Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Robert Frost aka ‘nature boy’ penned down this lovely poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ in 1922, subsequently published with his long poem, ‘New Hampshire’.

Growing up in San Francisco and New Hampshire, Robert Frost wrote poems that transcended age and time, pushing the reader into a vortex. The poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, explores the motivations of the poet, the inherent moods of the narrator, and his fixation with woods for an inner reason. A maestro of rhyming within conforms, Robert Frost is known as a ‘regional poet’. He wasn’t known to follow the poetic trends of his time, choosing to compose poetry of his interest.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

 

Summary of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost narrates the account of a man standing deep in the woods torn between two choices again as in his previous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’.

The narrator of the poem has stopped by for a brief moment amid a snowy evening in the woods, transfixed by the mesmerizing scenes unfolding. As he takes a moment to indulge in a dosage of naturalistic beauty, he’s torn between staying in the woods and heading home. As readers explore the motivations and hidden inclinations, the poem gets intriguing and a clever play on words renders a diverse meaning. Robert Frost has a penchant for selecting two roads as was the case in ‘The Road Not Taken’ where the narrator again arrives at crossroads, deciding his permanent path.

You can read the full poem here.

 

Meaning of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

The crux of the poem lies in the conflict in a moment of solace vs pending obligations. The narrator is spell-bounded by the momentary distraction from worldly responsibilities, allowing himself a moment of peace. Being naturalistic to the core, Robert Frost grounds his character in a forest, mesmerized by the snowy evening. The poet mildly indicates the presence of a human close by, albeit in-doors, oblivious to the passerby.

The woods for the narrators are immensely thick, dark, and stand in all their glory. More so, the poet paints an image, etched in natural beauty, drawing deep sensory emotions from the reader. The woods are blanketed in thick snow, amplifying its beauty factor. The narrator voices his concern about losing his way through the woods since it gets immensely dark at night-time, he decides to better get a move on.

 

Structure of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Readers and children alike have taken a liking to this naturalistic poem. This poem has a ring when recited loudly. It may feel akin to a nursery rhyme. Ring, rhyme, and reason flow systematically throughout the poem. It works within a classic Rubaiyat stanza. Rubaiyat is a Persian term for ‘quatrain’, denoting a four-lined stanza. The scheme of the Rubaiyat stanza is as follows, AABA, BBCB, CCDD, and DDDD.

The poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is composed in iambic tetrameter, pioneered by Edward Fitzgerald. All the respective verses conform to the a-a-b-a rhyming scheme. On the whole, the rhyming convention follows the aaba-bbcb-ccdc-dddd convention.

Moreover, the second verse solidifies the rhyming structure of the poem. As is mentioned above, the poem is written in A / A / B / A style, with the first line of each stanza rhyming with the third line of the one previous — in this case, “here” and “queer.” This is a simple structure that flows very nicely and makes the read easier and more pleasant.

 

Literary Devices in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Robert Frost captures the essence of the peacefulness during snowfall well. One can notice how every rhyming word ends with the euphonic “oh” sound, how every word in the stanza is either monosyllabic or disyllabic, making for a simple flow, an easy read, and a simple sense of peace throughout. There is a noticeable consonance in the third stanza with the “s” sound;

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.

It’s very easy to read and flows extremely well. The continuation of the simple A / A / B / A structure of the poem further enhances the need Frost has for his reader to understand the natural flow that accompanies a walk in the woods on a snowy evening.

In the fourth verse, “sleep” is the metaphor used for true rest; the rest of a fulfilled promise, of a fulfilled day, or even a fulfilled life. This is the only stanza of ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ that consists of four rhyming lines, due to the repetition of “and miles to go before I sleep,” likely because there is no next verse to continue the verse-to-verse rhyming pattern.

 

Themes in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

The important themes of this poem are exhaustion, fatigue, depression, optimism, and commitment. The themes of ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ are based on true events. Robert Frost experienced a similar moment to the narrator when he took a trip down to his local market and was largely unsuccessful in making enough money to see his children through Christmas with the presents he wanted to buy them. Overwhelmed, he experienced a difficult journey home, during which he stopped partway through to cry. After a few minutes, the ringing of bells on his horse helped him to regain his composure, and he continued his journey home.

Ultimately, Frost was able to get past his tough time, but the nature of his struggle is clearly expressed in this simple poem, filled with a yearning for peace; even if the narrator in question isn’t weeping, or even openly upset, he is a personification of an emotion that is so difficult to put into words; feeling out of place, and out of time, feeling completely alone in the world, and feeling a small sense of the tranquility and isolation that only nature can bring.

And, as well, the reminder that life doesn’t stop no matter how isolated from it a person is. Moreover, this poem could be looked at as a simple commentary on life — a statement saying that if one stands around and watches his or her life for too long, it’ll get away from the real self. At the end of the story, the narrator returns to his journey, looking forward to the conclusion of the darkest evening of the year, and the sleep he can earn at the end of his journey. It can be run with even deeper — to say one has “miles to go” before they “sleep” can be looked at as a more poetic way to say there’s a long way to go before the grave.

 

Significance of the title, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Very often with poetry, the title of the poem is meant to be a grand, all-encompassing, thought-provoking idea that inspires with its grandiose and power. Other times, the title is nothing more than exactly what the poem is about — enter ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, which is about — seriously, not a trick statement — stopping by woods on a snowy evening. What follows here is a subjective analysis of the poem, drawing on one’s opinions and preferences based on Frost’s words.

 

Analysis of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Stana One

Whose woods these are I think I know.

(…)

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

The poet begins the poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, with his questioner approach, intentionally wondering that these woods seemed familiar to him at some point in time. Moreover, the poem starts with a very literal description of the events surrounding the narrator.

Technically, he is trespassing on another person’s property — a forest on land that does not belong to him — but knowing that the man won’t be around for a while, he can’t stop himself from taking a few moments to watch the peaceful descent of winter through this forest. Though he doesn’t refer to the subject, later on, it’s understood that both share memories in the past. The poet, later on, skips the identity, to move along the imperative aspect of the poem.

The poet points at the presence of civilization nearby with the words ‘house’ and ‘village’. He’s aware of the neck of the woods he’s currently standing in whilst they remain oblivious of his existence. Moreover, he’s fully sure that the tenant didn’t notice him, given the heavy snow in thick woods, most people remain in-doors; the narrator seems to enjoy this solitary existence fully. The narrator is passing by someone’s residence, feeling chirpy and satisfied in his shadowy existence. He has stopped briefly to fully take in the wondrous view in front of him.

 

Stanza Two

My little horse must think it queer

(…)

The darkest evening of the year.

In stanza two, the narrator draws attention to the human aspect of peacefulness. It’s interesting for Frost to note that the horse accompanying him on his journey isn’t able to fathom why his human has simply stopped to stare at a bunch of trees.

From “the darkest evening of the year,” it makes sense to think that the setting for this poem is the night of the winter solstice, but this can also be interpreted to refer to the more difficult times in a person’s life. “The darkest evening of the year” could be literal, or it could mean that the speaker is having a hard day. If so, it’s all the more reason to stop and take a breather from the stresses and difficulties demanded by life, while his horse looks on without a care in the world.

Moreover, the narrator seems to be a considerate character interpreting the horse’s thoughts. As per him, the horse seems to be surprised at this sudden ‘intermission’ along the woods. Surely, no man has business in this neck of the woods, his master is acting strangely.

As the verse indicates, the poet is bypassing the forest. Yet the intensity of the winter cold has rendered the lake frozen. But the stubborn narrator seems to adore the immediate present as opposed to imminent danger. The narrator is hinting at the immense darkness awaiting him. In the woods, night-time can be extremely distressing for the weary traveler miles away from home. The poet is torn between two choices yet again, to head home or sink in the scenic view.

 

Stanza Three

He gives his harness bells a shake

(…)

Of easy wind and downy flake.

During stanza three of ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, as the now-personified horse continues to exist in a state of confusion, and as the narrator continues to appreciate the silence, the reader of the poem will continue to feel the sense of simple peace that Robert Frost is trying to covey.

In this stanza, the narrator continues to narrate the horse’s mind, which currently shakes his bell to trudge along the road. The bells jingle playfully indicating the horse’s inclination to leave the woods for good, which feels gloomy and solitary. Since the horse can’t speak his mind, the narrator chooses to. For him, the animal is awaiting the hold-up to end and continue on his path home.

The poet is miles from anywhere, buried deep in the woods where the only sound is that wind and snowflakes falling. It is Robert Frost’s imagery at its best. The poet affirms only three sounds in thick woods; wind, snow, and bell ringing.

 

Stanza Four

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

(…)

And miles to go before I sleep.

During the fourth verse, unfortunately, peace doesn’t last forever. Whatever long, dark, difficult day prompted this stop in the woods hasn’t gone away while it was being stared at. Distractions are wonderful things, and anything that can keep one’s mind off the troubles is a welcome addition to any day — but the real world still exists.

The narrator admits feeling transfixed at the woods, enveloped in nature’s exquisite beauty. The point has been driven home already. But, the poet is getting worried as darkness draws nigh, he has to resume. Truly, the woods are dark and enchanting in their own right, yet they can also be merciless.

Using ‘but’, the poet demonstrates an intense longing to stay put in his position observing the beauty at his disposal. For him, he’s untended responsibilities ultimately bog him down, compelling him against his will towards his destination. The promises could be myriad, ranging from domestic errands to dealing with marital affairs.

In the 2nd last line, the poet is still standing in no man’s land, unwilling to leave. He is contemplating to stay put in the woods, maybe, heralding his death, and freeing his soul from the materialistic world. Finally, the poet tears himself away from his ‘happy place’ and heads out of the world, now firmly focused on resting in his humble abode.

Since the poet is still afar from his house, he now contemplates on his life ahead, focusing on the imminent end of the road awaiting him. This could also be a reference to Robert Frost himself since he was awake all-night completing his poem till the wee hours of the morning.

On the other hand, it could be an undertone to the poet wishing his death to be nearby, giving him solace in its fold. Looking at ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ superficially, it’s just about an ordinary stopping in the woods scenario. Robert Frost’s penchant for naturalistic beauty is still evident. The individual immerses in the scene momentarily, torn between pending responsibilities and tempted to stay for a while. Finally, he gives in to his long-ish journey and awaiting obligations.

 

Historical Context of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Most poem readers would take the poem at face value, disregarding its poetic composition, rhyming and ideas asserted. According to Robert Frost, the poem was composed in just one night. The poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ was composed in 1922 and published in 1923 in “New Hampshire” volume. After pulling off an all-nighter on his poem ‘New Hampshire’, he stepped outside in the wee hours of the morning and had a sudden inspiration for the poem. A love for nature, imagery, and personification are found recurrently. He termed it as “his best effort for remembrance.”

For those unfamiliar, ‘New Hampshire’ is a very long poem, one that took Robert Frost many hours to write. He wrote deep into the night, so intensely focused on his work that the next morning came almost entirely without his notice. When he finished the poem and realized he’d written throughout the night, he took a few minutes to watch the sunrise and, in the few moments during which his brain was “turned off,” wrote ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’.

 

Personal Commentary on Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, one of the best Robert Frost poems, is ever-inviting, yet possesses a dark underlying connotation as well. The concluding two verses of the poem are the clincher from the poet’s perspective. It’s also the most celebrated two lines of English poetry. The initial line ‘And miles to go before I sleep’ remains within the poetic parameters defined in the poetry genre. Then, the poet repeats the above line, reinforcing for a more internal message. In actuality, the poet is hinting at death which will come eventually as he reaches the end of his years.

The darkest connotation of the poem could be interpreted as a death wish. As a popular interpretation contests, the narrator contemplates a burning desire to die within the woods, unnoticed, and unsung. Or maybe, the poet’s intention was innocent from the start, to stand and appreciate the beauty of naturalism in full swing. The woods are between the poet and the society or civilization to which he’s walking to. The poet indicates his horse as being a domesticated animal, surprised at this strange stoppage amid the snowy woods.

The poet intrinsically denotes certain characteristics of the human being. He toys with the unknown, in this case, death, facing beauty in the face of imminent danger and quite possibly, a death wish. The last line of the poem is open to interpretation depending on the reader. The narrator could be contemplating giving up on a society, designed to move at a fast-pace. He seems unwilling to be a part of this mechanized society, wishing for a secluded, peaceful life.

 

Similar Poetry

Here is a list of a few poems that are similar to the themes and subject matter of Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. Readers can refer to the following poems for further reference.

You can also read about 10 of the Best Poems about Hope and 10 of the Best Poems about Life.

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