Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Eve
Everyone feels burdened by life at some point. Everyone wishes
they could just close their eyes and make all the problems and struggles of
life disappear. Some see death as a release from the chains and ropes with
which the trials and tribulations of life bind the human race. Death is a
powerful theme in literature, symbolized in a plethora of ways. In
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Eve" Robert Frost uses subtle imagery,
symbolism, rhythm and rhyme to invoke the yearning for death that the weary
traveler of life feels.
When the speaker in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Eve" pauses for a moment's rest, he does not do so on a simple evening, but on the "darkest evening of the year," the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the day marking the beginning of winter, when the sun is the sky for the shortest time, and the night is longest. Night, with its darkness and shadows, is a classic symbol of death. On the winter solstice, Death can be considered his strongest, for his time, the night, is the longest it will ever be during the year. Everything about the winter solstice heralds death; the long night strengthens the power of Death, and the season marked by this solstice, winter, is also symbolic of death.
Winter is a time of cold, when forests die and animals hide from the shrieking winds and biting cold. Winter is a time for survival against the odds. How apt that the speaker is struggling against the "lovely, dark and deep" woods to remember that he has "miles to go before [he] sleep[s]." The "easy wind" calls to him, and the "downy flake" beckons him to a comfortable sleep. If the speaker had paused on a bright summer day, the sleep might be just a short rest, but the poem is set on the "darkest evening of the year" while the "woods fill up with snow," and any rest taken in the "lovely, dark and deep" woods would result in the eternal sleep of death.
Sleep is another common symbol for death, and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is filled with the essence of sleep. Every element of the poem works together to create a lullaby effect, calling the speaker and reader to a "lovely, dark and deep" sleep. The gentle imagery of the downy soft snow and easy wind, combined with the cadence and meter of the poem creates a lulling, rocking, soothing effect. The AABB rhyme scheme and the iambic quatrameter create a lullaby feeling, easing the reader in to a comfortable sleep.
The last two lines act as a slap in the face. Every element works toward death, and the speaker almost slips into eternal rest. One can see him, putting the reigns down and dismounting the "little horse," but at the last minute, he remembers his "promises to keep," and reminds himself of the "miles to go before [he] sleeps." In fact, he repeats the reminder, perhaps as a way to push the thoughts of death out of his head. A majority of the poem presents the woods as a gentle place to rest, somewhere to put down his burdens and forget his promises, but the last three lines push the speaker's thoughts away from death toward the "promises" in life.
Sleep, winter, and night are all common symbols of death, and Frost incorporates every one into "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Not only is Frost's poem filled with symbolic representations of death, but the rhythm and rhyme of the poem emphasize the power of imagery and symbolism. Frost's poem is not about a short pause in the woods but about the battle between the easy release of death and the many "promises" and burdens of life.