"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (1923

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.”

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

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

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

the wind. see Literary Terms. All of the sounds are gentle. To ask if there is some mistake.Use of little (line 5): Here. And miles to go before I sleep. he has obligations and responsibilities. But the poem does not say whether he in fact moves on. However. The word littlesuggests that the speaker/narrator is a humble. 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. ordinary citizen who cannot afford a more imposing horse. 4 The woods are lovely. the poet bids for the sympathy of the reader. One presumes that he does. Therefore. 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. . dark and deep. and the snowflakes. he decides to move on. For definitions of figures of speech. the sounds of the bells. Of easy wind and downy flake. contrasting with the cacophony of everyday life in a town. 3 He gives his harness bells a shake. Figures of Speech Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. Comment: Sounds are important in this stanza--namely. And miles to go before I sleep. But I have promises to keep. The only other sound's the sweep.

We do not know whether the speaker (narrator) is a man or a woman. 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. aaba Second stanza." End Rhyme The end rhyme in the poem is as follows: First stanza. In fact. (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." If by this phrase the speaker/narrator means the longest . 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.To ask if there is some mistake. ccdc Fourth stanza. Only a human can determine whether something is "queer. bbcb Third stanza.

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

New Hampshire. married Miss White in 1895.. The latter book was published in the United States in 1915..H....|.he apparently does not want to be seen observing the woods by the man in the village. There. the second is stressed.1... A tetrameter is a line of poetry or verse containing four feet.I KNOW . winning the 1923 Pulitzer Prize.... and taught school.. (If you need detailed information on meter. he wrote poetry.is IN... However...... An iamb is a foot containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. (2) he owns a little horse.. Over each pair of syllables is a number representing the foot.. Robert graduated from high school.. .Structure and Meter The poem consists of four stanzas. Frost returned to the United States in 1915 and bought a small farm in Franconia.. To supplement his income from the farm and his poetry. The unstressed syllables are in blue.|.... and so on.... we do know that (1).. California.... (3) he is a keen .. True. in 1914..I THINK.... Study Questions and Essay Topics   It is extremely important to select the right word.|.. Frost died in Boston two years later.1... the poem is in iambic tetrameter.. in 1913. each with four lines...|... Having established his reputation... .. he moved with his wife to Great Britain to present his work to readers there.... (A four-line stanza is called a quatrain.. He went on to win three more Pulitzer Prizes and was invited to recite his poem "The Gift Outright" at President John F. North of Boston.. Thus.2..|. the first syllable is unstressed... the third is unstressed.....click here.these ARE..4 His HOUSE.) Each line in the poem has eight syllables (or four feet). In 1885... the fourth is stressed.. sharing top honors with a student he would later marry. and a second poetry collection. he published two more books of poetry--the second one.... One may regard him as among the greatest poets of his generation.....3..... 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. N.. a black vertical line separates the feet. Disappointed with the scant attention his poems received... Also..3... ....the VILL.. where he spent his childhood.|. Frost attended Dartmouth and Harvard....age THOUGH Author Information Robert Frost (1874-1963) was born in San Francisco. after his father died of tuberculosis. the stressed are in red capitals.. .. he taught at universities.. In his spare time... to present a thought or an image. Between 1916 and 1923. the Frosts moved to Massachusetts.. A Boy's Will.. worked farms.... the poem provides little information about him (or her). .. . Elinor White. Publishers liked his work and printed his first book of poems. with the most appropriate connotation.. In each line.2. Kennedy's inauguration in January 1961.4 Whose WOODS.) The following example--the first two lines of the poem-demonstrates the metric scheme.

  observer and reporter. (4) he appreciates nature. who tells us what the horse may be thinking and describes the sounds of the wind and snowflakes. 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.

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