In the spirit of National Poetry Month this past April, we announced our first-ever Shmoop Essay Contest. We asked high school students to analyze Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” We were blown away to receive 538 entries from students around the globe.
Thank-you-thank-you-thank-you to everyone who entered. We loved reading your essays. We’re psyched that you dug down deep to connect with this wonderful poem. We hope that you can’t wait to enter our next Essay Contest later this summer.
OK, enough stalling. Let’s do this…
The Champ (winner of a new iPad 3G)
- Alex K., 12th Grade, Waubonsie Valley High School, Aurora, Illinois
The Finalists (winners of shirts, assorted Shmoop gear, and a virtual high-five for an awesome job)
- Amanda W., 11th Grade, Interlake High School, Bellevue, Washington
- Christopher B., 12th Grade, Winchester Thurston School, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Mariella H., 10th Grade, ACS Hillingdon International School, Hillingdon, Middlesex, England
- Patrick R., 12th Grade, Hoover High School, Hoover, Alabama
From our esteemed judge… what Jim Burke had to say about Alex’s winning essay
This is an insightful analysis of not only the poem but the human condition, an analysis that shows a wisdom you are too young to possess! How can you know, let alone write with such insight and elegance, such things? And yet you do. You see into the deeper, darker aspects of Frost’s poem here, finding the existential angst that hides underneath the nature too many people mistakenly think is his real subject. In addition to understanding the poem itself, your writing really shines, offering a compelling range of sentence styles, a commanding grasp of how to use punctuation to affect meaning and emphasize ideas. It’s really remarkable what you accomplished in a mere 500 words. Thanks for the pleasure your paper brought: it helped me see new aspects of a poem I thought I already knew well enough. Congratulations!
Alex’s Winning Essay
(Published with permission)
“The Road Not Snowplowed”
In Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the narrator likens the isolation of his snowbound sojourn to the equal solitude of the poetic soul in the “village” of modern society. The relationships between speaker and surroundings – both immediate and in the grander sense – reveal themselves through Frost’s presentation of setting and equally skillful comparative symbolism. “Stopping by Woods” is more than a poet’s description of an idyllic evening; it is a comment on the extremes to which privacy and isolation drive the human spirit.
This is not to say the speaker’s isolation is the society-inflicted solitude of the ostracized outcast – far from it. Frost’s narrator chooses to stop and watch the woods as a departure from their assigned duties. The rider, passing the woods in the snow-powdered dark, sees and recognizes the land as familiar: “whose woods these are I think I know.” The narrator goes on to comment that the owner’s house is located elsewhere, away from this place and by logic away from the serene beauty of this spot. Here, Frost notes a separation between humanity and nature. He does not imply that the village also benefits from the wonder of the woods, only that it is somewhere else.
There is a wistful feel to this second line. It seems that the narrator regrets that the owner of these woods cannot be here to see them as they are. The one who owns the land here stands for the village in which they reside, housed away from the scenic natural wonder of a snowfall at night. Theirs is a world of paved streets and civilization, not a dusting of flakes among the branches. One can almost imply that the narrator pities the absent landowner, for failing to see the woods for the village.
Even more important, perhaps, the owner “will not see me [the narrator] stopping here.” Tonight, while the speaker rides on whatever thankless errand, they do so alone. There is no other human, no other agent of civilization, with whom the peace of nature can be shared. There is only the horse. Yet the horse is a domesticated thing, a beast of burden, beholden even to the pressures that drive the men in the village much like the spurs that goad the horse to move. The horse appreciates not the woods – he “gives his harness bells a shake/ To ask if there is some mistake.” On a dark night, with the cold freezing the lake beside them, the horse (and by interpretation society) has better things to do than stand around looking at snow.
So the horse jolts the narrator back to the real world. The errand returns to mind – “I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep.” Again the specter of society’s expectations return, and the narrator is forced back to the journey. As the horse resumes its trot, we hear the half-despairing refrain, symbolizing the tedium of life, “And miles to go before I sleep.”