The Way Through the Woods

Rudyard Kipling

‘The Way through the Woods’ by Rudyard Kipling explores the hidden depths of a forgotten road, once traversed but now concealed beneath the resurgent power of the natural world.


Rudyard Kipling

Nationality: English

Rudyard Kipling was an incredibly popular English poet.

His writing is read around the world and studied in classrooms in multiple languages.

This is a hauntingly beautiful exploration of the passage of time and the interplay between nature and human existence.

When reading this piece, it is easy to sense a conflict in the speaker. On one level, he is mourning the loss of the path. With its disappearance, one no longer has access to the beautiful moments and creatures that exist within the forest. On the other hand, the closure has caused a resurgence in the surrounding life. 

Trees have been replanted, and animals have returned. They no longer remember or fear the “men” that used to travel the path. The speaker appreciates this fact, but the text still speaks to a yearning to see the woods firsthand. 

The Way Through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling

Summary of The Way Through the Woods 

‘The Way Through the Woods’ by Rudyard Kipling describes the changes that have come over one particular plot of forest.

The poem begins with the speaker stating that there used to be a road in the woods here. It was seventy years ago that “they” got rid of it; since that time, there have been new trees planet and exponential growth from the plants that still lived there. The entire area has been reclaimed by nature. 

In the next lines, the speaker discusses the “keeper” of the woods and what this person has access to that he does not. The keeper is able to see the secret interactions of animals and exists among them freely. Kipling’s speaker concludes the poem by describing all the things that one might see if one were to enter the woods at night.

Structure and Form

‘The Way Through the Woods’ by Rudyard Kipling is a two-stanza poem made up of one stanza of twelve lines and another of thirteen. Kipling has chosen not to structure this piece with one particular rhyme scheme. Instead, there are instances of rhyme scattered throughout the lines.

This can be seen through the repetition of the end word “woods.” It appears at the end of seven of the twenty-five lines. There are also moments such as that between lines two and four where the words “ago” and “know” rhyme. The same occurs between “trees” and “anemones” in lines six and eight.

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet uses a few different literary devices. For example: 

  • Symbolism: The road through the woods is meant to symbolize human endeavors and the passage of time, while the hidden path represents forgotten histories and the enduring power of nature.
  • Personification: this occurs when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, the rain is described as undoing the road, emphasizing its relentless and transformative power.
  • Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “That, where the ring-dove broods, / And the badgers roll at ease.”

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One 

They shut the road through the woods

Seventy years ago.

Weather and rain have undone it again,

And now you would never know

There was once a road through the woods

Before they planted the trees.

It is underneath the coppice and heath

And the thin anemones.

Only the keeper sees

That, where the ring-dove broods,

And the badgers roll at ease,

There was once a road through the woods.

The poem begins with the speaker stating that one particular road was “shut…Seventy years ago.” This first line is spoken as if the reader already has prior knowledge of the road. Although seventy years have passed since anyone was able to traverse this path, the speaker remembers it well. 

Since the time the road was closed, the “Weather and rain” have ”undone it.” Due to the fact that it wasn’t maintained, the elements have almost erased it entirely. If one was to come upon this place now, unaware of its history, one would not know that there was “once a road through the woods.” Nature has taken back the area that humans had claimed. 

Trees have been planted and grown up around the path, helping to obscure what was left of the path. Now, if one was searching for it, they would have to go “underneath the coppice and heath.” Here, the speaker is referencing a wooded area that is annually cut back to stimulate growth and “heath,” or the opposite. This is an area of uncultivated land. It can also refer to a type of common shrub that grows wild. One would also be forced to go around the “anemones.” This word is wide-ranging and refers to an expansive genus of flowers. 

There is a contrast here between the way that humans have worked the land, abandoned it, and then worked it again, and the way nature is trying to take it back. In the next lines, the speaker refers to the “keeper.” This person is likely the one in charge of monitory the area. The speaker refers to the “keeper” vaguely. There is no real definition of what their job is, but one can assume they have access to all the wildlife that has since come back to the area. 

The keeper is now the only one who is able to see beyond the surface level of the woods. This person sees the “ring-dove” brooding or preparing to sit and incubate eggs. Their position allows them to see the “badgers roll[ing] at ease.” The animals are comfortable with this person. They feel as if they are able to continue on with their lives. There is an element of jealousy between the speaker and this keeper. The keeper has access to a new secret world no one else can see. 

Stanza Two 

Yet, if you enter the woods

Of a summer evening late,

When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools

Where the otter whistles his mate,

(They fear not men in the woods,

Because they see so few.)

You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,

And the swish of a skirt in the dew,

Steadily cantering through

The misty solitudes,

As though they perfectly knew

The old lost road through the woods …

But there is no road through the woods.

In the next stanza, the speaker discusses what happens if one “enter[s] the woods” on a “summer evening late.” One could slip into this area that is seemingly off-limits while no one is watching. The air would be cooling off for the day, and the animals would be as relaxed as possible. One might even be able to hear the “otter whistle…[to] his mate.” 

The animals have no reason to fear “men” as there are so “few” passing through the area now. If the road still existed, this would not be the case. If one entered the woods at this time, there might even be a detectable sound of a “horse’s feet” beating on the ground. They move without hesitation and without the need for a path. 

In the final lines, the speaker increases the mystical and mysterious elements of this piece by describing how the horses seem to know “perfectly…The old lost road through the woods.” He concludes with the line, “But there is no road through the woods.” It has vanished so completely he could not prove to another it ever existed. 


What is the main theme of ‘The Way through the Woods?’

The main theme of the poem is the passage of time and the impermanence of human creations. It explores how nature gradually reclaims and conceals the road that once existed through the woods, emphasizing the fleeting nature of human endeavors in the face of the enduring forces of the natural world.

Who is the intended audience of ‘The Way through the Woods?’ 

The poem’s intended audience is open to interpretation. It can be appreciated by anyone who contemplates the relationship between nature and human presence, the ephemeral nature of existence, and the mysterious allure of forgotten histories. Readers who appreciate lyrical descriptions of nature and the exploration of deeper philosophical themes will find the poem engaging.

What is the significance of the ghostly sounds described in the second stanza of ‘The Way through the Woods?’

The ghostly sounds described in the second stanza, such as the beat of a horse’s feet and the swish of a skirt, create an eerie and otherworldly atmosphere. They serve to heighten the sense of mystery and suggest a spectral presence traversing the hidden road. 

What is the tone of ‘The Way through the Woods?’

The tone of this poem is nostalgic, contemplative, and mysterious. Readers are never entirely sure what’s going on in the poem and how much of what the poet describes exists. 

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Rudyard Kipling poems. For example: 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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