- The Dark Woods: Image
- All the lives we ever lived
and all the lives to be,
- Are full of trees and changing
leaves. .............. Virginia
- "Into My Own," the first
poem in Frost's first book, A Boy's Will, begins,
- One of my wishes is that those
- So old and firm they scarcely show
- Were not, as 'twere, the merest
mask of gloom,
- But stretched away unto the edge
- In "A Dream Pang," he
- I had withdrawn in forest, and
- Was swallowed up in leaves that
- And to the forest edge .....
- And "The Vantage Point"
- If tired of trees I seek again
- And the last poem in A Boy's
- Out through the fields and the
- If read over the body of his work,
Frost's tree imagery becomes a powerful cumulative symbol. Trees
become forest and then woods, dark woods and eventually a pitch
dark limitless grove. Frost's limited use of trees as a positive
image occurs in "Birches" and "A Young Birch"
where this, his favorite tree, the gray birch (Betula populifolia)
relies "on its beauty to the air." But in general Frost's
trees are portentous and ominous.
- The pine tree in "The Oft-Repeated
Dream," threatens the woman inside. The forest in "Spring
Pools" has the power to sweep away the tender flowers below.
The forest in "On Going Unnoticed," asks, "What
are you...? to the speaker who "grasps the bark by a rugged
pleat,/ And looks up small from the forest's feet."
- Frost often extends his concern
to the leaves of trees, as in "In Hardwood Groves,"
- Before the leaves can mount again
- To fill the trees with another
- They must go down past things coming
- They must do down into the dark
- The speaker becomes weary as a
leaf treader, and playful as a leaf gatherer. In
"October," he says whimsically the heart may be beguiled
if the leaves will fall slowly, for the grape's sake. In comparing
leaves and flowers, the speaker admits "Leaves are all my
darker mood." And even in Frost's most affirmative tree
poem "Birches," he stops to say, "It's when I'm
weary of considerations, And life is too much like a pathless
- One may observe that Frost's poems
are generally set in New England. This region of the United States
is full of forest with a potent literary tradition going back
to Longfellow's and Hawthorne's forest primeval. His setting
is nature, rural 19th century America. Indeed Frost's landscape
is not as mental as Emily Dickinson and is far removed from the
psychological landscapes of Yeats and Eliot. Frost set his poetry
in New England because he loved it.
- Frost was a restless man who enjoyed
walking and exploring the rural places where he lived. His idea
of nature is very real and very much on the ground. He
said, "Poetry is gloating, gloating on the facts, just facts."
He very seldom "gets up fanciful things." On his walks,
he delighted in making all kinds of botanical and geological
observations. He loved ferns and wild flowers and trees and could
name them all.
- Frost was well aware of the classic
traditions of pastoral and nature poetry, but disavowed himself
a "nature poet." He said, "there is almost always
a person in my poems" and clearly the poem is about the
person's psychology. He is not trying to tell you how nature
works. He was not a pantheist nor a transcendentalist. He believes
that nature has a "correspondence" with man and that
sometimes man is blessed with a "nature favor," that
is a special sight beheld with wonder, such as he describes in
"The Most of It," "Two Look at Two," or "Questioning
- The transition of trees
to forest to woods to dark woods runs throughout
Frost culminating in "The Draft Horse," in a pitch
dark limitless grove, where a couple are gripped in a fateful
and terrifying event that forces them to lose control over a
simple ride home in their horse-drawn buggy.
- Trees are a powerful figure for
Frost, but again he is following a poetic tradition that can
be traced back to the classics, especially Virgil's pastorals,
which Frost read in high school and admired all his life. Trees
are part of the figurative landscape that Dante used in his opening
lines of the Inferno:
- Midway upon the journey of our
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
- Ah me! how hard a thing it is to
What was the forest savage, rough, and stern,
- Which in the very thought renews
So bitter is it, death is little more.
- The expression "lost in the
woods" is right out of Dante in using the tangle of tree
growth to symbolize our inability to go forward and straight.
"Babes in the woods," evokes innocence exposed to some
sort of dark force. It is clear that Frost loves his trees and
embraces them as part of his
"darker mood," and yet resists their pull too:
- As I came to the edge of the woods
- Thrush music - hark!
- Far in the pillared darkness,
- Thrush music went--
- Almost like a call to come in
- To the dark and lament.
- But no - I was out for stars:
- I would not come in.
- I meant not even if asked,
- And I hadn't been.
- Frost's trees accumulate over the
body of his work, but they cannot be taken to mean one thing.
They have different colors and textures as well as contradictions.
In "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," he says
in his famous final stanza,
- The woods are lovely, dark and
- One may ask, is the dark and deep
part of the loveliness, or is it both lovely and
dark and deep. Taken that way, the woods hold opposing qualities.
This is vintage Frost - they refuse to be pinned down. Trees
are part of his different moods.