A Promise is a Promise                                                                               
by
Rachel Daly

Epictetus once wrote, "First say what you would be; and then do what you have to do." This aphorism of self-discovery and obligation clearly describes Robert Frostís poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." In the course of the poem, Frostís speaker is confronted with two choices: he can either forget his problems or he can follow through with his responsibilities and make the most of life. It is through Frostís remarkable presentation of the speakerís thoughts that the reader may see how difficult this decision can be. Through powerful elements, such as alliteration, rhythm, and imagery, Frost stresses the importance of perseverence and facing oneís fears and obligations.

To accentuate the importance of perseverance as opposed to giving up, Frost uses clear alliteration in the speakerís thoughts. In the beginning, the speakerís flowing words accent his state of near acquiescence with his dream world. But soon, reality reminds him of his responsibilities when the speakerís horse "gives his harness bells a shake / To ask if there is some mistake" (Frost 9-10). Frost ingeniously employs the sudden, harsh k alliteration to emphasize the demands of the real world upon the speaker. However, Frost reveals the speakerís confusion over what path to choose when he realizes "The only other soundís the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake" (Frost 11-12). Frostís usage of the soft s and w sounds of the peaceful snow contrasts with the harshness of the real world and persuades the speaker that much more to forget his obligations. Furthermore, according to John T. Ogilvie, "the repetition of Ďsleepí in the final two lines suggests that he may succumb to the influences that are at work" and give up (Ogilvie 7). However, Frostís use of the soft, peaceful s sounds in the final two lines clearly mark the speakerís realization that he has to do what is right "before [he] sleep[s]" (Frost 15-16). Through clever and distant alliteration, Frost displays the importance of deciding whether to remain strong and press forward or to cowardly give up.

Despite its possibly being the more difficult path, Frost signifies the essence of perseverence through rhythm. Throughout the poem, Frost employs a repetitive, trance-like rhythm to compliment the speakerís struggle to fight off reality and remain in his carefree world. Furthermore, Jhan Hochman explains it as "an ingenious form of interlocking rhyme: the third unrhymed line of the first three stanzas provokes the subsequent stanzaís rhymed sound" (Hochman 4). Frostís use of rhythm is an eloquent and clever element that expresses the weak and weary state of the speaker in his moment of a life-changing decision. Yet, in the last stanza frost brings his flowing lines to an abrupt halt with "But I have promises to keep" (Frost 13). With this line, Frost not only shifts the meter of the poem, but also signifies the speakerís realization that he cannot give up or quit because of the life commitments he has made. Frost powerfully uses the rhythm in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" to emphasize the importance of choosing the path of life and all of its responsibilities instead of the easy way out.

With imagery, Frost again stresses the significance of persevering over oneís fears. The coldness in "Between the woods and frozen lake / The darkest evening of the year" (Frost 7-8) is evident along with the speakerís difficulty in deciding whether or not to stay strong and determined. The bitterness of this image shows how important it is for the speaker to realize that he must choose to face his obligations. But the speaker knows that giving up would be much easier and quicker. Frost uses the "easy wind" (Frost 12) to display how attractive and painless the carefree life would be. Yet the speakerís horse, which represents reality and its obligations, interrupts and "gives his harness bell a shake" (Frost 9). Frost cleverly uses the imagery of the horse interrupting the speaker as a symbol of lifeís sometimes annoying obligations that one must keep. Last, the image of the woods at they "[fill] up with snow" (Frost 4) symbolizes how appealing and easy it might be to forget all responsibilities. Ogilvie describes the woods as "a world offering perfect quiet and solitude," which also unfortunately "exists side by side with the realization that there is also another world, a world of people and social obligations" (Ogilvie 2). Though the speaker tries throughout the poem, he cannot escape reality. However, "[the reader is] not told that the call of social responsibility proves stronger than the attraction of the woods" (Ogilvie 2-3). The fact that Frost never plainly reveals the end emphasizes even more how difficult a decision it is to choose which path in life to take. Throughout a multitude of imagery, Frost magnificently expresses that no matter how difficult it may appear, one must face his or her obligations.

In this poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," Robert Frost clearly stresses the importance of perseverance and facing oneís fears and obligations through powerful alliteration, rhythm, and imagery. The speaker is at a moment of crisis in his life and is attracted to the easy way out. Frost brings to life these influences in his poem to show how powerful and attractive they may appear. But with bitter interruptions in his poem, Frost displays that one cannot escape reality and his responsibilities as easily as he thinks. Furthermore, the back and forth pattern of fantasy versus reality repeats through the speakerís mind several times. Frost uses this pattern to warn that such decisions are not necessarily easy but still essential. Consequently, the speaker realizes his responsibilities and that there is so much more life to live. This awareness conveys that though giving up seems the better road to take, choosing the path of life and all its responsibilities in faith will be so much more fulfilling in the end. After all, Heart Warrior Chosa once said, "In the darkest hour the soul is replenished and given strength to continue and endure" to the end. Besides, a promise is a promise.

Works Cited

           Frost, Robert. "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." The Bedford Introduction to
                Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing.
5th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston:
                Bedford/St. Martinís, 1999. 989.

           Hochman, Jhan. "An overview of ĎStopping by Woods on a Snowy Eveningí." Poetry
                 for Students
(1997). 21 Mar. 2001.
                <http://www.galenet.com/servlet/LitRC>.

           Ogilvie, John T. "From Woods to Stars: A Pattern of Imagery in Robert Frostís
                Poetry." South Atlantic Quarterly 58.1 (1959). 20 Mar. 2001.
                <http://www.galenet.com/servlet/LitRC>.

At the time of this writing a junior in Early Childhood Education, Rachel Daly wrote "A Promise is a Promise" for Dr. Barbara Murrayís ENGL 1102 class during spring 2001. Daly graduated Magna Cum Laude from Dalton State College in 2002.