It’s the holiday season, and I love this time of year. I taught high school English for over 15 years, and during that time, one of my favorite things to do this time of year was to break out the Robert Frost poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. It is a favorite
because of one of the interpretations you can read into the poem that connects directly to the holiday season. Here is the poem:
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
BY ROBERT FROST
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.
I let the students read through the poem a couple of times. We talk about diction and rhyme and structure, and get all of those analytical things taken care of. It is a beautiful and pastoral. But then I get all Christmas on them and ask them to identify the speaker. Go ahead and read it again, I’ll wait. Still don’t have it? Well let’s see if I can guide you there.
So who do we know that knows what you are doing, who is always watching?
Who comes to visit around “the darkest evening of the year,” winter solstice?
Whose beast of burden, “little horse,” would think it queer to “stop without a farmhouse near?”
What kind of person puts bells that jingle on their harness?
Who, around this time of year, has promises to keep, and a long, long journey to make over one night?
That’s right kids, it’s Santa. Go look back and see how well that fits. Pretty well, right?
While it may not be what Frost intended, it is a valid and supported reading of the text, and when you place some of the evidence in the right light, or pull some details out and highlight them like the questions above point you to do, it all leads up to, as Sinatra and others sang, I mean the big fat man with the long white beard.
Misreading or not, it is a fun exercise and all the kids get a kick out of it. And if I can open their eyes to maybe see that poetry isn’t so bad, then that is good too.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.