Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening | Robert Frost

Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening (1923)

Robert Frost (1874-1963)


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 bell 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.


A Story of my Reading

The title of a poem is usually where I start to build a basic interaction. When I encountered with “The Unknown Citizen”, I tried to make a reasonable guess about what the poem will say. The first hunch was that it tended to introduce a person and relate to a civilized society.With a supposition of the theme of the poem in mind, I read the poem through the first time. It was unexpected to have so much information while I was wondering how the citizen was“unknown”. Though there were some phrases unapprehended, I noticed that the poem had talked about a person from different and important aspects as a social member. After all these things that I have known about this “citizen”, I found the thing “unknown” at the end of the poem which corresponding to the title and apparently was the key to the understanding of the poem. The “citizen” in the poem appeared to be a perfect “citizen” rather than a real person. My first reading had proved my guess, but I felt that my interpretation still stayed on a superficial level. I needed more information and details to lead me to a deeper understanding.

During the second reading, I paid more attention to details and implied meanings while trying to answer questions on the work that were raised on my first reading. I examined those authorities mentioned in the poem and their importance for being chosen by the poet with my own experience and background knowledge about how the society worked. It seemed that this “citizen” was really a “saint in the modern sense” fulfilling every requirement of the society. He was obedient, hard-working and flowed with the tide. However, he was normal and average. I learned how the authorities and mechanisms think about him but nothing about the citizen himself: his thoughts, his feelings or his opinions on those authorities. I then further interpreted the information and found this citizen described as a record rather than an individual with distinctive characters. The comprehension of the known part of the citizen is essential to the understanding of the “unknown” part. I felt that I had been closer to the core of the work.

Based on what I had learned previously, I read the poem the third time straightening my thinking and trying to get a conclusion. The focus of the poem should be the contradiction of the known and unknown. On the first read, I had fixed the theme of the poem. Then I analyzed details for evidence proving my supposition and answers to questions remained before while reading the work the second time. So I was able to get a better comprehension of the work and complete my understanding. The poem appeared to describe a citizen with adequate information but failed in providing basic information to identify this citizen such as a name. The poet criticized the society treating a person as data and showing no respect to citizens with a sarcastic tone.

The Best Anti-War Poem

War, like love, is always a popular theme of poetry. Of the three war poems, I find that “Grass” by Carl Sandburg best suits the situation of anti-war rally. I draw this conclusion after a careful examination considering three criteria: whether the poem can strike a chord in Americans and people of the world, whether the poem conveys the senselessness of the war to the reader appropriately and whether the poem is easy to understand.

To begin with, since the poem is chosen for the opening of an anti-war rally, it must be able to arouse sympathy of audiences including people of different colors, religions and ages. In order to achieve this effect, it should be capable of bringing audiences closertogether and gaining recognition of its hearers. The poem “Grass” by Carl Sandburg does a good work at this point by adopting first point of view and employing “nature” as the narrator to put all people in this big background and draw nearer the distance among audiences. In contrast, the poem “Facing It” by Yueself Komunyakaa, also in first point of view, builds an invisible wall between “I”, an African American veteran, and its hearers while it suggests others in the memorial couldn’t have the same deeper understanding and feeling toward the war. As for the poem “The War in the Air” by Howard Nemerov, it limits itself to the war in the air, which may weaken its effect of appealing to all kinds of audiences. As a result, these two poems fail to fulfill the requirement according to the first criterion.

Secondly, the poem for the rally is supposed to introduce the pain and damage that war has caused to the individual and human beings in an appropriate tone. Using and repeating the word “pile”, “Grass” presents the toll that the consequences of war take on humanity. Besides, it condemns that people cover it up and never learn from it by listing some famous battles in the history. “Austerlitz”, “Waterloo”, “Gettysburg” and the other two, no matter how much significance and glory they might bring, just like the one that is going on, they cost a lot more than that. And what’s shameful is that people try to cover it up and forget it. Although the tone of it appears to be impassive, it produces a sarcastic effect. The repetition pattern throughout the whole poem strengthens the sarcastic effect and resentful tone. Whereas, “Facing It” mainly focuses on the depiction of the feeling and imagination of the poetry as a veteran. It tends to emphasize the unbearable and ineradicable harm war had brought to those who experienced it while neglecting the pain that it caused to the whole community and to the humanity. However, “The War in the Air” does a good work in conveying the dark side of the war from a broader perspective. It takes both “we”who see the war as lookers-on and “our dead” who sacrificed in the war, both winners and losers into discussion implying that there is no winner in war and both sides share the loss. In light of this criterion, both “Grass” and “The War in the Air” could be good choice.

Finally, the poem should be easy to read and understand considering its educational goal and influences that the rally intends to gain. In respect of this criterion, “Grass” is evidently the best one not only due to its shortness but also its simple words and pattern. The poem is quite short and in a repetition pattern for emphasizing effect. There are no difficult words that need extra interpretation and audiences from different educational background can understand it with basic reading ability. Poetry deliberately chooses those most well-known battles thus audiences will feel no difficulty in comprehension. However,“Facing It” is more likely a stream of consciousness that hearers may find it hard to follow the thought of the poetry. “The War in the Air” creates a grief atmosphere and conveys a deep meaning but it may take hearers a while to think it through, let alone somesophisticated phrases the poetry uses such as “Per ardua” and “Per aspera”. Given the understandability, the favor should be on “Grass”.

Based on the analysis above, which considers closeness to the audience, depiction of the dark side of the war for the humanity and understandability, I can safely conclude that the poem “Grass” by Carl Sandburg is the best poem for the anti-war rally.

An Argument of Evaluation: Why Choose “The War in the Air”.

An Anti-War Rally – I’m choosing “The War in the Air”

It is never easy to think about wars for normal people let alone those who were part of them and those who lost their families and friends. To them, everyday is a memorial day. The rally is meant to educate American people, and the people of the world, the pain and suffering war causes, while being respectful to the soldiers. So the poem chosen should be moving and corresponds to the theme “Bring the troops home.” And on my behalf, I consider “The War in the Air” written by Howard Nemerov is the best choice for an Anti-War Rally of the three that have been given.
Since poem is the art form that selected, the poem we chose should own the features that a classic poem should have. And I will approach my argument of evaluation following the characteristics of poems.
Poems have meaning. They can tell a story or explain feelings. In this case, “The War in the Air” do both. Every first two lines of each stanza create a sense of narration, telling the stories who “never came home to die”, the “ghosts” who bore “their tales/ of hitting the earth, the incompressible sea, and who had no graves.” However, “Grass” by Carl Sandburg portrayed a scene that bodies are piled high and then shoveled into the underground in a third-person point of view, and in this case, the grass. The poem is “plain-speaking” and just appears to be a bald, sudden statement, coldly objective. By reading this poem, we cannot manifest our theme which is “bring our troops home”. “Facing it”, written by a Vietnam Veteran, is moving, and yet it is not so well matched to the theme of the rally. The poet let the dark and painful mood erode him; he struggled but still couldn’t help to burst into tears. The impact of the war was so huge that it appears that there is no place for him to even have a chance to escape from the pain and struggle cause by the war. We always look at wars as number of dead bodies and we forget that these bodies once were living people with their likes and dislikes, their family and friends, their love and responsibilities. Those who were luckily survived, like the poet of “Facing it”, unfortunately sink themselves into great agony and can no longer live a normal life. It is too sad that I suppose that it is not appropriate for the rally, because the poem we chose should let people feel that there is still hope for those soldiers who are now in the battlefield to come back home and live a normal life.
Poems have images. They are made up of words that create pictures in our minds. Images often refer to our sense of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Images help people see something as if it is really there. “The war in the Air” paints a vivid picture of the contrast between a ground war and an air war. When soldiers die on a battlefield there is visible evidence of the battle: blood, bodies, artillery, etc. Conversely, when soldiers die “in the air” the only sign of struggle is blankness. The soldiers that survive air combat do not see their fallen comrades, they do not see the violence, and they do not see the eyes of their enemies. Without the evidence of battle does bloodshed transform into a “clean war”. It can help place people in a relatively real atmosphere of wars and feel the pain and suffering war causes which serve the theme of the rally perfectly. For this matter, “Grass” is weak to achieve this effect, because throughout the poem, the tone of the narrator, grass, is one of insistence, irritation and indifference. “Facing it” does let us imagine a scene of a Vietnam veteran stood right in front of the memorial and shed tears. However, it can only let people recall the miserable history but not help them to focus on what we can do now.
Poems have sounds. Poems sound different from other types of writing. They may have rhyming words, a regular rhyme like music, words with repeated sounds, or even words that sound like their meaning. “The War in the Air” is well rhymed. It consists of four rhyming quatrains. The rhyme scheme is a balancing act with the first two lines of each stanza void of rhyme and the final two lines of each stanza rhyming. However, “Grass” and “Facing it” is comparatively weak in this case. There is no distinctive sign of rhyming in both of them. As a strategy to begin the rally with a moving poem, the poem that we choose should be pleased to read and a rhyming one is obviously better than those not. Throughout “Grass”, Sandburg uses free verse to mimic ordinary conversation and avoids many dramatic elements, such as rhyme, meter or vivid language to invoke intense emotion. And I also barely see “Facing it” as a traditional poem but a flow of thoughts appeared in the form of poem and there is no rhyme at all which make it a loss of sense of beauty when people read it.
Poems have lines that may be long or short, and can be made up of whole sentences or sentence fragments. Some poems have lines arranged in stanzas. “The War in the Air” is strictly arranged into three stanzas which makes the poem neat and easy to read. And also no sentence fragments shape the poem well. Unlike it, “Facing it” is just thirty lines without any distinctive pattern and most of them are fragments which could be hard for people to read and fully understand the theme of the poem in a short time.
All in all, “The War in the Air” is a wise choice for an anti-war rally whose theme is “bring the troops home”.

Reading is a Journey to me –on “the Unknown Citizen”

Reading is a journey to me. And this journey will never end. As we learn, we read, and in return we learn again.

Like a destination for a journey, before I really start to read, I know I must have a purpose in mind. “No purpose of reading is to walk instead of learning” is a well-known scholar Hu Shih practice guidelines. Truly, reading with a concrete purpose is the first rule of my reading. When I am assigned to read the poem “the Unknown Citizen”, I bear in mind that our topic this week is about types of poetry and tone.

Raising the awareness of how reading purpose changes at different stages of reading is more important than just simply having one purpose. Along with my reading, I always find something beyond my expectation and make me do some adjustments of my purpose of reading. When I read this poem, I found that even though I bear in mind the major purpose, I couldn’t help to pay attention to other aspects of this poem. Through multiple reading, I found that the more I read, the deeper I can reach to the sole of the poem.

Reading, in my point of view, should be communicative which means there is an invisible bond between a text and a reader and thus interaction. Readers can build or make meaning by a communicative reading. And to me, “communicative” means through the process of reading, I should ask questions that I don’t understand and try to answer the questions that the poet raises and remember those questions that cannot be explained. It turns out that asking and then answering questions are always necessary for me to fully understand the poem.

When it comes to “The Unknown Citizen”, the technique has been applied. After my first reading, I looked into my initial thoughts and found that some questions have been raised. Why is he an unknown citizen when the poet nearly listed all information about him? Is it because he is a common citizen just like millions of others?

Then I read it again and I tried to answer those questions and gave some suppositions. Maybe In this sense, the man in the poem is not just a particular man but stands for a common kind of men so that the poet named him the unknown citizen.

The old questions have been answered and yet the new questions occurred after my second reading. Every day, every week, every month, every year, the life he leads is the same. Will he himself feel a little bored? It seems that every people around him are satisfied with him. I wonder, is he ever unsatisfied with anything? Is there anything that he wants to complain about? Is there anything that would annoy him? The poem did not give us a clue. Life is filled with changes and opportunities. I am sure that it happens in his life, too. But what did he do to deal with a single one of them? Is there just one time that he wants to get away from his unchanged life? Have the thought of changing a little bit ever occurred to him?

And then I read it another time. The pattern is the same: some questions have been answered, but new ones appear. I now get the title “unknown”. Surely he had everything necessary to the Modern Man. His life is stable, has no changes, no accidents, very much stable. He has everything that a citizen should have do a man should do. He was a “saint” in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word. But all in all, he is an unknown citizen. People met him, forgot him, or remember him as anybody else because there are no remarkable characteristics that can tell him from others. At the end of the poem, the poet asked, was he free? Was he happy? And then he said that the questions are absurd. If anything had been wrong, we should certainly hear. The question is in everyone’s eyes, everything about him is just fine. Maybe, or maybe not, because the poet never told us anything about what the man was thinking and feeling. Everything of him comes from others, the Bureau of Statistics, the reports filed by others, his employers, his Union, his Social Psychology workers, his mates, the newspaper seller, but nothing from himself. But I know that knowing a man requires one to spend time with him and listen to his ideas, thoughts and philosophy of life. Sometimes, many people’s lives appears very much alike, but what distinguish them are and always will be their minds.

In order to fully understand the poem, it is not enough to just read with questions. A good reader should also bring to the poem a lifetime of experiences, beliefs, values, and ways of looking at the world. The connections that between literary works and experiences can make it easier for readers to build or make meaning.

When I read this poem “The Unknown Citizen”, I could immediately imagine one based on the books that I’ve read and movies, TV series I’ve seen before. I could see him as a citizen, a soldier, a workmate, a husband, and a father. It seems like that every role he has played can be matched to a certain archetype in my mind. I could name a lot of men like him portrayed by the poet which certainly help me to better understand the poem.

All readers come to a text from certain positions or situations, as children of certain kinds of parents, as males/females in certain kinds of relationships, as parents perhaps themselves, as members of a certain class, race, ethnic group, etc. When I approach this poem, I cannot help to see me as a daughter. Being a daughter makes me feel real. I assumed him as my father and I saw him in a daughter’s eye. I felt more compassion for him because when he serves the family food and money, inevitably along with sacrifices of his own life. He shoulders all the responsibilities which make our life easier.

Readers allow their own values and beliefs to influence a reading, but they also allow the work itself to do some of the work. And I, too, allow for interaction between the text and what they bring to it. This interaction, this give and take, is part of constructing a reading, an interpretation or an understanding of the work. My philosophy of life differentiates me from others and when it comes to this poem, I wonder what is his philosophy of life, stable is everything?

Achieving something from reading may be seen as an ultimate goal. Shakespeare once put in his poem that the sole purpose of reading and study is to make independent innovations, ability to avoid duplication with the former. Reading is a source of inspiration that can trigger some new thoughts and ideas that belong to ourselves which is much valuable than just memorize the thoughts of others. After reading this poem, I question my own philosophy of life. Life is always about love, responsibilities and sacrifices. We serve a lot of roles in our family, our society. Sometimes we cannot have or achieve them all. Shouldering the responsibilities comes with sacrificing. Even though the reading has completed, the influence will not end.

Reading is a never-end journey that everyone will take. It is always a priority to make reading meaningful.