"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "The Road Not Taken" are probably Robert Frost's "best known" and "best loved" poems. They are so familiar that it is difficult to read them with freshness. Although, for Americans of a certain age (I will not presume to speak for any American born after Dwight D. Eisenhower's first term in office), it may not even be necessary to read them since they have been embedded in our memory from an early age. In any event, they are worth revisiting.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
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 bells 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.
As a start to considering the artistry behind the poem, I find the following comment by Jay Parini to be very helpful: "The aphoristic quality of this little poem, which seems so natural that one cannot imagine its having been invented, is such that one can hardly not memorize it." Jay Parini, Robert Frost: A Life (1999), page 213 (emphasis in original).
And consider a point of punctuation. After Frost's death, Edward Connery Lathem "edited" a new edition of Frost's collected poems. As part of his "editing," Lathem decided to "correct" the punctuation of a number of the poems. One of his "corrections" was to change the first line of the final stanza from "The woods are lovely, dark and deep" to "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep." In his excellent study of Frost's poetry, Richard Poirier has this to say about Lathem's change:
In fact, the woods are not, as the Lathem edition would have it (with its obtuse emendation of a comma after the second adjective in line 13), merely "lovely, dark, and deep." Rather, as Frost in all the editions he supervised intended, they are "lovely, [i.e.] dark and deep"; the loveliness thereby partakes of the depth and darkness which make the woods so ominous.
Richard Poirier, Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing (1977), page 181.
William Pritchard, who has written a fine study of Frost's poetry (Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered), echoes Poirier's criticism of Lathem's change to the line:
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep," now has an added comma after "dark." It is as if a prim schoolmaster were at work, showing his concern for Robert's getting the correct punctuation into the business or friendly letter so that his English will be Good and Understood By All, rather than "Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,/So can't get saved."
William Pritchard, "Frost Revised," Playing It By Ear: Literary Essays and Reviews (1994), page 26. Fortunately, the original version ("dark and deep") has been restored in the Library of America edition of Frost's poetry and prose edited by Richard Poirier and Mark Richardson.