In “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” Robert Frost demonstrates a dedicated person’s commitment to life. Despite the hardships and troubles that life carries, the speaker in this poem comes to the realization that he must continue living his life. He makes an important decision that is brought on in a question, which is triggered by the beauty of his surroundings. He decides that he wants to complete the life that he started because of the many obligations he is responsible for.
The speaker in the poem is a man who is on a journey through life. He is no different from any other in that respect. People are faced with daily challenges and disappointments and, in turn, want to give up. The speaker, on the other hand, has a strong sense of self and knows that he has “promises” to attend to and will not give up on them. For a certain time in the woods, he is taken away from reality. He is swept away by his calming surroundings into a free and worriless mind set. During his brief flight from reality, the speaker dismisses his duties; he is simply enjoying the peacefulness of the world around him. Although the speaker is so content in his moment of freedom, he is brought back to reality and shocks the reader with, “but I have promises to keep.” Frost is implying that this man is aware of his choices to either go on with life or to give up, and the speaker realizes that he has too much left that he wants to accomplish.
The language that Frost uses provides readers with a clear visualization of the scene and the sense of how it feels to be in such a setting. The language enables the reader to feel as though the “lovely” woods surround them, with the snow gently falling on them. The first line of the poem has a softening effect; the alliteration of “Whose woods” is very soothing and helps set the mood for the poem. Throughout the entire poem Frost chooses words that contain the soft “s” sound. When describing the sounds in the woods, Frost writes, “The only other sound’s the sweep of easy wind and downy flake” to make the reader feel the relaxing sensations similar to those that the speaker experiences. The “s” sound that Frost uses suggests the quiet peacefulness of that very moment.
Frost uses the horse as a sense of reality; it is the horse that stays stable and keeps the speaker in line. The horse is very different from the man because the horse is capable of remaining in a normal state despite the strange, luring beauty of the woods. When the speaker is off in his dream world, the horse is what knocks him back into reality as “he gives his harness bells a shake” and wakes the speaker. It is then that the speaker answers life’s question that is raised during his delightful reverie.
In “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” Frost is not merely suggesting that the speaker is alone in his thoughts. It is true that the reader can feel as though they have been in the speaker’s place at some time. It would be considered strange if a person did not come across these thoughts and feelings at some point in their lives. Frost is showing the reader the importance of life and the fact that all people have come to the question of whether or not to continue their difficult journey through it. The speaker will allow himself to sleep only after he has kept his promises; sleep becomes a deserved reward in contrast to the unearned pleasure of looking at the woods(Lynen, 6). In this poem, Frost is using sleep to symbolize death, which is portrayed as something wonderful, a state where there is nothing to hold one back.
The way Frost symbolizes death in this poem is very clever. Not only is sleep often interpreted as a symbol of death, but also Frost’s description of the snowy, winter night clearly suggests death in itself. As spring is a symbol of life, winter is known as the season that symbolizes death. When something is described as dark, it can easily be interpreted as dying. Death is prevalent throughout the whole poem and the speaker is choosing between it and life. “Sleep” seems so easy and so wonderful to the speaker, but in reality he realizes that he does not deserve it yet. He believes that it is something he has to work for, and once he has completed what he is destined to, he will be given his reward.
Frost displays the speaker’s love for the woods as he says they are “lovely, dark and deep.” The combination of these three words have such an effect on the reader, because when put together they suggest something so beautiful in a peculiar way. It is rare for something to be “dark” and “lovely” at the same time, but through the speaker’s eyes one can see that it is simply a rare splendor. Even though the other world holds a vast beauty that is so hard to turn on, the speaker realizes the importance of life and gains the strength to do what is right for him.
Frost clearly demonstrates how the speaker is somewhat reluctant to going on with life as the speaker says, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep.”
The speaker is showing his love and longing for this other world, but he knows what he has to do and impresses the reader when he says, “but.” One then learns that this man is going on with his life. In the last two lines of the poem the speaker explains his reasoning. He says, “And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” The repetition of this line suggests that there are two meanings to his point. Frost has the speaker say it the first time to imply that he simply has a long way to go before he gets home. When the speaker says it a second time, the line takes on a completely different meaning, one that has more depth and isn’t so literal. The speaker is suggesting that the miles are his duties in life and that he has many ahead of him before it’s his turn to rest.
The title of the poem suggests a casualness of the experience. The words’ “stopping by” adds certain nonchalance to the tone. It is somewhat ironic how the title gives the reader a sense that the poem may simply describe the pretty woods or the snow tipped trees, but there is a much deeper meaning to the man’s “stopping by” on this “snowy evening.” The “lovely woods” become much more than one would ever expect. They are very enticing and the speaker has an almost unbearably strong attraction to them. They are powerful in the sense that they trigger the speaker to make a decision over life and death.
“Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” has a magical mysteriousness to it. Frost makes this poem incredibly vivid through his excellent word choice and effective description. Frost picks the perfect combination of words to make this poem so appealing to the reader in both a visual and audible way. He makes the poem flow with the sounds of the words he uses and in doing so, he draws the reader into the depths of the poem’s true meaning.
Lynen, John F. The Pastoral Art of Robert Frost. Yale University Press: New Haven,1960.
Parini, Jay. Robert Frost: A Life. Henry Holt and Co: New York, 1999Robert
Robert A. Greenburg, James G. Hepburn, Robert Frost: an introduction. Henry Holt and Co: New York, 1961.