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Analysis of Frost's Stopping by the woods on a snow evening

Updated on February 24, 2016


Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a short poem about a person who is ending a journey, but stops to take in the scenery. The speaker of the poem is drawn to the woods, and the forbidden beauty of it. The speaker seems to be suffering from an inner turmoil upon deciding whether or not they will stay and look awhile, or if they will continue on with their duties. As the poem concludes it can be assumed that the speaker chooses to continue on his journey, and see to his duty instead of his desire. In this poem Frost uses personification of the speaker’s horse, imagery, and tone to fully show the reader an aspect of the human condition, the natural struggle between duty and desire and the motives behind those actions.

It begins

The poem begins with interesting wording, the speaker says “Whose wood these are I think I know/ His house is in the village, though” (1-2) instead of just stating that he knows who owns the woods and that they aren’t anywhere near, so they cannot see him stop to look. This gives the speaker a kind of melancholy and nervous tone as if he was doing something wrong. Those lines make the reader stop and think, “why does it matter if the owner sees him?”, and it gives the impression that maybe the speaker shouldn’t be stopping there, or that the speaker is concerned that he shouldn’t be stopping in the woods. The speaker goes on to talk about promises the he has to keep, never really going into detail as to what the promises are, and so giving them a mysterious air. The mysterious tone gives the decision itself a feeling of mystery, and alludes to the fact that the speaker is unsure of which choice he will ultimately pick (duty or desire). As the poem continues the speaker weaves in a sense of self doubt, he is constantly questioning weather or not he should be standing there, if he is doing something strange and even worries if any one would see him. When the speaker mentions the night he calls it “darkest evening of the year” (8), when there isn’t actually a way of knowing if it is in fact the darkest night, but it feels like the darkest. This shows the speakers inner turmoil, being torn between his two choices, and gives him a dark and unhappy voice.


And the speaker says

The speaker goes on to say that the “woods are lovely, dark, and deep,” (13) giving an almost creepy feeling to them, there seems to be a connection between lovely and deep, as well as dark and deep, giving the woods itself a double meaning. This shows the complexity of the conflicting emotions of the speaker, and it is almost as if the forest is a reflection of the speaker, it is dark yet it is lovely, the speaker would like to stay but they know they must go. The speaker then gives a feeling of seclusion through the statement “only other sound's the sweep/ Of easy wind and downy flake” (11-12), making it sound inviting, as if he would like to stay out there in the middle of nowhere, where his responsibilities cannot find him. The speaker leads the reader to believe that what duty he has to achieve may not be all that pleasant, and he has the desire to run and hide. Throughout the entire poem the speaker is always saying that the woods are a positive place, the reader never has to question why the speaker is standing there, it’s lovely and peaceful, but the speaker doesn’t seem to have the same view on the thing he must do. It’s almost as if the speaker has to talk themselves into leaving. The woods seem to not only be a reflection of the speakers complexity but the desire for more; when the speaker states that he is there in order “To watch his woods fill up with snow” (4) shows that the speaker feels the emptiness around them and is comforted by the idea that there is a sense of fullness to the woods. The speaker also gives the reader the impression that the area surrounding the woods is a relatively empty place, implanting the idea that the woods are the only palpable thing near them, emphasizing the woods importance. The speaker talks about the evening being the darkest of the year and then eventually loops around to the woods being “lovely, dark and deep” (13) he seems to be emphasizing the idea of darkness leading the reader to think that he has a dark view of the world.



The speaker reflects their own attitude onto their horse by stating “My little horse must think it queer/ to stop without a farm house near” (5-6) when in reality he has no idea what the horse is thinking, and it’s doubtful that the horse really thinks anything of it at all. The speaker goes on to say that the horse “Gives his harness bells a shake/ To ask if there is some mistake” (9-10) as if he can really read the horses mind, or as if the horse can actually communicate (or talk) with the speaker. The reality is that speaker is questioning himself; he’s wondering why he just stopped in the middle of nowhere to watch snow fill up a forest. The speaker seems to be aware that he might look odd just staring into the dark woods, but he cannot stop himself, he wants to be there. The fact that he finds it so hard to pull away from his desire leads the reader to believe that it is not normal for the speaker to indulge themselves, making the decision to leave that much harder. By using the horse as a reason to feel uneasy the speaker seems to be in a state of self denial, he can’t admit to himself that he needs to continue on his journey and fulfill his duty so he uses the simple and relatively common reactions of his horse in order to convince himself to move on. The fact that the speaker has to convince themselves to continue on the journey leads the reader to question why the speaker is even considering keeping this promise, or is it really worth the trouble. The speaker seems to say that the reason he must go on is simply because he is supposed to, making the reader question the speakers motives.

The speaker of this poem is full of complex emotions, which seem to hinder his ability to decide whether or not he should succumb to his desire and stay in the woods for an extended period of time or to continue on his journey and fulfill his duty to unseen people. It seems to be a difficult decision for the speaker to make as shown by the self delusion, and reflection of self. The mysterious tone that the speaker carries through the poem can almost confuse the reader, the reader is never really sure which decision the speaker chooses, although the speaker seems to choose to leave, are they doing it because of their desire to sleep or because of the promises that they made. The speaker uses things like the darkness, which almost has a thickness to it, and the seclusion of themselves physically to reflect their own feelings about the world, and its hopelessness. Struggling between the decisions of doing what one wants and what one must do is an issue that all people are faced with, and so it can be considered a universal human condition, this is shown to the reader by the speaker of this poem. Frost uses the speakers tone and diction to not only to deepen the meaning of the speaker’s personal struggle between his choice of duty and desire but to cause the reader to question their own choices and motives. Do people do things because they feel they have to, or is it some underlying desire that the person is unaware of?


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