Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

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.
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.”

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

In A Nutshell
Maybe you've seen this little poem elegantly scrawled on a gift card. Perhaps your favorite teacher recited it to you and your classmates with a chilling, gravelly voice. Or perchance you simply came across it once upon a time and can't seem to get it out of your head. No matter what, we're willing to bet big money that you and this poem are already friends.

Robert Frost wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in 1922, two years before winning the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes. The poem tells the story of a man traveling through some snowy woods on the darkest evening of the year, and he's pretty much in love with what he sees around him. He's on his way back to town, but he can't quite tear himself away from the lovely and dark woods.
People love to talk about what this poem means. Some argue that it is simply a description of a man appreciating nature. Others would tell you that there is some heavy metaphor action going down, and that the poem is about death. And there are those who take it a step further and say that this poem addresses suicide. Nature-lovers see it as a piece that trumpets nature and that scorns civilization (take that, civilization!). You probably have your own idea of what this poem means. We at Shmoop have an inkling that the heart of this poem's awesomeness lies in how it sounds rather than in what it means, and so we're going to take some time to look at and listen to the sounds in this poem (see "Sound Check").
Robert Frost is a beloved American poet, and many people associate him with nature and with the New England landscape, because, well, he liked to write about nature and the New England landscape. He was born in San Francisco (land of the sourdough), but spent most of his years in snowy places like Massachusetts and New Hampshire (land of the maple syrup).

Frost is known for creating simple poems that can be interpreted on many different levels. He also loved to inject everyday, colloquial speech into his poems. He was big on sounds, often talking about how the sounds of words carry more meaning than the words themselves. Check it:

"What we do get in life and miss so often in literature is the sentence
sounds that underlie the words. Words themselves do not convey meaning,
and to [. . . prove] this, . . . let us take the example of two people who
are talking on the other side of a closed door, whose voices can be heard
but whose words cannot be distinguished. Even though the words do not
carry, the sound of them does, and the listener can catch the meaning of
the conversation. . . . [T]o me a sentence is not interesting merely in
conveying a meaning of words. It must do something more; it must convey a
meaning by sound."

So, if we follow Mr. Frost's advice, we shouldn't be so concerned with what this poem means as concerned with how it means. Let's warm up our vocal chords and perk up our ears, because something tells us we're going to be reciting and listening to "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" until the wee hours of the night.

Why Should I Care?

Have you ever wanted to escape from the world for a little while? Perhaps to go watch some woods fill up with snow? Leave Facebook to accumulate friend requests and wall posts for you, let the e-mails pile up, record a mischievous away message on your cell phone, stuff the homework, the papers, and the tests under the bed? Well, then this is a poem for you.

Sometimes we crave a little vacation from responsibility. Sometimes we get hungry for alone time like the speaker does in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." In a world in which we are constantly stimulated by the Internet, TV, phones, and ads, and in a world in which we are busy little bees, do we get to spend much time alone anymore? Do we have time to stop and smell the roses?

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