Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
In Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", we are presented with a traveller, who while undertaking a journey, stops by the woods to admire the beauty of the nature surrounding him and to enjoy the solitude that the night offers. Frost also references the owner of the woods, telling us that he lives in the village to which presumably, the traveller is going to. I imagine that in some way, the owner represents what would eventually become of the traveller, should he continue on with the journey - closer to civilisation and further from nature.
My intention through this piece is to explore the conflict between civilisation and nature, which is a central theme in many of Frost's works. I have written in the voice of the owner who looks upon the traveller stopping by his woods. This makes him reflect on the sacrifices that he himself has made and the regrets that he holds deep inside, about leaving the country side.
I have chosen to write this piece in the form of a diary, written by the owner to reflect about his past choices in life. This allows for personal emotions and thoughts to emerge, through which he is able to reconcile the life that he lives today, with the man that he once was. The informal register and personal pronouns are used to convey this introspective mood and the constant references back to the original text helps to contextualise the scene. Through this piece, there is a criticism of the advancement of civilisation away from nature, as the owner reflects on beauty and loneliness as fundamental to our experience of this world, without which there seems to be something missing in our lives.
- Paul Immanuel (Thambu)
March 26, 1902
I did not become the person I am today overnight; it was a long process as I was moulded from something raw, something untamed. Like many around me, I was weathered constantly. The water kept coming until my rough edges were smoothed and my sharp points were made inoffensive, until I looked like every other pebble around me. Society runs smoothly on the backs of these shapeless stones - it is the path of least resistance, a path I resisted.
Even the most abrasive among us feels the force of the river, the river that runs through all of us, carving and forever changing us. To think that we are creatures independent, without the need to succumb to the sways of external forces, is to fool ourselves, underestimating the internal struggle of acceptance that we all long for.
It is the proverbial and perennial human condition - to be prone to inner conflict and contention, because we are always being reminded that we do not fit; we are constantly tugged at to remind us of our flaws and our cracks and that even our elementary composition, that which makes us who we are, is simply ill suited for the larger whole, the running of the river.
Here then lies the battle that plays out in all of us, long and drawn out. It is the conflict between our primal and most private desires, ones that the eyes of society cannot bear to see. We are told that we have responsibilities, that we have people to answer to, that we need to get things done.
And so, we suppress the fire inside, and we hide the light that once led us.
Standing by the window of my living room, looking out back towards the path through the woods, I saw that light once more. This time however, it was not mine; but it nonetheless unmistakably teetered on the edge of extinguishment. I felt the compulsive need to get up, to run to that light, to shield it. To say to it "hold on". Perhaps it was just the company that it seemed to offer me on this cold night, but I felt a strange closeness to the dancing flickers of that free flame - an understanding for its fight for breath, to be alive in the harsh winter breeze.
I could see in my mind's eye, the traveller that accompanied the light - I could almost sense a familiar worry in his eyes. He would be looking to see where the path was heading, desperately needing some confirmation that the road and the journey ahead were worth it. He would be seeing the sides of the path, covered uniformly in trees that hung like curtains enveloping the darkness.
I could see that the light stopped swaying for a while; he was still. To me, he represented the choice that I once had, the power to walk away. He was not imprisoned yet, not yet burdened by boundaries drawn in the sands of time.
I desperately wanted him to reassure me, I wanted him to tell me that what I had sacrificed was trivial. Drowned in the bellowing of the trees, feeling the snow two boots deep, tasting the cold air, yet still moving ahead. I wanted to know that I had made the right choice in leaving that land. And that in coming here, I had gained so much more.
And so, you would assume that when once again, the light started swaying and the traveller started moving, my heart would be put at rest. To know that every traveller, would have made the same choice that I had made. Being able to say that this destination, the life that I now live, was inevitable, that the river was always going to flow this way.
But oh, how I wanted him to stay still a while longer. How I wanted him to soak up one more cold breath, at least for my sake, how I wanted him to look once more at the trees that veiled the night sky. He owed it to himself, and in some strange way he owed it to me also, to make sure that he truly understood the weight of the decision that he was about to make.
He needed to know that the promises that he felt obliged to keep and the miles that he had to tread, may in the end feel hollow and meek. But we must all be our own travellers, and understand the world through our own experiences. And just as I see a bit of myself in that traveller today, one day he too might see a reflection walking down the road from the woods towards the village.
Then maybe he will also feel, as I do now, a rush of emotions that leads him to think back. To remember the days now long gone, when he still had a chance to pause, to take a step back, and enjoy in all its fullness, the dark and most beautiful night. Hopefully, he would realize that the fire, albeit a flicker, the need for a primal connection with nature, was something worth keeping alive. That in the eventual locking horns of society and self, he will realize that we are more than men made to live in a box and stare.
We need the night to feel whole again.
- by Paul Immanuel (Thambu)
Also by Thambu on The Overbridge: