What are the physical, inner, and imaginative journeys in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening?"

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The physical journey the poem's speaker undertakes is by horse and carriage; he has stopped in a remote area between a lake and a patch of woods owned by someone the speaker knows in the village. The man pauses "to watch his woods fill up with snow." "The darkest night...

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The physical journey the poem's speaker undertakes is by horse and carriage; he has stopped in a remote area between a lake and a patch of woods owned by someone the speaker knows in the village. The man pauses "to watch his woods fill up with snow." "The darkest night of the year" might mean the winter solstice, December 21, to a New Englander like the poet, Robert Frost. He will resume his journey, for he has "miles to go" before he can rest.

The inner journey the speaker undertakes is more difficult to know. Something has made him stop on this evening; it could be simply his desire to enjoy the beauty of the night, when all is quiet, the wind is "easy" and the scenery is inspiring. His sense of responsibility however, the "promises to keep," prompts him to keep moving, though he is intrigued at the thought of exploring the deep woods.

The imaginative journey is the most obscure to the reader. It must relate to the inner journey; the speaker is obviously conflicted or distracted about where duty calls him, because he has stopped alone on this dark night. The "lovely dark and deep" woods also call to him. What they represent could be be unknowns in life, the "what ifs" or, to invoke another of Frost's poems, "the road not taken."

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The physical journey is the overt meanings of the poem: a man is riding a buggy (because the horse has harness bells) and stops by the woods to watch the snow fall. He has places to go ("miles to go before I sleep") but still makes time to watch the simple beauty of a snowy evening, untarnished by human presence. 

The inner journey seems to be one of appreciation of beauty, of the desire to stop working and just be. "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep" can be a metaphor for his desire to have time to explore himself and his own desires and beliefs, but he hasn't time, for he "has promises to keep." The deadlines crowd his mind and take precedence, his responsibilities keep him occupied, taking him away from knowing himself.

The imaginative journey is one of peace and happiness, tranquility. Perhaps, like most of us, he imagines that someday he will achieve time to enjoy beauty for its own sake, without it being tarnished by his need to keep moving, to keep his promises.

The fact that he has "miles to go before [he] sleeps / And miles to go before [he] sleeps," suggests all three journeys at once. He has things to do, deadlines to meet, places to go; he also has much to learn about himself, somewhere along the way (of his life), hopefully before he "sleeps" for the final time, and miles to go before he has a chance to truly rest and enjoy the fruits of his labors in his old age. 

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