Stopping by Woods on a 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.
Considered one of Frost’s greatest masterpieces, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one of my favorites. Its rich use of language and imagery cannot be easily dismissed. Here is an analysis, which definitely uses a more Marxist approach, bemoaning the life of the working class and how we must often keep working to meet our obligations long after we feel too tired to keep going. There’s also a bit of jealousy for those who own the rights to tranquility and rest (the unnamed neighbor who can’t (or won’t) appreciate his own snowy woods because he has other obligations.
Whose woods these are I think I know. The speaker is an acquaintance of the owner of the woods, but not close friends. There is an unspoken divide between the two, possibly due to economic standing.
His house is in the village though; The speaker remarks that the owner spends his time away from nature. The use of the semicolon connects this sentence to the next, giving the reader little pause before we read his next apology. The speaker is conflicted about his right to stop here.
He will not see me stopping here His decision becomes more clear. The speaker does not ask permission, because nature belongs to everyone.
To watch his woods fill up with snow. Here is the first indication that the speaker acknowleges that this beauty might not be his to enjoy. Snow represents rest which the speaker rarely indulges in.
The rhyme scheme is ABCA, meaning the first and last words of the stanza are the only indicators of set rhyme.
My little horse must think it queer Horses often represent work and working, and the size of the speakers horse implies the modest state of the speaker’s finances.
To stop without a farmhouse near Perhaps the horse is used to make deliveries of some sort?
Between the woods and frozen lake The lake cannot be used for transport of goods now. It is demonstrating its icy beauty only.
The darkest evening of the year. Evening represents rest. The extended darkness gives the narrator rest from his own duties. Because the length of the evening is out of his control, the narrator believes it might be ok to stop for a moment.
The rhyme scheme (ABCB) of this stanza has changed, indicating the narrator’s further enchantment with the beauty before him. He cares less about the rules and more about relaxation.
He gives his harness bells a shake The horse, used to hard labor and not standing around, knows that it is not usual to stop and admire nature. He’s wearing a harness, which reminds the reader he’s meant for working and not play.
To ask if there is some mistake. Labor always calls to us, and guilt sometimes follows if we don’t comply.
The only other sound’s the sweep The silence also equals peace and respite, and lulls the narrator into acceptance of this moment.
Of easy wind and downy flake. The word “easy” is important because it further hypnotizes the narrator–it is easy to rest from his hard labor. “Downy” brings to mind the connotation of downy comforters and warmth of a bed. The use of periods instead of commas here indicates that the speaker is very tempted to remain here in the snow and beauty. The rhyme scheme again changes (AABA), There’s a change in punctuation, indicating conflict in the narrator’s mind. He’s transitioning from the work mindset to the rest mindset.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, The speaker pauses once more to admire the beauty, and the cadence of the sounds is hypnotizing. The repetition of the use of commas brings in the guilty voice reminding the reader he should be working.
But I have promises to keep, Work edges its way back into the speaker’s dreamlike psyche, overriding the speaker’s need for respite.
And miles to go before I sleep, The use of “miles” is one indication that this poem is in the American genre.
And miles to go before I sleep. Once again, repetition is used to remind the reluctant spectator of his obligations. Many scholars argue that the sleep the narrator longs for is the more permanent rest of death. The rhyme scheme here changes once more to AAAA, sealing the narrator to his decision to keep living and working. Sleep is too distant in the future to indulge in the present.