going into my own woods

Into My Own

Introduction

Standing close to a line of “dark trees”, the “fearless” speaker “wishes” they could “steal away” into “their vastness” and discover his place in the world. Robert Frost’s Into My Own explores our deep desire to break through the social and psychological boundaries in our lives which prevent us from achieving our ambitions and realising our “true” selves.

Into My Own

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

Setting

The “trees” are introduced by the demonstrative adjective “those”, locating the speaker in close proximity to the woodland. The poet describes the trees with the child-like adjective “dark”. Despite being beside the treeline, he is unable to see beyond the first few rows. Frost often uses the wild and mysterious woods as a signifier of the uncertain future. An obvious example is The Road Not Taken.

The second line describes the “trees” as “old” and “firm” with their deep roots and permanence reinforced by the intensifier “so”. They also seem unfazed by the wind and “scarcely show the breeze”. In this way, the poet presents the “trees” as almost impenetrable, making it difficult for the speaker to “steal” into their “vastness”. In turn, this might symbolise our inability to accurately predict the future.

Alternatively, the intimidating “old” and “firm” line of “trees” represent the unyielding traditional values held by sections of society which prevent him from breaking free from his responsibilities and becoming “all” he “thought was true”. Or they could refer to his own overwhelming fears and doubts. In fact, the “trees” could represent any obstacle we face in our lives as we search for self-actualisation.

In the first stanza, the speaker describes the “trees” as the “merest mask of gloom” but “wishes” they “stretched away unto the edge of doom”. The third line suggests the “trees” are finite and their “gloom” lacks the depth he needs to totally escape from his mundane world. He wants a forest that extends beyond the “mask” all the way to the “edge of doom” and his inevitable death.

Their “vastness” brings tremendous danger, excitement and possibility. If they are never-ending, he will never be able to return to “open land” and he will remain “true” to himself. In this way, Frost takes these simple images of setting and shapes them into a story of self-determination and the desire to escape from society’s precepts.

The Speaker

Since the poem was published in Frost’s first collection A Boy’s Will (1913), the speaker is sometimes viewed as a young man who “wishes” to find his own way in the world and explore uncharted territories rather than remain in the “open land” that is already defined and controlled. This is a feeling most people have experienced and the reader will immediately sympathise with his predicament.

The speaker “wishes” the line of “trees” was something more substantial he could disappear into and escape completely from his current rut. The poem concludes with the idea that the change in location would not change his perspective or personality. Instead, it would allow him to become his “true” self.

At the start of the second stanza, he declares he “should not be withheld”. It seems nothing can restrain him from fulfilling his potential. However, the use of the modal verb “should” suggests there might be something holding him back, such as the “old and firm” trees and whatever they connote in his life, but the poem argues those obstacles “should not” physically or morally impede his progress.

Perhaps the speaker is worried his journey will only take him through the “merest mask of gloom” and not all the way “unto the edge of doom”. If he is to take the life-changing decision and break into the “vastness” of the woods, he wants to be absolutely “fearless” that he will not end up suffering the same problems in some other “open land”.

Also, needing to “steal” into the “vastness” of the endless woods implies he has no right leave his old life behind and discover a new one elsewhere. Stealing something is usually associated with concealment and secrecy so he must act in a way which will be frowned upon by others.

The speaker clearly understands it is never easy to make the big decisions in life.

Images of Work

The speaker does not need to find the safety of more “open land” or someone else’s “highway” to follow. He wants the freedom of the unmapped wilderness.

Obviously, “open land” could refer to a place to cultivate and for the speaker to earn their living from farming.

The signifier “highway” often symbolises a transient existence because it refers to moving from one place to another. The passing of time is also suggested by the metaphor of pouring sand. However, we should also note there is a literal interpretation of the line. Depending on the geography and the materials available, labourers would use a “slow wheel” to lay “sand” on the ground to form the foundation of the “highway”.

Therefore, the speaker does not want to work in the “open land” or build a “highway”. He wants to explore the “dark trees” of his imagination.

Relationships

The third quatrain moves from the physical world to the emotional landscape of the speaker and his relationships with his friends and family. He is venturing into the unknown to explore his own identity and he will never want to “turn back” to his old ways.

There are people who will “miss” him when he is gone and who he holds “dear”. Frost hopes these close companions will support his journey and even follow “upon his track”. If they truly loved him, they would not try to stop him from leaving.

The awkward syntax of these lines and the use of enjambment suggests the speaker is feeling some anxiety about leaving, especially compared to the confident tone created by the strong couplets in the rest of the poem.

However, the final couplet assures them “they would not find me changed”. He simply becoming “sure” of his “true” identity.

Into My Own Structure

The structure of the poem offers a strong clue to what Frost was hoping to find in “those dark trees”.

Into My Own is a sonnet and meets lots of the reader’s expectations of the form. Written in loose iambic pentameter, the poem is divided into three quatrains and concludes with a decisive rhyming couplet. The rhyme scheme is aabb ccdd eeff gg – seven heroic couplets.

By sticking quite rigidly to the traditional structure of an “old and firm” sonnet, Frost is demonstrating his keen ability to write in verse and compete with other poets. Therefore, we can view Into My Own as a manifesto, especially when we consider Frost opened his first collection with the poem.

The speaker wants the freedom to explore the great unknown beyond “those trees” but the traditional structure of the poem also suggests he has yet to find his own voice.

Context

Robert Frost’s grandfather bought him a 30-acre plot of land in New Hampshire in 1900, but the poet was never really interested in working the fields and growing apples in the orchard. He preferred the seclusion of the evenings when he could write poetry. For instance, Mowing depicts a quiet moment when the speaker is cutting the hay and questioning his purpose in life. This dissatisfaction is also clear in Gathering Leaves – the speaker is left with a shed full of decaying and weightless leaves and wonders if the heavy lifting was worth the effort.

“Fearless of ever finding open land”, Frost sold the farm in 1911 and moved the family to England to further his literary career and find his “true” self.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Could the title suggest a journey or a change that the speaker is undergoing?
  2. What does the adjective ‘those’ suggest about the proximity of the trees
  3. What is the purpose of the adjective ‘dark’ used to describe the trees’
  4. How are the trees presented in the opening quatrain
  5. What does the verb ‘steal’ suggest about the very beginning of his journey?
  6. Why would the speaker be fearful of ‘finding open land’?
  7. What might the ‘open land’ and ‘highway’ represent?
  8. There are a number of simple alliterative phrases in the poem: ‘should steal’, ‘Fearless of ever finding’, ‘where the slow wheel pours the sand’ and ‘thought was true’. What impact do these phrases have on the rhythm and tone of the poem?
  9. Suggest why the speaker is running away from people he ‘held dear’.
  10. Lines five, ten and eleven are the only lines without end punctuation in the entire poem. Comment on the use of enjambment.
  11. Will the speaker ever turn back? How does this relate to the poem’s title?

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