“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
Introduction: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by a well-known poet Robert Frost was published in his New Hampshire collection in 1923. This poem reflects many of Frost’s most distinctive qualities, including attention to natural scenery, the relationship between humans and nature, and the powerful theme implied by individual lines.
It is a dark winter evening. The speaker has stopped near the woods. He is watching on the snow falling in the woods. He wonders about the owner of those woods. He thinks at first that the owner will be annoyed with the speaker’s presence there but then he remembers that the owner of the woods lives in the village. There is no one nearby so so he can enjoy that beautiful scene. His sleigh horse does not understand why the master has stopped there. The horse shakes its hardness bells impatiently. The horse seems to be reminding the master that it is a mistake to stop there. Except for the sound of the snowflake and wind when there is no other song the speaker wants to stay there longer but he remembers that he must leave him to fulfil his promises. He reluctantly leaves the place.
Summary – 2
The lyric is simple anecdote relating how the poet pauses one evening to watch the snowfall in the woods. As he sits in his horse-driven carriage looking at beautiful woods, he is tempted to stay there permanently. He knows that the woods belong to a person whose house is in the village. The poet is lost in the charming beauty of woods. But his horse is confused because there is no any farmhouse nearby to take halt between the woods and the frozen lake. So, when the horse gives his harness bells a shake, the poet springs into life from the daydream and thinks of the promises he has to keep.
Thus in the winter evening, the poet is attracted by the beauty of nature. He is also drawn by the desire to stop struggling, to give up all the duties and promises that life is made up of, and just lie down in peaceful death. But the next moment he thinks of the promises he has to keep, and not wish for death. He says;
“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.”
Form of the poem
The poem has a very simple structure. There are 16 lines, four stanzas with four lines in each. The poet has not used even a single three-syllable word. There are only sixteen two-syllable words. The lines follow iambic metre with four stressed syllables in each line. The rhyme scheme is somewhat complex. The first, second and fourth lines rhyme in each stanza whereas the third line rhyme with the first, second and fourth lines of the following stanza.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost is one of the most famous works. This poem is often analysed eyes to the minutest of the details.
Perhaps Robert Frost may have never thought that this simple poem will draw so much attention in future. Robert Frost during his lifetime knew that people were drawing various conclusions from the poem.
In reference to the analysis of the work, Robert Frost once said that he was annoyed by those “pressing it for more than it should be pressed for. It means enough without being pressed…… I don’t say that somebody should not press it, but I don’t want to be there. ”
One evening Robert Frost was returning home from the market. It was a very cold winter evening in New Hampshire. His market trip was unsuccessful. He did not have enough money to buy presents for his children that Christmas. He was deeply depressed. At one place, he stopped the horse at a bend in the road. He meant to cry there but the shaking of the harness bell by his horse brought a smile to his face and he continued his journey back. At that point, he was inspired to write this poem
The poem is inspired from a real-life but the speaker in the poem is not financially affected. He does not seem to be carrying any emotional burden like Robert Frost.
The speaker in the poem wants to enjoy that scenic beauty for a longer period but he has promises to keep. He reluctantly leaves that spot by the woods.
The most significant part of the poem is its last two lines. On the surface, it seems that the speaker is obliged to fulfil the promises but another interpretation is that the speaker is too sleepy to continue to stand there. One higher interpretation, “miles to go before I sleep” could be understood that the speaker has to complete certain tasks before he dies. From another angle, if the poem is viewed, it brings another interpretation. The farmers in New England considered duty the most important. Hard work was their lot. They could not stop their work just to watch a normal occurrence like the falling of snow. The speaker stops there but the line, “think it queer” suggests that the speaker seems to be telling that even his horse understands that stopping there is not normal. He should be continuing. The speaker knows that by stopping by the woods he is not the showing his normal behaviour. If we analyse this poem from a philosophical angle, it seems to be a very beautiful poem which reminds us that for all the beautiful things attracting us in this world we must leave this world on the appointed time. The beautiful woods, falling snow, etc can be taken as the attractions in this world, and ‘sleep’ can be understood as death.
Answers to Questions to Check Your Progress
1. Write the rhyme scheme of the poem. In what way does the rhyme scheme of the final stanza differ from those of the stanzas that precede it?
A. The rhyme scheme of the poem is:
AABA, BBCB, CCDC, DDDD
In the final stanza, there is no third-line departure from the end rhyme of the rest of the stanza. Every line in the final stanza rhymes.
2. How would the feel and potential meaning of the poem differ if the last line was not repeated?
Answers may vary. Example: The line “And miles to go before I sleep,” would seem entirely literal; the surprise of the repetition is what raises the possibility that the speaker might mean eternal sleep. Frost, himself, claimed that the poem seemed incomplete without the final line, but he was unable to do anything else other than repeat it. This repetition allows the reader to interpret the first line as literal sleep, but the second as death.
3. What do you think the speaker wants to do at the end of the poem? Support your answer with details from the text.
Answers may vary. Example: The speaker wants to remain in the woods, mentioning that they are “lovely, dark and deep,” but then adds, like someone responding to the call of duty, “But I have promises to keep.”
Q.4: Comment on Frost’s vision of life as seen in ‘Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening’.
Ans:- “Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening” appears to be a very simple poem, but in reality, it is highly suggestive. A careful reading reveals Frost’s philosophy of life. It suggests the idea that man must sacrifice his desire for pleasure and rest to his duty and work in life. Again Frost, in this poem deals with the basic facts of life.
The woods may be ‘lovely and deep’ but their enchantment must not make one forget,
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.
The true purpose of life is to perform duty sincerely and honestly. Therefore, one must struggle and suffer in real life and this is the only way man deserves the bliss of heaven. Hence the poet thinks of the promises he has to keep and not wish for death.
Q. 5: Point out the symbolic meaning of ‘Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening’’
Ans:- “Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening’ is a poem of deep philosophical significance, where the poet reminds himself of his obligations to himself and to his fellow- beings. This charming lyric records a moving experience of the poet but read symbolically it expresses the conflict which everyone experiences in his life. On the surface, it tells of a man’s temptation to answer the strange call of the woods by getting into it and of his resisting the temptation of the promises he has to keep. The poem is full of deeper meaning. In the last stanza, the poet states that he will sleep only after he has kept promises. Here the sleep’ becomes a deserved reward. The woods is a complex symbol. It symbolises sensuous enjoyment as well as the dark inner self of man. And miles to go before I sleep is a symbol for life’s journey which ends in eternal ‘sleep’ that is death.
Q.6: Critically appreciate the poem.
Ans:- It is one of Frost’s best-known poems. This lyric was first published in New Hampshire (1923). The poem has a lyrical frame and is meditative in tone and movement. It is the poet’s emotional response to a particular situation.
The poet creates voice tones. Here the voice tone is that of the speaker. It is the voice of a person talking in a natural way in natural rhythms and speech. The speech is the living voice of a person – a dramatic character.
The theme of the poem is simple; it is the description of the scene of the woods and the circumstances under which the narrator has stopped there. But, behind this seeming simplicity there runs meaning which is far-reaching in its effects. Nature here has a dramatic function to perform. The sound of “The sweep of easy wind and downy flake” is in tune with the speaker’s voice. The setting is pastoral, one which belongs to the world of nature.
At the beginning of the poem, there is one character – the speaker – the man talking,
“Whose woods these are I think I know.” Soon a reference is made to a second person,
“His house in the village though.”
So there is developed a dialogue context.
At the beginning of the second stanza there comes a third character – “My little horse”. The horse is a character in the sense that it contributes to the central conflict in the poem :
He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is mistake.
The speaker is lost in the beauty of nature, but the horse is realist who reminds his rider to take a realistic course of action and not get lost in sentimental world. The pet has promised to keep and miles to go before the final sleep gives him eternal relief from the responsibilities and burdens of his life.
‘And miles to go before I sleep’ is a symbol for life’s journey which ends in eternal sleep. i.e. death. The lyric expresses the conflict which everyone confronts in life. This conflict is between the demands of practical life and the desire to escape into a daydream. The personal experience of the poet merges with the universal experience. Thus the poem has universal appeal.
Detailed Analysis of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a seemingly simple piece, one that conjures the image of a faceless, nameless traveller stopping to enjoy the beauty of nature’s solitude on a dark and snowy evening. However, Frost did not become one of the literary world’s most respected poets by simply entertaining his readers with cosy little poems that glori$’ the beauty of nature. There is more to this piece than meets the eye, and one wonders if Frost deliberately employed this illusion of simplicity to lead the reader to further speculation of his meaning. This work is infused with reference to the elements of nature, and he uses only plain, simple words and tidy form to convey his message. He makes no attempt to whack the reader over the head as if to say, “Pay attention; this is important!” Isn’t it true that many of life’s important lessons are that? They are natural events in course of one’s life, yet they seem to sneak up on a person and catch him off guard. People are often lulled by life’s circumstances into the ruts of depression or mediocrity, and then they are suddenly faced with the realization that they have unforeseen choices to make. Those ruts are not unlike the woods; once lost in them, one must find his way out if one is to go on with his life in a productive or meaningful way.
The speaker’s identity is not important; he stands for all men. What is important is the indecision the speaker faces, the ultimate choice he makes, and those factors that influence his choice. If it is true that form equals meaning, then there are many elements of this poem that seem to reinforce this message. The inverted syntax seen in the first line of the poem places emphasis not on the speaker but on the woods he finds himself facing. The poet places the speaker “between the woods and frozen lake” (line 7). Perhaps the woods symbolize the speaker’s confusion or depression, and the frozen lake refers to the dull static life of responsibility, the circumstances of which have caused this depression. He is caught between these elements on “the darkest evening of the year” (line 8). This could be symbolic of the depth of the speaker’s depression which has reached a new low. It might also be noted that the darkest evening of the year occurs at the winter solstice. At this time, the darkness has reached its’ peak, and daylight begins to increase. It could be interpreted that on this night, the speaker has reached the peak of his inner darkness, and begins to find a new light emerging from within himself.
The use of alliteration and assonance when describing the woods reinforces the hypnotic quality of the state of mind represented. The speaker’s realization of the choice facing him is presented as the horse’s shaking of his harness bells. It is a harsh realization that breaks his reverie and causes him to ask himself if he’s making a mistake. The next lines, “The only other sound’s the sweep/ Of easy wind and downy flake” (lines 11 and 12) suggest that these two factors, as represented by the horse’s harness bells and the sweep of wind and snow, are the two factors with which the speaker is struggling. I find the use of the word “sweep” interesting; it suggests being swept in the depths of something difficult to resist The final four lines of the poem suggest that the speaker has reached a decision or that he has allowed his sense of duty to win out for the time being. The use of the word “sleep” denotes rest, but it could connote the rest that comes with the realization that all of one’s obligations have been met, or even death. Has the speaker been contemplating suicide or the abandonment of his responsibilities?
The meter of this poem also lends itself to a similar interpretation. The iambic structure clops along in a fashion reminiscent of a horse’s gait. It is rhythmic and lulling, perhaps to the point of being hypnotic. It is a further representation of the speaker’s state of mind. It fluctuates back and forth, as the speaker himself does in confronting his choices. It also serves to reinforce the suggestion of the monotony of the speaker’s life. In only one instance is the stress on a word that represents the speaker himself and that is when he is reminding himself of the promises he has made. In all other instances, the stress is on words that represent the speaker’s indecision, or on words that represent those factors vying for dominance in his conflict.
The rhyme scheme is constructed in an AABA pattern that suggests fluctuation or mimics the indecision of the speaker. This pattern is broken at the end when the speaker has made his decision. In fact, the pattern is not only broken, it to like a pattern that stresses the fact that the conflict has been resolved, and the speaker has a new sense of determination to canyon. The repetition of the last line stresses the importance of the choice he has made. It also reinforces the knowledge that. the rest he seeks is inevitable; it will come to him eventually.