Have you ever seen a snowfall that was so beautiful and peaceful that at that moment, nothing else mattered? This poem captures those sentiments very well. Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a beautifully written poem that draws in the reader’s senses. You feel as though you were standing there with the author and his horse, watching the snowfall in a quiet forest while you listen to the sound of the snowfall and horse bells. The rhyme scheme and poetic devices used in the 4 stanza work, although seemingly simple, are impressively used. This poem remains a favorite to many and continues to make appearances in speeches and pop culture. Written over 100 years ago, this poem speaks to people differently and can convey different themes and meaning. We’ll now look at the meaning, analysis, and themes of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” to gain a better appreciation for the poem.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Summary of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, Robert Frost
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost is a beautiful poem filled with nature and imagery. It tells a story of the author traveling through the snow at night. The author pauses with his horse in the woods to marvel at the snowfall where his horse becomes restless with the pause. The speaker is drawn to the silence and beauty and wants to move further into the dark woods before deciding to keep moving forward on his journey. This poem is beautiful in its simplicity, although it is not without meaning.
Analysis of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, Robert Frost
The poem contains 4 stanzas with each line written in iambic tetrameter with 4 stressed syllables. A rhyme scheme reflects the peaceful and serene nature; the first, second, and fourth line of each stanza rhymes, while the third does not. The third line sets up the rhyme for the following stanza. Full of poetic techniques literary devices, Frost elegantly uses imagery to make readers feel as though they, too, are in the woods. He describes the woods, house, and lake, helping the reader picture this tranquil setting. We also see alliteration with the repetition of consonant sounds, such as “watch his woods,” “sound’s the sweep”. Euphony, assonance, personification, and metaphors are also used. A line by line analysis can help give us a greater appreciation of the literary devices and meaning of the poem.
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.
Frost immediately grabs the reader’s attention with his use of “Whose” to start the first line. It makes the reader feel as though they are there in the woods with the author. Here we see the author is a bit pensive and unsure. The second, third, and fourth lines suggest the author is trespassing but it is okay, and they won’t be caught because the owner isn’t nearby. If the author knows the owner lives in a house in the village, it must be close to where the author lives. It’s a familiar area but not one he stops at regularly. The fourth line is full of imagery, creating a scene of a wooded area and heavy snowfall.
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.
In the second stanza, line 5, we are introduced to his horse. A small horse which the author assumes is confused by stopping in this deserted spot between the woods and a lake. Frost provides a more vivid description of the location, and the reader can visualize the woods beside the frozen lake. The “darkest evening of the year” could be interpreted as a metaphor or more literally. It could be referring to the author’s emotional state or is the date, perhaps December 21st, the winter solstice. In this stanza, enjambment is used, creating one long sentence.
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.
Here the author describes his horse becoming restless and expressing his confusion at the stop as he “gives his harness bells a shake”. It seems as though the horse is disturbed by this unusual behavior. These lines reflect on the relationship between the narrator and the horse. We can assume the two travel together frequently. More imagery is seen here, beautifully written with alliteration and assonance in lines 11 and 12, “To only other sound’s the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake”. The author draws in all the reader’s senses and can imagine the peaceful sounds.
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.
In line 13 of this final stanza, the author reaffirms the beauty of this spot “The woods are lovely, dark and deep”. As much as he would like to stay here in these woods, he must go, “I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep,”. This last stanza is where we get the deepest meaning; he has obligations to keep and possibly a long journey before bed, so he cannot stay and enjoy this moment any longer. Alternatively, “sleep” could be a metaphor for death, and the author could be saying he has a lot to accomplish before he dies. This is repeated in the last two lines “And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.”
The use of repetition stresses these words. It may also be like he is convincing himself as he tries to pull himself away from these woods that have drawn him in.
Themes in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, Robert Frost
On the surface, this poem seems to be about enjoying the beautiful snowfall in the woods one evening, but the final stanza reveals a bigger meaning. The author would love to enjoy the snow and woods longer but has obligations. There is a theme of adult life and the responsibilities that come with it. There are obligations and responsibilities we put first, and we often fail to enjoy the simple beauty around us. This could also be looked at from a different perspective, and we can see it as the importance of boundaries and how we mustn’t always do what we want and become derailed from our journey. These themes make “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” a very thought-provoking and philosophical poem. It is better to stop and live in the moment, or should we focus and not allow ourselves to become distracted? There are others who believe there is a darker theme to this poem with “sleep” referring to death, and “darkest night” as a tragic, depressing night. Some have even speculated that the poem is about suicide, although when Frost was asked, he said it was not.
Background of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, Robert Frost
Robert Lee Frost was born in 1874 in San Francisco, California. His works were published in England before becoming popular in the United States. His writing often featured his life in rural New England and Vermont. In 1961, Front was appointed Poet Laureate of Vermont. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by written by Frost in 1922 at his home in Vermont. Frost had said this poem came through a hallucination, and he completed the poem in just a few minutes.
The poem was a favorite of President John F. Kennedy, and was recited at his funeral. The last stanza was also featured in a Quentin Tarantino movie and modified to be recited at the funeral of former Canadian President Pierre Trudeau. The meaning and interpretation of the poem can change with the author, which makes this poem so special to so many people.