Meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening: Lost and Lonely

Meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening

A poem that everyone can connect to is very difficult to find. But writing a poem that can connect to everyone was Robert Frost’s expertise. This poem is one such poem that seems very simple at first look, but as you try to understand it, you see the complex meaning and message behind the simplicity of the poem. Today I’ll be analyzing the meaning of Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. 

The analysis will include the theme, framework, literary devices of the poem along with the summary of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening. In the conclusive part of the article, I’ll put forth my views on the poem. Also I’ll briefly touch over some dark interpretation of the poem. Let us begin.

Stopping By Woods on 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.

About the Poem and the Poet 

Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening was written by American poet, Robert Frost and was published in 1923. He told a friend in a letter than this poem will be his “best bid for remembrance.” He was right, although it is not the only poem Frost is remembered for. His other popular works include The Road Not Taken, Fire and Ice, Birches and more.

A portrait of Robert Frost
Robert Frost. Image: Public Domain

Frost said that he finished writing New Hampshire in an entire night sitting. When he went to take the sunlight in the morning, he got the idea of writing Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening. It was as if the poem was fed to him in a divine way. He finished writing it within 20 minutes, without any strain. 

You can read about the interesting biography of Robert Frost by clicking here. 

The components of the poem

To understand the meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening, it is important to see in detail the components of the pome. This poem consists of many literary devices that we’ll be discussing and how it makes the poem sound so great. Here are all the literary devices present in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

Imagery – Frost has been famous for the imagery in his poems. It is one of the most important components that gives the beauty and engagement of his poems. How beautifully Frost manages to induce a feeling of happiness and comfort in such a contrasting place as the dark woods. Look at the scene, cold, snow-filled woods in the darkest evening of the night with breezes sweeping the ground and the poet standing alone. This could be a haunting image, but yet it gives a warm, relaxing feel to the reader. Frost truly was the master of imagery. 

Personification – In this poem, we see one use of personification. It is when the poet refers to his horse as a person, aware of knowing the situation. 

He gives his harness bells a shake   

To ask if there is some mistake.   

Here, the horse acts like a person who acts as his companion. This line gives a very useful insight into the traveler’s psyche. I’ll discuss that in the analysis of the poem. 

Metaphor – The metaphors are subtle in this poem, but they are there and they are powerful. Miles to go represent the journey of life and before I sleep means the final rest, death.

Alliteration – Alliteration is the use of the same consonant sounds in a single line. Sound’s the sweep is one such example of alliteration used. Other examples include His House and Watch his Woods.

Euphony – The poem sounds melodies and rolls off the tongue smoothly. This is because the poem has been structured that way. This is euphony. Euphony in poems makes them sound pleasing to the ears and you can try that too, Read the poem and see how smoothly it goes down the ears.

The Structure of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening

Before we analyze the meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening, we must look at the structure or the framework of the poem. What gives this poem such an alluring feel? The answer is all in the composition of the poem.

Meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening

The poem is composed of 16 lines divided into four stanzas. It is written in iambic tetrameter, which was created by Edward FitzGerald. Fitzgerald was inspired to create such a meter from Omar Khayyam, a Person poet. The rhyming scheme coupled with the meter makes this poem sugar for the ears. 

The Rhyming Scheme of the poem

Take one look at the rhyming scheme of the poem and you’ll understand the reason for the euphony of the poem. The rhyming scheme of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening is unique. The scheme is as follows: AABA BBCB CCDC DDDD. These schemes make the four stanzas. So what’s unique in them?
Notice how the third line of each stanza has a deferent rhyme than the other three? And notice how this third line’s rhyme is carried to the second stanza for their three lines? AABA has B different, and B is common in the next stanza i.e., BBCB. Here’s the example;

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.   

Repetition – The last stanza in this poem is the most powerful part of the poem. Not just that, the last two lines are the most celebrated lines in English poetry. The importance of these lines will be detailed in the analysis of the poem. But for now, the use of the repetition of the rhyme adds a unique and powerful element to the poem, making it even special.

Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening Summary 

Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening is about a traveler’s journey and the thoughts he gets when he encounters a very cold, dark and desolate place; The Woods. He knows whose woods he is in but he also knows that the same person is inside his house in the village. Hence he can stay in the woods, enjoy the beautiful scene of nature without the knowledge of the owner. The scene of this cold night allures him. The scene of white snow falling in the dark woods is bewitching.

He then introduces us to his companion and carrier of his journey, his little horse. He says that the act of standing in the middle of nowhere in a cold, dark evening beside a frozen lake is indeed a queer thing, not just for the people but even for the horse. The horse is used to stopping only near warm farmhouses that separate people from nature.

The horse clearly isn’t sharing the same experience as the poet is. It is not comfortable at being in this dark place that is filled with unsettling quietness. So quiet that one can hear the soft wind taking away the soft crystals of ice flakes. He gestures his discomfort by moving his bells, trying to get the attention of the rider.

This ringing of the bell then brings back the narrator into reality. Lost in the bewitching nature of Nature, he had momentarily forgotten about his journey. He then continues, giving a reason for his departure; his journey is long and he must go on.

The summary also shows a part of the meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening. The analysis will reveal the complete meaning. Here is the analysis

Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening Analysis Stanza by Stanza 

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. 

The first stanza begins with a questioning approach, where the poet says that he might know whose land he’s standing on. He also says that he can trespass and stay here for a moment, as the owner lives in the village. He can stay here and watch the beautiful scene of ice falling in the woods. 

Here we see the introduction of opposites. Robert Frost has subtly put contradictory imagery to paint a powerful scene here. He’s in the wood, alone and exposed to nature, while the owner and other people live in houses in the village, together, inside their houses. The white ice falling and filling the dark woods is another opposite imagery that we see here.

Notice how he says that “He will not see me stopping here.” The reason he says that has a big implication. Here it means that taking this much-needed break and pausing for a moment will be undetected. No one will know whatever he is doing here, alone in the dark woods. 

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.   

The horse will think it is queer that he has stopped in this desolate place, in darkness, away from society. This indicates that the narrator hasn’t taken such a break in a long time, hence the horse is used to stopping near the farmhouse, filled with people. 

Meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening
The Horse, the only companion of the poet.

The way he personifies his horse also brings attention to the meaning. The horse will be uncomfortable in this dark and lonely place, but never think it as “queer”. This is actually his own mind, telling him that what he is doing is unusual. The part of his mind that takes the rational, logical decision thinks that stopping here to watch the snowfall in woods is queer. 

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 horse then moves as it gets anxious in this quiet place. The narrator says that he can hear the wind sweeping the ice flakes being swept off the floor. This is another form of imagery that shows how quiet the place is. What is it that the narrator is doing in this lonely place, in this dark evening? What is he thinking and why does he seek this place?

There is a serene feeling in stopping from the monotonous life, the hardship of survival. This is what the narrator has been feeling. But then suddenly coming across a completely opposite scene makes him think. 

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.

Here we again see the conflict of choices, the collision of opposites. Here we see the tussle between wishes and obligation. The narrator is bewitched by the beauty of nature. Apart from inside of him wants to be with this darkness. But he has promised to keep. These promises are the unspoken obligations one has with the people around them. The obligations one gets once they form a meaningful relationship with people. This is the string that keeps pulling the narrator and telling him to keep his journey going. And he still has miles to go before he can sleep. 

Using the last line twice made this poem so much more powerful. This simple line flows smoothly into our minds, without making us think too much about it. But the repetition shows the gravity of this line. How impactful it is. 

In poetry, this is also called refrain. In simple lines, the author has explained a very complex and difficult situation. He has resolved the issue of the poem with these two lines. While his heart wants to go with what he wishes, his mind pulls him towards obligations. And his mind wins. Sleep here means before he dies.

Related articles:

My Views on the poem 

I think the way this poem feels is what gives this poem the power. It feels so simple, so easy to understand and yet the complexities it hides inside the simple verses are commendable. This is what put Frost so high in the poets’ category. His excellence lies in the packaging of complex ideas and meaning in simple and delectable packages that can be enjoyed by both children and adults.

The poem puts a great way to show us how a conflicted person is torn between his obligations and wishes. How he needs the desolation that he so rarely gets. We have all felt something close this at least once in our lifetime. 

The conflict of the opposite is something I have talked about before and it is titular for the meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening. See how that the dark woods and the winter cold, which is usually associated with fear and danger, are associated with warmth and beauty. The narrator is also conflicted with opposite choices. He wants to stay and he needs to go. Even the scene of white snow falling in dark woods. 

The Other Dark Meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening

We are aware of the general meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening. It is a conflict between the wish to stay and enjoy the silence of nature and to continue the journey as required by his obligation. But there is one more representation of this poem that has a very dark side. This is about living or ending one’s life.

As the narrator sees the dark, deep woods and the peaceful silence, he wants to stay there. He doesn’t care about his journey, he wants to be there, forever. This could indicate that the narrator wants to die and get rid of all the obligations he has. He wants to free himself from the misery of life.

In the end when the narrator says that he has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps, this indicates that his obligations, his loved ones stop him from killing himself. He says that because of these promises, he needs to struggle more, keep going until he sleeps, which means peaceful death. His desire to be in the cold, dark and deep wood, to be with nature indicates the possible desire of dying. But what do you think? Which meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening is the correct one? Tell us in the comment section below.

2 thoughts on “Meaning of Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening: Lost and Lonely”

  1. Alfred Canonico Jr

    I’m 69 years old and “Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening” is one of my favorite poems. It was read to me (us) by a teacher in school when I was young. His interpretation was the “dark” one and felt Miles to go represents the journey of life and before I sleep means the final rest, death as you expressed in this article.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *