Interpreting Poetry

November 19, 2008 at 4:05 pm 1 comment

Please read (slowly) this wonderful poem by Robert Frost. Read it a few times if you have to and then think about what it means.

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.

                                                            Robert Frost

We discussed this poem in writing class this week. My interpretation was that it was about Santa Claus! Childish? Maybe, but since all poetry is open to interpretation, I take solace that my view is at least valid.

The simple interpretation of the piece is of a person stopping by a winter wood on the darkest night of the year to appreciate the stillness and beauty. The person longs to stay but realizes there are obligations yet to fulfill. A simple vignette of life.

The class hashed the poem over and decided its metaphor concerned Life. The woods belonged to God, whose house was in town. The traveller had stopped to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation (the woods) and the darkness of death but was called away by the many duties in life. The whiteness and depth of the snow was said to symbolize advanced age.

It can also be said that the village represents society and the obligations one has to civilization. Stopping in the woods is the traveller’s break from those obligations. The woods, on the darkest night of the year, symbolizes aspects of wilderness, doubt and loss. The horse (our journey) calls the traveller on and he/she realizes that life has yet a long way to go. What did it mean to you?

I was embarrassed about blurting out ‘Santa Claus’, but later realized that Santa, being one of my metaphors for God wasn’t really so far off after all; especially given the Christmas like atmosphere of the weather lately.

Here’s how I interpreted the poem using Santa Claus: The traveller Santa, on the darkest night of the year (the winter solstice which was the original date appropriated by Christians for Christ Mass or Christmas), is busy making his rounds. He comes upon a dark, peaceful wood and pauses to admire the dark beauty. The horse, complete with jingle bells, wonders why Santa has stopped where there are no houses to deliver presents. The jingling bells remind Santa of the task at hand and that he has miles and miles to go to fulfill his obligation.

Santa as metaphor for God is delivering to all people, the gift of enlightenment that’s needed to understand and enjoy an abundant life. Even though it’s the darkest night of the year, God sees the beauty in creation. After the horse reminds God of the amount of work to do, God remembers the promises made and the miles to go before resting.

The winter scene in the poem gave me the Christmas feeling of quiet peace that I enjoyed as a child. I was thickly blanketed for a cozy winter sleep, nodding off, eagerly anticipating the dark night being overcome by the morning of Christmas Day. While I slept my parents spent a typical Christmas Eve; there is much to do before morning.

As the advent of Christmas comes upon us, think of the great gift of God’s that we enjoy.  The world is in need of this gift and there is much to do before morning. Just as Santa spreads joy all over the world, let’s help deliver God’s gift of enlightenment to people everywhere that they may enjoy an abundant life..




Entry filed under: Wrestling With God.

Hope Lives in the Promised Land The Medium and the Message

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. goforwords  |  November 19, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    HI Dave, No need to be embarrassed by your interpretation! I love what you’ve done here with the poem and I’ve always confused God and Santa Claus myself – like Annie Dillard, only not as artistically in my case. I think it’s the long white beard.
    What you’ve done here is beautiful. I read your posts every week and enjoy them very much.


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