation to stop his horse on another's property is an aesthetic and relaxing one, "He will not see me stopping here/ To watch his woods fill up with snow." (3-4). The man's appreciation of beauty is reiterated later in describing the "downy flake" (12) and the "lovely" woods (13). However, the man seems to be aware that his impulse to take in the beauty of the scene is perhaps out of place, for he acknowledges that his horse knows the folly of this respite, "My little horse must think it queer/ To stop without a farmhouse near." (5-6). Lines 7-8 pursue this idea, adding the reasons why he has no good excuse to stop: it is the "darkest evening of the year" and it is quite cold.

Body #2:
-I've followed the same pattern as in the Body #1

-Note that once again, I've striven for unity in the paragraph

-Also, I circle back again to my thesis while still not stating it exactly and withholding final judgment

The third stanza again shows the man relying on the sense of the horse and his surroundings to inform him. The horse "gives his harness a shake" as if to awaken the man to his predicament (9). Regardless, the rider next remarks on the sound of flurries around him (9-10). It would seem that the use in those lines of soft words like "easy" and "downy" in describing "wind" and "flake," respectively, implies an almost hypnotic quality to the man's mental state. This reinforces the man's reluctance, conscious or unconscious, to move on. Instead, the man is lulled into savoring the sylvan moment that surrounds him.

Body #3:
-Again, the elements of a sound body paragraph are here: topic sentence and evidence

-However, note that my analysis of the quote includes the strongest connection yet to my thesis

The poem reaches a resolution in the fourth and final stanza. The first person "I" replaces the conversation with the horse. It is as if the man is ready to assert himself and take action instead of pondering the thoughts of his beast on a winter's evening. After again recognizing the beauty of the woods, the man suddenly takes action, realizing that a world--a real world--exists outside of this forest, which represents his own reality:

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. (14-16)

The recognition of "promises to keep" connotes a connection to another person or institution beyond himself. Slumber, much like the relaxing, escapist urge to sight-see, is put off until those other, more primary obligations are met.

-Topic sentence makes a connection (although a bit weak) to the thesis

-Evidence is summarized and generalized

-Note that at the end, I make a broader generalization about Mankind; thus, I've moved beyond the poem itself and made a broader statement

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is a fitting title for such a sleepy verse. Indeed, it is this lazy attitude that captivates the selfish lassitude of the speaker. That the rider is able to reach the realization that commitment and obligations--most likely concerning others--should replace his longing to linger amid such a charming scene is perhaps testimony to Frost's understanding of the difficulty in doing this. Yet, the fact that the rider does see what is of prime importance makes it clear to the reader that this is what Man is supposed to do.

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