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Snow and loneliness in two Robert Frost poems

Updated on March 4, 2016

Robert Frost’s poems “Desert Places” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” both deal with the theme of loneliness. Loneliness shown in the two poems has very different sources.

In “Desert Places,” the loneliness is due to the speaker’s self-imposed solitude. The speaker in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” however, is lonely because he is on a trip and no one is with him.


Desert Places

“Desert Places” is paraphrased as: Snow is falling and night is coming quickly. I looked into a field as I passed and saw that the snow had nearly covered the weeds and grass. The woods around the field own the land. Even the animals have hidden and given the woods free range over the area. Like the animals, I am absent and can be ignored by the woods. As lonely as I feel, I will be lonelier before I will feel better. The snow will make the landscape look blank and expressionless, with nothing to say. The idea of being far off in space away from other humans doesn’t scare me. I do not need to be far away from home to feel that alone.

Hear a reading of 'Desert Places' read by Robert Farnsworth

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is paraphrased as: I stop to watch as snow falls in the woods. I believe this land belongs to someone that lives in the village, so no one will notice me stopping here. It must seem strange to my horse that we are stopping so far from home on such a dark night. The horse shakes the bells on his harness as if to ask me why we have stopped. The only other sound is that of the wind and snow. The woods are beautiful, but I must continue on, because I must fulfill my obligations. I have a long way to go before I can stop to rest.

Hear Robert Frost read his poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

Rhyme structure and purpose

The form of both poems is very similar. Both have four quatrain stanzas and each line contains four feet. The tetrameter lines in “Desert Places” contain ten syllables arranged in a variety of feet. However, the lines of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” contain eight syllables which are arranged into iambic feet. The stanzas of the poems have similar rhyme schemes as well. The rhyme scheme for “Desert Places” is aaba ccdc eebe ffgf and the rhyme scheme for “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is aaba bbcb ccdc dddd. These rhymes serve very different purposes, however. The rhyme in “Desert Places” is designed to place emphasis on the unrhymed line. On the other hand, the unrhymed line in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” rhymes with the lines of the next stanza. This serves to draw the poem inexorably onward, just as the speaker himself is drawn onward and away from the woods by his obligations.

Both “Desert Places” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” are lyric poems about two different feelings of loneliness. However, the imagery of snow is used in both poems to convey the feeling. Frost was writing in the early 20th century about rural New England. Without cars or paved roads, snow made it very difficult to get around. When a person was traveling out in the snow, it was unlikely that he would meet anyone else on the road. It is very possible that the speaker in either poem was miles away from any human being, and would not see another person for hours.

Robert Frost. 1941.
Robert Frost. 1941. | Source

Snow as a symbol of lonliness

The speakers in the two poems are experiencing two very different forms of loneliness. The speaker in “Desert Places” seems to have created his own solitude. When the speaker discusses “…[his] own desert places” in the final line of the poem, it seems that the he seeks out these places to be alone. It is only getting caught in the snow that makes the speaker feel lonely. On the contrary, the speaker in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is alone due to necessity. He must make his trip because he “…[has] promises to keep." To him the snow is simply a reminder of how lonely he is. Like much of Frost’s poetry, nature is not the focus of these two poems. Nature in these poems is used to emphasize the emotion being conveyed. John F Lynen, a critic of Frost’s poetry, observed in his essay “Frost and Nature” that “Frost uses nature as a background. He usually begins a poem with an observation of something in nature and then moves toward a connection to some human situation or concern.” Though snow may seem to be a theme in both poems, it is present only as a symbol.

The beautiful imagery being conveyed deepens the reader’s emotional response. By using common scenes of fields, woodlands, and snow, Frost creates a scene that the reader can relate to. When the reader is able to relate to the situation, it is even easier to relate to the emotion being Of the two poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is the easiest to relate to. Whether traveling by horse, like the speaker, or traveling by car, driving in the snow at night is something many people have experienced. Though beautiful the snowy evening can be very isolating. However, “Desert Places” inspires the greater emotional response. Many people find that seeking out solitude only increases their feelings of loneliness. Frost describes this emotion so poignantly that even a reader that has never felt the exact emotion will feel a connection to the experience.


Which poem do you prefer?

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