The Road Not Taken, A Noiseless Patient Spider and The ..
(as in "The Road Not Taken") ..
In emphasizing the lyric's form Frost really only defers the question of theme orcontent. It is not that the poem does not have a theme, or one worth a reader'sconsideration; the form simply the theme. If this seems surprising, it is onlybecause Frost's emphasis makes for so complete a reversal in mood. The mood of the poem atthis second level of form-as-theme is anything but suggestive of self-annihilation:"I was riding too high to care what trouble I incurred." This is the kind oftransformation Poirier has in mind when he remarks in (1971),quoting an interview with Frost originally published in the in 1960:"If [a] poem expresses grief, it also expressesas an as acomposition, a performance, a 'making,'the opposite of grief; it shows or expresses'what a of a good time I had writing it'" (892). I would point outfurther that Frost's reading, appearing as it does in "The Constant Symbol,"lends the last two lines of "Stopping by Woods" added resonance:"promises" are still the concern, though in "The Constant Symbol" hespeaks of them as "commitments" to poetic form. Viewed in these terms"Stopping by Woods" dramatizes the artist's negotiation of the responsibilitiesof his craft. What may seem to most readers hardly a metapoetical lyric actually speaks tothe central concern of the poet a poet when the form of the poem is taken as itstheme.
In addition it is reminiscent of "The Road Not Taken."
Discussion of this poem has usually concerned itself with matters of"content" or meaning (What do the woods represent? Is this a poem in whichsuicide is contemplated?). Frost, accordingly, as he continued to read it in public madefun of efforts to draw out or fix its meaning as something large and impressive, somethingto do with man's existential loneliness or other ultimate matters. Perhaps because ofthese efforts, and on at least one occasion--his last appearance in 1962 at the Ford Forumin Boston--he told his audience that the thing which had given him most pleasure incomposing the poem was the effortless sound of that couplet about the horse and what itdoes when stopped by the woods: "He gives his harness bells a shake / To ask if thereis some mistake." We might guess that he held these lines up for admiration becausethey are probably the hardest ones in the poem out of which to make anything significant:regular in their iambic rhythm and suggesting nothing more than they assert, theyestablish a sound against which the "other sound" of the following lines can, bycontrast, make itself heard. Frost's fondness for this couplet suggests that however muchhe cared about the "larger" issues or questions which "Stopping By Woods .. ." raises and provokes, he wanted to direct his readers away from solemnly debatingthem; instead he invited them simply to be pleased with how he had put it. He was to saylater on about Edwin Arlington Robinson something which could more naturally have beensaid about himself--that his life as a poet was "a revel in the felicities oflanguage." "Stopping By Woods . . ." can be appreciated only by removing itfrom its pedestal and noting how it is a miniature revel in such felicities.