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.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a well-known poem composed by Robert Frost. In this poem the poet suggests the basic truths and profound thoughts of human life. In a very deceptively lucid language he presents the ultimate vision of life. The poem is a short lyric of four regular stanzas, each consisting of four lines. The poem is an interior monologue. The first line establishes the tone of a person musing quietly to himself on the situation before him.
Like most of Frost’s poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is illusive at the surface level. It sounds like a simple description of a horse rider who desires to stop at the middle of his journey. But after reaching the last stanza readers can understand the purpose of the poem which is a serious psychological problem of every man.
In the first stanza we find the poet to stop his horse in front of an unknown woods. Across the road from the woods that the speaker is passing through, there is a frozen lake. Houses are beyond the vision of the speaker and the quietness marks the scene. It is snowing heavily and the speaker can hear the soft and almost inaudible sound made by wind.
The dark woods symbolize the dark, impenetrable, unfathomable mystery of life, and snow as usual symbolizes the cold destructive force called death. Literally the speaker is caught in a woods on a snowy evening, but psychologically he is caught in a moment of time, arresting all his powers to find an answer to the mystery of life. There is no definite answer as to why the speaker of the poem stopped. The mysteriously beautiful solitude lures him.
In the second stanza, the poet introduces a foil. In fiction and drama, a foil is a character that “plays against” a more important character. The speaker’s strange behavior evokes a surprise even in his horse. Here, in this poem, the foil is the horse. The horse here also stands for rustic common sense without any feelings, emotions and provocations of nature. It is the horse that sets us thinking as to why the man stopped there in the midst of the jungle, having no essential amenities required for a stay in a dark and cold evening. The speaker in the poem imagines the horse to be asking what possibly could make him stop there. This stanza suggests a latent death wish in the speaker and a desire for self-annihilation in order to taste death.
The horse shakes his harness bells. He seems to ask if there is anything wrong. The horse has been portrayed in the poem as it is reminding the speaker whether it is right to stay there without any safe shelter. The horse represents the earth-bound common sense fails to understand the deeper conflict that afflicts its rider.
The final stanza begins with a comment on the scene. Making a very subjective comment, the speaker says that the woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But the poet’s final decision is to put off the poetic, philosophizing mood and to go on. The poet is a man of the world; he has to go his defined path and has his obligations to be spontaneous, natural and passionate.
He says the powerful lines here-
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.
He has to strive more before he dies. He repeats this idea implying a determination to achieve the fixed goal of life before death. Here ‘sleep’ symbolizes the final sleep- death. Frost’s vision of life as reflected in these lines assumes universality because a healthy vision always looks forward positively. It finds meaning in using life as much as possible, keeping aside all temptations.
Symbols:All the symbols used in this poem are very simple images taken from rural life. The horse, the woods, the darkness, the freezing coldness, the promises, the distance (miles) and sleep are all very known images used here as symbols.
The horse here stands for rustic common sense without any feelings, emotions and provocations of nature. The dark woods symbolize the dark, impenetrable, unfathomable mystery of life. The darkest evening and the freezing coldness symbolize death. Likewise, the speaker’s momentary attraction for the solitude of the forest symbolizes his death wish. But he remembers his promises that he has to keep. He draws back from the attraction of the woods. His promises stand for the responsibilities of a meaningful life. He is obliged to travel a long distance of several miles before he sleeps. The ‘miles’ stand for a long time of performing duties and the ‘sleep’ stands for the final sleep- the death.
Literary terms:This is a poem full of many poetic devices, among them alliteration, exaggeration, and personification. Personification gives human qualities to something non-human or non-living. The horse in the poem is the example of personification who is portrayed here as to “think” and “ask” just like a human being.
“My little horse must think it queer…”
“…To ask if there is some mistake.”
In the very first line of first stanza, alliteration, i.e. repetition of a consonant sound is found when the poet says,
“Whosewoodsthese are I think I know…”
Again in the third stanza, alliteration is available.
“He gives hisharness bells a shake…”
Exaggeration is a little more difficult to find, because it is quite possible that what the speaker says is true. However, these two examples seem to be a bit hyperbolic (exaggerated for effect). In the second stanza, the poet says,
“The darkest evening of the year.”
The depth of ‘darkness’ can’t be measured. So the poet exaggerates the darkness here. Again he says in the last and final stanza,
“And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
It is the repetition of the ‘miles’ which suggests they are at least somewhat exaggerated.