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Stopping in the Woods

By Robert Frost and Randall Thompson

A vignette of looking into snowy woods at night

NYC2016 Performance on Youtube

Previous discussion about this song:

Daniel:

If it's literal, it's not clear how it applies. If it's metaphorical, it's not clear for what. I've always seen it as about Moloch: how even the absentee owner of the woods, how even the horse, can't imagine putting aside their livelihoods long enough to watch the beauty of nature for five minutes, and even the narrator can spare only that. But that's not a theme we touch on much elsewhere in Solstice. And other people interpret it differently. And in a community that tries to cultivate the habit of seeing things for what they are, and not pushing our own interpretations onto them, this is a problem.

Raymond:

I personally consider it a weakness/failing of the rationalist community that we don't get / freak out about metaphors. I'd personally prefer to resolve the issue by tweaking Solstice to introduce the idea of metaphors earlier in the thing so that people can appreciate Stopping in the Woods when it happens.

I'm not sure if that'd work though and I think reasonable people can disagree on the right approach

Daniel:

I think "metaphors" would benefit from some breaking down. Moloch and bayesjitsu are metaphors, and we're fine with those. Brighter Than Today doesn't try to be historically accurate and no one objects.

So what's different about Stopping By Woods? I think it's the ambiguity. My understanding of it is completely different from yours. And neither is the view of the literary hive mind. It's enough to make one suspect that the poem has no meaning beyond the mundane: this was a moment Frost wanted to share, and everything will else is being read into it by active readers.

Refusing to read things into other things can be a good habit. One I'd be reluctant to push against.

Raymond:

think my point is that being inable to read into things is a bad habit - it's good that most of the Solstice says clear things on purpose, but I don't think it's good to not be able to read your own interpretation in an ambiguous poem - there are failure modes associated with it but it's a perfectly reasonable human thing to do. (There are also people who don't like that Solstice is so explicit and Stopping in the Wood is basically the only one thrown their way)

I think the core, important interpretation of Stopping in the Woods is also actually pretty literal: imagine that you, in particular, are stopping in the middle of the woods on the darkest night of the year and have miles to go before you sleep. What would you, in particular, be thinking about while that happened?

We never really resolved this. But whatever you think of the words, the melody is beuatifully haunting.

This song is available for sale via bandcamp in the 2015 album.

A Bayesian Choir Performance of this song is on Youtube.

Lyrics

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.

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