Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
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.
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.
In the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, the speaker demonstrates the struggle between human responsibility and one’s pull toward their desires. He views the woods surrounding him as a peaceful and silent place – a place away from the hustle of life and the responsibility that comes with it. This conflict between life and death is supported by Robert Frost’s use of imagery, symbolism, diction, and repetition.
In the first stanza, the speaker establishes the setting: a snowy wood owned by a man who is currently in the village. In his imagery, Frost uses words like “ woods”, “village”, and “snow” to give the audience a firm understanding of the peacefulness and familiarity the woods brings to the speaker. By using words that have a connotative familiarity and warmth (i.e. using “woods” instead of forest), it symbolises the comfort the speaker may find in the woods. The fact that the speaker is “stopping [by] here” (3) also provides a sense that his time in the woods is temporary; the peacefulness and solitude that exists outside of town cannot last forever, and he has responsibilities to attend to. This attests to the pull an individual has to their respective responsibilities; often, peace is temporary and responsibility wins over idleness. Furthermore, the usage of the phrase “He will not see me stopping here” (3) creates a heightened sense of loneliness and solitude. At this point in the poem, the audience only has knowledge of the speaker being in the woods (the horse is not mentioned yet), and this creates a mood of isolation and silence. Due to this mood, it evokes in the mind a sense of darkness, which may be symbolic of death in this poem. While stopping on his path, the speaker recognizes the quiet and peacefulness that death may bring him – even the man in the village will not see him in death. In comparison to the path one has ahead of them, death may bring a fleeting sense of calm and serenity to an individual.
In the second stanza, it is established that the speaker is not, in fact, alone. In the first two lines of the second stanza, it brings forth reality by mentioning his “horse” (5) and a “farmhouse” (6). This diction choice also implies that it is “queer” (1) to be stopping in the middle of nowhere without anyone nearby. This further iterates the idea of loneliness, and how stopping in the realm of death is weird to individuals who do not see the peace it may bring to some people. Using the symbol of darkness in the second stanza also brings forth a sense of sadness and peace. Again, Frost uses familiar words such as “woods” (7) in his imagery in order to suggest that the speaker has comfort in stopping here. This comfort is not seen by others and is only felt in certain moments away from one’s responsibility.
In the third stanza, this idea is expanded upon in the horse’s shaking of the bells, asking “if there was some mistake.” (10). This is almost a jump out of the speaker’s daydream – the jingling of the bells reminds him of reality, and is a turning point in the poem. Afterwards, the speaker describes how “the only other sound’s the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake.” (11-12), which continues the imagery of peaceful serenity and silence. The euphony created by the “s” sounds in “sound’s” and “sweep” also serve to support this mood and tone. By using this device, it creates a sweeping sound when pronounced – enhancing the reader’s knowledge of the setting, tone, and mood. Although this continues in the next stanza, most of the speaker’s want to succumb to the comfort of the woods is banished by the bells – he acknowledges that as much as he wants to, he cannot stay in the woods.
Using the lines “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, / But I have promises to keep,” (13-14), serves to bring the audience back to reality as well – reminding the readers of the responsibilities that keep one from succumbing to their wishes. The speaker acknowledges the woods as somewhere beautiful – as somewhere he wants to stay in. However, he does have “promises to keep.” Although we do not know what these “promises” are, the general tone evoked by this diction is a sense of knowing; we all have promises – or responsibilities – that keep us from giving in to our desires. The repetition of “And miles to go before I sleep,” (15) serves almost as an internal mantra for the speaker – as if he is repeating this to himself in order to convince himself that he cannot stay in the woods, or “[go to] sleep”. Often, individuals need this kind of mantra in order to remind themselves of their obligations in life. If one were to ignore these obligations and “stay in the woods” per say, the loneliness and solitude would overtake their humanity.
By using repetition, diction, symbolism, and imagery, Robert Frost conveys the idea that an individual, when reminded of their obligations, will forego the pursuit of their desires in order to reconcile the conflict between said desires and obligations. In the poem “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”, the speaker finds conflict between wanting to stay in the silent and peaceful woods, and the need to fulfil his human responsibility.
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