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"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (1923

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On a dark winter evening, the narrator stops his sleigh to watch the snow falling in the woods. At first he worries that the owner of the property will be upset by his presence, but then he remembers that the owner lives in town, and he is free to enjoy the beauty of the falling snow. The sleigh horse is confused by his master’s behavior — stopping far away from any farmhouse — and shakes his harness bells in impatience. After a few more moments, the narrator reluctantly continues on his way. Analysis In terms of text, this poem is remarkably simple: in sixteen lines, there is not a single three-syllable word and only sixteen two-syllable words. In terms of rhythmic scheme and form, however, the poem is surprisingly complex. The poem is made up of four stanzas, each with four stressed syllables in iambic meter. Within an individual stanza, the first, second, and fourth lines rhyme (for example, “know,” “though,” and “snow” of the first stanza), while the third line rhymes with the first, second, and fourth lines of the following stanza (for example, “here” of the first stanza rhymes with “queer,” “near,” and “year” of the second stanza). One of Frost’s most famous works, this poem is often touted as an example of his life work. As such, the poem is often analyzed to the minutest detail, far beyond what Frost himself intended for the short and simple piece. In reference to analyses of the work, Frost once said that he was annoyed by those “pressing it for more than it should be pressed for. It means enough without its being pressed…I don’t say that somebody shouldn’t press it, but I don’t want to be there.” The poem was inspired by a particularly difficult winter in New Hampshire when Frost was returning home after an unsuccessful trip at the market. Realizing that he did not have enough to buy Christmas presents for his children, Frost was overwhelmed with depression and stopped his horse at a bend in the road in order to cry. After a few minutes, the horse shook the bells on its harness, and Frost was cheered enough to continue home. The narrator in the poem does not seem to suffer from the same financial and emotional burdens as Frost did, but there is still an overwhelming sense of the narrator’s unavoidable responsibilities. He would prefer to watch the snow falling in the woods, even with his horse’s impatience, but he has “promises to keep,” obligations that he cannot ignore even if he wants to. It is unclear what these specific obligations are, but Frost does suggest that the narrator is particularly attracted to the woods because there is “not a farmhouse near.” He is able to enjoy complete isolation. Frost’s decision to repeat the final line could be read in several ways. On one hand, it reiterates the idea that the narrator has responsibilities that he is reluctant to fulfill. The repetition serves as a reminder, even a mantra, to the narrator, as if he would ultimately decide to stay in the woods unless he forces himself to remember his responsibilities. On the other hand, the repeated line could be a signal that the narrator is slowly falling asleep. Within this interpretation, the poem could end with the narrator’s death, perhaps as a result of hypothermia from staying in the frozen woods for too long. The narrator’s “promises to keep” can also be seen as a reference to traditional American duties for a farmer in New England. In a time and a place where hard work is valued above all things, the act of watching snow fall in the woods may be viewed as a particularly trivial indulgence. Even the narrator is aware that his behavior is not appropriate: he projects his insecurities onto his horse by admitting that even a work animal would “think it queer.”

dark. Major Themes “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. a traveler by horse on the darkest night of the year. While he is drawn to the beauty of the woods.” but reminds himself that he must not remain there. for he has “promises to keep. The lyric quality of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” can be heard in the enchanting final stanza: “The woods are lovely. The poem was included in Frost's collection New Hampshire (1923) for which he won the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes. dark.” Plot and Major Characters The speaker (presumably a man. but has obligations—“promises to keep”—which draw him away from nature and back to society and the world of men.This entry represents criticism of Robert Frost's “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It is also perhaps Frost's most frequently taught and anthologized poem. He thinks the owner of these woods is someone who lives in the village and will not see the speaker stopping on his property. stops to watch the woods fill up with snow. The speaker is drawn to the beauty and allure of the woods. The speaker's location on the border between civilization and wilderness echoes a common theme throughout American literature. although no gender is specified). explores the theme of the individual caught between nature and civilization. While the speaker continues to gaze into the snowy woods. / And miles to go before I sleep. / And miles to go before I sleep. his little horse impatiently shakes the bells of its harness. . It is Frost's most famous poem. while traveling on horseback (or in a horse-drawn sleigh) on the darkest evening of the year. perhaps suicide. and deep. The speaker is thus faced with a choice of whether to give in to the allure of nature. Some critics have interpreted the poem as a meditation on death—the woods represent the allure of death. which the speaker resists in order to return to the mundane tasks which order daily life. he has obligations which pull him away from the allure of nature. which represent nature.” INTRODUCTION “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is generally regarded as Frost's masterpiece. The speaker describes the beauty and allure of the woods as “lovely. and one which he himself viewed as his “best bid for remembrance. and deep. / But I have promises to keep.” and a long journey ahead of him. or remain in the realm of society. The speaker in the poem. stops to gaze at a woods filling up with snow.” like many of Frost's poems.

” represent the allure of death as a means of escape from the mundane duties of daily life.” The extent to which this poem has been discussed— perhaps overanalyzed—by critics was indicated by the parodic interpretation of Herbert R. argue that the speaker's repetition of the last line “And miles to go before I sleep. “lovely. in fact. for which he won the first of four Pulitzer prizes. rather than its content or “meaning. as Frost's most perfect poem. “keep” the “promises” by which he is obligated to return to society.. however. the hypnotic quality of the repeated closing lines. James Hepburn noted that the inability of critics to secure a particular meaning of the poem is due to the quality by which “It is a poem of undertones and overtones rather than of meaning. the “little horse” who rings its harness bells representing a reindeer. and deep. such as the complex. surmised that the speaker is in fact none other than Santa Claus. Some conclude that the speaker chooses. Critics generally agree that its central theme is the speaker's dilemma in choosing between the allure of nature and the responsibilities of everyday life in human society.” Critics also point to the mood or tone of the poem. Gerber. the “promises” that the speaker must keep refer to Santa Claus's responsibility to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.” Critical debate over the meaning and significance of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” rages on.” Gerber notes that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is “widely regarded. . argue that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is most importantly a “lyric” poem. the ambiguity of the poem has lead to extensive critical debate. suggests a chant or spell. such as Philip L. who. in particular. its ambiguity. Jr. However. and its interlocking rhyme scheme have been so lauded that it is now one of the most explicated American poems. which should be appreciated in terms of its formal. According to this interpretation. Another standard interpretation is that the speaker is contemplating suicide—the woods. but few question the status of the poem as one of the greatest in American literature.Critical Reception “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was included in Frost's volume New Hampshire.” suggests an indecisiveness as to whether or not he will. to resist the temptations of nature and return to the world of men. metrically. and the “darkest night of the year. as created by its formal properties. which is only a few days before Christmas. tongue-in-cheek. however. Greiner has observed of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” that “Its deceptive simplicity. dark. Others. a reference to the winter solstice. Many have pointed out that this “ambiguity” is in part what makes the poem great. metrical qualities. interlocking rhyme scheme. Still others. Coursen.” during which the poem takes place. as one of a person caught up in a reverie. by the end of the poem. Donald J.

This collection won Frost a Pulitzer Prize and widespread recognition as an important American writer. downcast. 1923. The darkest evening of the year." 2 My little horse must think it queer." If by this phrase the speaker/narrator means the longest night of the year--that is. for the other man "will not see me stopping here. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening By Robert Frost . ringing the bell. . Comment: The traveler appears worried that he is committing an offense by looking upon woods owned by another man. The time is "the darkest evening of the year. Darkest here could have more than one meaning--that is. he steals a look. To stop without a farmhouse near. The solstice is the moment when the sun is farthest south. Characters The Observer (Speaker/Persona/Narrator): A person traveling by a horse-drawn wagon (or cart or carriage) on a rural road. for the speaker is using the word darkest to explain the horse's reaction. the traveler could be depressed. His house is in the village though. and that the evening is the darkest of the year. the speaker says. to signal that it does not understand why its master has stopped. the night with the most hours of darkness--then the day is either December 21 or 22. It was first published in theNew Republic on March 7. . It seems likely that woods near Franconia inspired him to write the poem and that Franconia is the village mentioned in line 2. It shakes its head. The Horse: A small horse with a bell attached to its harness. However. Owner of the Woods: A man who lives in a nearby village. Setting Frost wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" while residing in the village of Franconia in the northwestern corner of New Hampshire. the winter solstice occurs each year on one of those days. In the northern hemisphere. and republished later that year in a collection of Robert Frost's poems entitled New Hampshire. 1 Whose woods these are I think I know. To watch his woods fill up with snow. He will not see me stopping here.Type of Work and Publication Information "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening " is a lyric poem. Between the woods and frozen lake. the horse probably thinks it odd that his master has stopped between the woods and lake on a dark evening. Nevertheless. He is mentioned in the first stanza of the poem. Comment: This stanza says that the location is remote (without nearby farmhouses). that the weather has been cold enough to freeze a lake. This observation suggests that the darkness is external only. The traveler stops to observe snow piling up in woods.

the sounds of the bells. Of easy wind and downy flake. But I have promises to keep. The word littlesuggests that the speaker/narrator is a humble. Figures of Speech Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. contrasting with the cacophony of everyday life in a town. The only other sound's the sweep. 3 He gives his harness bells a shake. But the poem does not say whether he in fact moves on. Therefore.Use of little (line 5): Here. Comment: Sounds are important in this stanza--namely. One presumes that he does. the wind. For definitions of figures of speech. dark and deep. . All of the sounds are gentle. And miles to go before I sleep. he has obligations and responsibilities. Comment: The traveler would like to stay awhile and perhaps even enter the woods to absorb their ambience and ponder the mystery of life and nature. ordinary citizen who cannot afford a more imposing horse. Alliteration His house is in the village though (line 2) He will not see me stopping here (line 3) To watch his woods fill up w ith snow (line 4) He gives his harness bells a shake (line 9) Hyperbole To watch his woods fill up with snow Metaphor He gives his harness bells a shake. the poet bids for the sympathy of the reader. 4 The woods are lovely. he decides to move on. And miles to go before I sleep. see Literary Terms. and the snowflakes. To ask if there is some mistake. However.

To ask if there is some mistake." If by this phrase the speaker/narrator means the longest . (lines 9-10) Comparison of the sound of the bells to a questioning voice that asks whether there is a mistake Personification/Metaphor My little horse must think it queer Comparison of the horse to a human. ccdc Fourth stanza. bbcb Third stanza. We do not know whether the speaker (narrator) is a man or a woman. In fact. aaba Second stanza. we know nothing at all about the person except that he or she has been traveling on a country road in a horse-drawn wagon (or cart or carriage) on "the darkest evening of the year. dddd Internal Rhyme Here are examples of internal rhyme in the poem He will not see me stopping here (line 3) My little horse must think it queer (line 5) To stop without a farmhouse near (line 6 Between the woods and frozen lake (line 7) The darkest evening of the year (line 8) Meaning of the Poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" presents one person's momentary encounter with nature." End Rhyme The end rhyme in the poem is as follows: First stanza. Only a human can determine whether something is "queer.

However. the poet Frost himself. What will he do with them? In 1958. if by "darkest evening" he means most depressing. parking lots. away from the routine and regimen of everyday life--at least for a while. Although the traveler wants to stay to look at them. beautiful. In the northern hemisphere. And waste its sweetness on the desert air. The solstice is the moment when the sun is farthest south. When he sees an appealing scene. the winter solstice occurs each year on one of those days. Let us assume that the speaker is a man. Why does this scene appeal to him? Because. ordinary people who have great beauty within them but are ignored by others. bleakest. he has promises to keep. shopping centers. poet John Ciardi (1916-1986) suggested in Saturday Review magazine that the woods in Frost's poem symbolize death. It could be. dark. cities. The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear: Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen. or gloomiest." in which Gray writes: Full many a gem of purest ray serene. peaceful. Maybe the woods remind him of his childhood.night of the year--that is. the flower. he says." Perhaps he wishes to lose himself in their silent mystery. commit suicide. the woods and the snow are what they are: quiet. when he watched snow pile up in hopes that it would reach Alpine heights and cancel school and civilization for a day. lovely. he may be referring to his state of mind. . the night with the most hours of darkness-then the day is either December 21 or 22. He further wrote that the speaker/narrator wants to enter the woods--that is. in the end. woods filling with snow. A man in the village owns the woods now. This interpretation recalls a theme in Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Frost himself scoffed at this interpretation in public appearances and in private conversations. he wants to die. The traveler might also regard the woods as the nameless. Perhaps Frost sees the woods as a symbol of the vanishing wilderness consumed by railroads. dark. highways. and deep. after all. and deep. he stops to observe. The woods in Frost's poem are just as lovely as the flower and just as dark and deep as the cave holding the gem. too. the woods are "lovely. and the woods. opportunity--something dangerous and uncharted to be explored. But is it possible that Frost's subconscious mind was speaking in the poem. and miles to go before he sleeps. Here the gem in the bottom of the ocean and the flower in the desert symbolize neglected people with much to offer the world if only someone would take time notice them. revealing thoughts and desires unknown to his conscious mind? Maybe. Or perhaps the woods represent risk. that they signify the mysteries of life and the afterlife or that they represent sexual temptation: They are. who represents all people on their journey through life. but civilization pays little heed to the gem.

. However. The latter book was published in the United States in 1915.4 His HOUSE. worked farms. ... N..... the first syllable is unstressed... winning the 1923 Pulitzer Prize.... he taught at universities.. (A four-line stanza is called a quatrain.. . the Frosts moved to Massachusetts.. and so on.. To supplement his income from the farm and his poetry..|.... married Miss White in 1895....3... Robert graduated from high school.. He went on to win three more Pulitzer Prizes and was invited to recite his poem "The Gift Outright" at President John F. the poem is in iambic tetrameter.. An iamb is a foot containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.. North of Boston.he apparently does not want to be seen observing the woods by the man in the village... in 1913. Publishers liked his work and printed his first book of poems... we do know that (1).. and taught school.....|. (If you need detailed information on meter.. to present a thought or an image...Structure and Meter The poem consists of four stanzas.is IN... the fourth is stressed..) Each line in the poem has eight syllables (or four feet). .|. Also.. . A tetrameter is a line of poetry or verse containing four feet. in 1914.... with the most appropriate connotation.. . he moved with his wife to Great Britain to present his work to readers there. Frost attended Dartmouth and Harvard..click here.. California. One may regard him as among the greatest poets of his generation. A Boy's Will. .4 Whose WOODS. Between 1916 and 1923. each with four lines. (2) he owns a little horse.3.... Study Questions and Essay Topics   It is extremely important to select the right word. Frost died in Boston two years later. New Hampshire....I THINK.I KNOW ... sharing top honors with a student he would later marry.... In his spare time... Over each pair of syllables is a number representing the foot.. Having established his reputation. he wrote poetry....1. Frost returned to the United States in 1915 and bought a small farm in Franconia.1.these ARE.....the VILL. the poem provides little information about him (or her).age THOUGH Author Information Robert Frost (1874-1963) was born in San Francisco.2..2.. a black vertical line separates the feet. Elinor White... after his father died of tuberculosis.H..|. Why do you suppose Frost chose to use woods instead of the forest? Why did he choose easy instead ofgentle in the fourth stanza? Write a short profile of the speaker/narrator/traveler.... (3) he is a keen .. Disappointed with the scant attention his poems received. where he spent his childhood.. the third is unstressed.) The following example--the first two lines of the poem-demonstrates the metric scheme. the stressed are in red capitals..... True. Thus... The unstressed syllables are in blue. the second is stressed. In 1885.. and a second poetry collection...... In each line....|. Kennedy's inauguration in January 1961.. There.. he published two more books of poetry--the second one...|.

  observer and reporter. (4) he appreciates nature. Why did Frost end the poem repeating the same line? Recall and write about the thoughts going through your mind during a snowstorm (or another weather event). (5) he keeps his promises--or at least tries to do so. . who tells us what the horse may be thinking and describes the sounds of the wind and snowflakes.

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