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.
--Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" tells an invitingly simple story. But as we read and reread the poem, we are drawn into questions and mysteries. Beginning with the oddly tentative note struck in the poem's first line, we are guided by a speaker who, it seems, conceals as much as he reveals. Who is the unnamed person whose woods these are and why is the speaker concerned about that person's presence or absence? Where has the speaker come from and where is he going? What draws him so powerfully to the cold deserted woods he calls "lovely, dark, and deep"?
In the suggested activities below, students explore such questions and mysteries in journal entries that build upon narrative hints in poems chosen from an online selection of Frost's most frequently anthologized and taught works. By analyzing what a speaker (or persona) in one of Frost's poems includes or omits from his narrative account, students make inferences about that speaker's motivations and character, find evidence for those inferences in the words of the poem, and apply their inferences about the speaker in a dramatic reading performed for other class members.
CRITICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND
(*Note: Some of these items, particularly the critical excerpts from the EDSITEment-reviewed Modern American Poetry, may be difficult or overwhelming for students. None of the activities describe below require students to have access to these materials; they are presented here primarily as background for the teacher, or for students in grades 9-12 who might use this lesson.)
On the board, provide students with definitions for the basic literary terms you will be using in this lesson. The central concept taught here is the distinction between Frost-the-poet and the speaker, or persona, that he creates to tell the narrative in the poem. (Related terms you might be or might already have discussed in class are narrative, perspective, point of view, persona, speaker, character, motives, and conflict.)
Persona is a term of Latin derivation, and originally denoted a mask made of clay or bark that was worn by actors. It has come to refer to the "person" who speaks in a poem or work of fiction. The persona in a poem is like a character in fiction; and, just as in fiction, we can draw inferences about the motives and personality of this character by hints and clues in the poem. One online source for a definition of persona as well other literary terms is the Glossary of Literary Terms which provides the following definition for persona:
The person created by the author to tell a story. Whether the story is told by an omniscient narrator or by a character in it, the actual author of the work often distances himself from what is said or told by adopting a persona--a personality different from his real one. Thus, the attitudes, beliefs, and degree of understanding expressed by the narrator may not be the same as those of the actual author. Some authors, for example, use narrators who are not very bright in order to create irony.
4-5 class periods