‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems, filled with the theme of nature and vivid imagery that readers of his work have come to love. In this lesson, we’ll summarize the poem, discuss its major theme and several interpretations, and finish with a quiz to test your knowledge.
If you’ve ever seen or experienced snow, you’ve probably taken a few minutes to marvel at its beauty. Possibly you were drawn to this element of nature that is at once soothing to look at and dark in its association with cold, winter, and the silence of nature. In literature, the seasons of nature are often used to explore the relationship between life and death, and one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’ written in 1922, captures this pull between life and death, man, and nature.
The speaker in the poem is traveling at night through the snow and pauses with his horse near the woods by a neighbor’s house to watch the snow falling around him.
His horse shakes his harness bells, questioning the pause; perhaps this place isn’t on their usual route, or he is curious that there doesn’t appear to be a farmhouse nearby.The speaker continues to stand near the woods, attracted by the deep, dark silence of his surroundings. He feels compelled to move further into the snowy woods, but he ultimately decides to continue, concluding with perhaps the most famous lines of the poem: ‘But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.’
Theme & Analysis
Like many of Frost’s poems, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ deals with the contemplation of nature. Many readers debate about whether or not the tone of the poem is calm and serene or dark and depressing.
On the one hand, the speaker wants to take a moment to pause in a quiet spot to watch the snow falling, perhaps to soothe his mind and contemplate nature. The pull of the woods could just be the solitude of being alone and the lure of being free of responsibilities.It might also suggest a sense of adventure and attraction to danger – the ‘darkness’ and ‘depth’ of the woods.
Perhaps the speaker wants to experience new things and places, but his responsibilities – his work, his family, his community – keep him from going off on dark and dangerous adventures. A simple interpretation is that work must come before play, which the little horse reminds us with the shaking of his bells, as if to say, ‘we have places to go. We can’t just stand around and watch the snow falling. There’s work to be done.’
A darker interpretation of the poem addresses exhaustion with life and a longing for death. The speaker tells us that it’s ‘the darkest evening of the year,’ and the darkness, the isolated spot, and the cold, frozen lake don’t sound like a very inviting place to stop and commune with one’s own thoughts. The season of winter in literature is typically associated with death and darkness; animals hibernate, plants die, and it will be a long time before the earth wakes up again.
The poem is often interpreted as conveying an attraction toward death, indicated in the final lines: ‘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.’ Here, the woods and the ‘sleep’ to which the speaker refers represent death. The speaker is possibly weary or depressed and longs for the release and relief of an eternal sleep. The repetition of the line ‘miles to go before I sleep’ emphasizes the long journey of his life.We don’t know where the speaker is traveling to, but as it’s the end of the day, possibly he is making his way home. ‘Home’ in this context can also be interpreted as the end of the road/some form of an afterlife at the end of life’s journey.
Ultimately, however, the speaker decides to press on because he has responsibilities, perhaps a family who depends on him, so he finds the strength to continue home and continue on his life journey.
‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening‘ is a poem by American author Robert Frost. Like much of Frost’s work, it’s a poem about the contemplation of nature and man’s relationship to nature.The poem describes a man making his way home on a snowy evening to stop and watch a neighbor’s woods fill up with snow, despite the cold and the late hours. It is alternately interpreted as a quiet, contemplative piece about pausing to observe nature and a poem about longing for death, which the darkness and snow are said to represent.
Once this educational lesson ends, you could be all ready to:
- Summarize the content and theme of ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’
- Discuss two different interpretations of the poem