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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening: Theme and Analysis

The Poem

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 sounds 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

A didactic poem, it offers a galore of striking visual and auditory images, along with meaningful symbolism.  The bright, beautiful, snow covered woods have enamored the rider to the fullest, though his horse, symbolized as rustic common sense, reminds him of his moral obligations, transcending him from the hypnotic world of dreams to staunch reality.

A short background of the poem’s history

Written in 1922, this poem is a soulful presentation of Frost, who wrote it just after he had spent all night in penning down his famous poem “New Hampshire”. The presence of a host of visual and auditory imageries alongside the figures of speech makes it a thoughtful and appealing poem.

A real incident in Frost’s life resulting from his degrading financial condition was said to be the key inspiration behind developing this thoughtful piece. On a winter morning, he had gone to the local market to sell eggs since he needed money to buy Christmas gifts for his children. However, he was heartbroken as the trip did not bring him success. Unable to contain his grief, Frost stopped in the midst of his journey to vent out his emotions, while his horse, his sole companion shook its harness bell after waiting for long, to remind his goal. Though this incident occurred way back in 1905, it had immensely impacted his mind, resulting in this exceptional masterpiece.

The last two lines “and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep” has found its place in certain eulogies because of its immense symbolism and association with the saga of life and death. At the death of President John F. Kennedy, an excerpt from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was recited as a part of the report of a broadcasting company. At Pierre Trudeau’s (former Canadian Prime Minister) death, his son presented a rephrased version of the last stanza of the poem, which went as “the woods are lovely dark and deep, he has kept his promises and earned his sleep”.

Critical Analysis

The theme

Bearing a resemblance to Frost’s other poems, this one is simple in outlook but deep in symbolism. Apparently, it seems to have a simple approach by the poet or rather the rider who is enchanted by the beauty and serenity of the snow-covered, deep woods on a dark, desolate night with the horse being his sole companion.

The woods and its owner seem to be known to the rider, while the thought that the man would not come in this severe weather to check out on him trespassing upon his property gives him relief. In fact, this symbolizes the common human tendency to crave for more, forgetting to cherish what he already has. In spite of possessing such lovely, serene woods, the owner prefers to remain the close comforts of his home on a snowy night rather than taking pleasure of nature’s gift.

Through the first stanza, the poet draws an incredible balance between the practical world of men, and the beautiful world of fantasy, making the poem immensely artful. The poet perhaps tries pacifying his disturbed mind by taking solace in the ecstatic woods, being alienated from the world of men, retiring to a life of complete isolation. The imageries of the white snow, dark night, and lonely surroundings indicate us of the poet’s contemplative mood.

As he is submerged in observing the beauty of the woods, his little horse which also stands for rustic common sense shakes his harness bell to warn the rider of his folly. It is then that common sense prevails upon him, compelling the man to stop admiring the woods and proceed along his journey.

Here his journey is the journey of life while the woods stand for wayside attractions which often come in the way of our normal walk of life. Though consumed by the beauteous nature, as that is the only way to ease his soulful mind, he is reminded of his social obligations that compels him to get out of his fantasies and head forward to carry out his responsibilities.

“And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

The last two lines are highly meaningful, giving the poem a new direction. Here “sleep” may signify death or ultimate respite from the mundane world. However, the rider who may not be in dire financial distress like the poet feels the need for completing his duties in the mortal world before absorbing himself in the joyful fantasies of life.

Poetic Technique

Rhyme scheme

Written in iambic pentameter, the rhyming scheme follows the pattern aaba-bbcb-ccdc-dddd with each stanza having the first, second and fourth line rhyming, whereas the third line pairs up with the first, second and fourth lines of the next stanza.

Stylistic analysis

The rhyme scheme is rather complex as the first second and fourth lines rhyme, whereas the third line pairs up with the first second and fourth lines of the next stanza. The fourth stanza is a complete deviation from the remaining ones, and by repetition of the last two lines, the poet conveys the actual theme.

Literary Devices

Metaphor

The soft flakes of snow are compared to the fluffy feathers that fledglings acquire just as they are attempting to fly.

Alliteration

‘The woods are lovely dark and deep”, where “d” is the dominant sound, “whose woods these are I think I know”, where “w” is prominent, “the only other sounds the sweep”, s being the predominant sound.

Personification

The horse given human qualities have been personified as a guiding force, reminding the narrator of his duties and preventing him from going haywire.

Hyperbole

When the poet says that the woods are covered with snow, there is an exaggeration as the snow touches the ground but cannot reach to the high trees.

Symbols

The deep, dark, snow-covered woods symbolize the wayside attractions that human beings often fall prey. It also signifies the loneliness and desolation that envelopes man at certain times, leaving him in despair and misery.

The village, owner as well as the farmhouse stands for the mundane world and human civilization.

The horse symbolizes the motivational forces that prevent mankind to deviate from their goal.

Imageries

Visual descriptions like the snow covered woods and trees add to the picturesque beauty, while the auditory imageries such as the shaking of the harness bell, and sounds of the snowflakes take us to a different world altogether, hence providing the poem a realistic touch.

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