Robert Frost aka ‘nature boy’ penned down this lovely poem in 1922, subsequently published with his long poem, ‘New Hampshire’. Growing up in San Francisco and New Hampshire, Robert Frost wrote poems transcended age and time, pushing the reader into a vortex. The poem, Stopping by the 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’. Robert Frost wasn’t known to follow the poetic trends of his time, choosing to compose poetry of his interest.
The narrator has stopped by for a brief moment amid a snowy evening in the woods, transfixed by the mesmerising 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 we 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.
The poetic analysis has been segmented into:
- Poetic Structure
- Historical Perspective
- Poetic Form
- Stanza Analysis
- Personal Commentary
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 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’.
Readers and children alike have taken a liking to this naturalistic poem. It has a ring to when recited loudly. It may feel akin to a nursery rhyme. Ring, rhyme and reason flows systematically throughout the poem. It works within a classic Rubaiyat stanza. Rubaiyat is a Persian term for ‘quatrain’, denoting four-lined stanza. The scheme of Rubaiyat stanza is as follows:
The poem, Stopping by the 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 aaba-bbcb-ccdc-dddd convention.
Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening Analysis
The poet begins the poem, which you can read here, with his questioner approach, intentionally wondering that these woods seemed familiar to him at some point in time. 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, in order 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. He’s fully sure that the tenant didn’t notice him, given the heavy snow in thick woods, most people remain in-doors; our 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.
In stanza 2, 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 he 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.
During stanza 3, 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.
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 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.
- 1st interpretation: 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.
- 2nd interpretation: 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 wee hours of the morning.
- 3rd interpretation: 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 the poem 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 tempt to stay for a while. Finally, he gives in to his long-ish journey and awaiting obligations.
The poem is ever-inviting, yet possesses a dark underlying connotation as well. It narrates the account of one man standing deep in the woods torn between two choices again as in his previous poem “The Road Not Taken”.
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 poetry genre. Then, the poet repeats the above line again, 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 crux of the poem lies in the conflict in a moment of solace vs. pending obligations. The narrator is definitely 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.
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/ 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 to give up on a society, designed to move at a fast-pace. He seems unwilling to be a part of this mechanized society, wishing a secluded, peaceful life.