Can someone please explain the death wish in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

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stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The narrator of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" seems to have mixed feelings about the continuation of his/her life, recognizing the activities that need to be completed while yearning for perceived attractions of death.

The narrator has "promises to keep, and miles to go" - obligations that have brought him/her out on a dark, snowy winter solistice, "the darkest evening of the year." The commitments must be very important to require fulfillment under those conditions.

The narrator's thoughts, however, do not seem to be centered on the unmet obligations. Instead, the speaker is drawn to the appearance of the newly fallen snow, the sound of "easy wind and downy flake." Watching the "woods fill up with snow," the narrator finds them attractive but a little unsettling with unknown mysteries hidden by the snow; "The woods are lovely, dark and deep."

Someone who is tired of constantly having to fulfill commitments to and for others, someone who is cold and lonely, might find the idea of freedom from it all through death attractive in some ways. The release from worldly responsibilities would be a welcome rest, but the narrator reluctantly acknowledges that it can't come yet. "I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."



billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

A lot of critics, including one of Frost's biographers Jeffrey Meyers, have decided that the speaker, presumably Frost himself, was thinking of committing suicide in the woods and expressing a death wish in the poem. But Frost himself repeatedly denied this. For instance:

As late as November 8, 1962, when Frost received the Edward MacDowell Medal before a packed auditorium at Hunter College in New York, Louise Bogan, poetry critic of the New Yorker magazine who was present, reported that Frost

 . . . insisted that “Stopping by Woods” was NOT concerned with Death, and gave a little scratch to John Ciardi: as a new critic! It’s the tune that counts, he kept saying. (Meyers 327)

 In spite of Frost's denials, it is generally assumed that Frost didn't even understand his own poem or his own motives for stopping to look at some trees a couple of nights before Christmas.

There are many reasons for believing that the speaker is not harboring a death wish. For one thing, he would leave a suicide note. And he couldn't just leave his poor horse standing there in the show. Someone might come along and see the horse and empty sleigh and footprints leading off into the woods--or the horse might decide to go ahead without the speaker and cause a search party to be sent out when it appeared at the nearest farmhouse.

The speaker stops to look at a pretty sight, not to contemplate suicide. Does the pretty sight make him think of killing himself? There is really not enough evidence to conclude that Frost is contemplating suicide, although this has become the standard interpretation in spite of the poet's own disclaimer.


usagolsem's profile pic

usagolsem | College Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

Posted on

There was nothing sort of death wish of the poet in the poem. Regardless of the poet's life we can see an insight of light and responsibility in the poem. In fact we the human being generally are fond of love and attraction at any chance we can get. There is none who but loves beauty and pleasure as inspired and influenced by beauty, and so oftenly forget duty and obligation, right and responsibility whereas we have a lot to fulfill. This is what a man may be pleased look at. Our life is uncertain and mysterious like a wood and still it is deepened with its charming, fascinating, temporal mask of pleasure and excitement like snow covering wood. Yes, indeed the poet wishes to die peacefully after ful commitments of life performed at his last and die contented in the mysterious journey of life.

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