illustration of a snowy forest with a cabin in the distance

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost

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Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening Symbolism

What are the symbols in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost?

There are many possible symbols in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." The central one is that of the speaker’s journey, which may symbolize travel through life, while the woods themselves represent mystery and danger but also peace and distraction from the travails ahead.

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This poem by Robert Frost could be read completely literally as the story of a man stopping in a quiet wood, with his horse, to appreciate the beauty of the snowy evening. However, it could also be read as replete with symbolism. The central speaker is a man on a...

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journey—much as we are all on a journey through life. He has “promises to keep” or things he needs to do. However, he is compelled to pause in the snowy wood, which is “lovely, dark and deep.” Darkness often represents negative things, but here the speaker longs for it. Possibly this is because darkness allows a moment’s respite, an opportunity to rest from our toils and sleep.

Evidently the speaker wants to sleep; he seems to be very tired. This may symbolize weariness with the daily grind of his life and a yearning to wander off the assigned path and into a quiet and mysterious other world where he can rest. It could even be suggested that the sleep the man is seeking symbolizes death—perhaps this is a very old man who wants his journey to be over but has tasks to complete first. Alternatively, he could simply be a person working his way through a difficult time or a difficult situation: he wants to stop moving and let himself “sleep” for a while, but he knows he cannot. He cannot let the woods distract him from his quest, but he tells himself that he will be able to rest once he has fulfilled his promises.

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One of the reasons why Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is such a famous poem is that it is open to a myriad of interpretations. For instance, the dark, deep woods may symbolize death, in which case the poet stops for a moment on the journey of life to think about death, though at the end of the poem it is not yet time for him to die. He still has "miles to go" before he sleeps.

Here is another possible interpretation. The poet's journey still symbolizes life, but the woods are a symbol of something rather difficult to describe (after all, if something is easy to describe, why not write directly about it, rather than wasting time with symbols?). We might call it the beautiful, the numinous, the mysterious, the transcendent experience that stops you in your tracks and makes you stand and stare. This experience might, in fact, be caused by the sight of woods on a snowy evening, but it is the experience that matters, not the woods. It might equally be caused by a sunset, or a mountain, or feelings of love or compassion. It is the sort of experience which almost everyone has but which particularly appeals to mystics and poets.

The horse symbolizes the common-sense reaction of those who are not having this extraordinary experience, who "think it queer" to stand and gape at a snowy wood. Common sense is sometimes called "horse sense," and a sensible person would naturally shake his head and think there must be some mistake. Even the poet is finally compelled to give in to common sense (not to mention the intricate rented world symbolized by the man who owns the woods) and continues on the journey he must take in order to keep his promises.

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Another symbol in this poem is the sleep referenced in the final stanza. Though the narrator wishes he could stop for a longer period of time in these woods because the scene is so beautiful and tranquil and because it is so lovely to be in such solitude and peaceful darkness, he realizes, ultimately, that he cannot. He says that he has "miles to go before [he can] sleep" (line 15). This line can be read symbolically—meaning that it has both literal and figurative meaning. Literally, the narrator has not completed his journey; this forest is not his final destination. He does have actual miles to travel before he can stop for the night and has reached his destination. Figuratively, the narrator is drawn by the darkness and the depth of these woods, and some might read this as a reference to death, especially because the narrator seems to be tired—he references, directly, his thoughts about sleep in the final two lines. In this case, sleep could be symbolic of death, and the fact that the narrator has "miles to go" before he can sleep means that he cannot stop now. He has "promises to keep": things that he must yet still do before his life can be finished. The narrator, despite whatever desire he has to remain here in the darkness and peace, must keep moving.

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The most significant symbol in the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” would be the woods.  Through the adjectives that the speaker uses in the poem, the reader should recognize the tone/mood of mystery and danger.  This is evident when he says, “lovely, dark, and deep” (line 13).  Through the descriptions throughout the poem, it becomes clear that the woods would symbolize the beauty and mystery of the world that most people are just too busy to appreciate.  It is symbolic of the way that most people nowadays go through life – thinking only of themselves, being self-centered, and ignoring the mystery and the beauty of the nature that surrounds them.

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It could be said that the woods are symbolic of the narrator’s desire to be diverted from the journey of life that he is on. If we think about the historical context of the poem, and the increasing pace of life that was being experienced during the 1920’s, we can appreciate the appeal of the ‘frozen lake’, challenged only by ‘easy wind’ and ‘downy flake’. The setting of the poem symbolises the natural, beautiful, peaceful environment, which is no longer appreciated by those whom it belongs to, and is sadly shunned by those with ‘miles to go’.

 The setting therefore can be said to represent the beauty of the past, and increasingly less present, state of the US. Frost sets the poem on-

‘The darkest evening of the year.’

This could mean that the future will be brighter, or that the time to enjoy and contemplate such surroundings has passed as life has to move on at an ever increasing rate into the future-

‘And miles to go before I sleep.’

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The journey the poem talks about is considered to be a symbol representing one's life journey; the literary figure is called a synecdoche, where a small sample of something is used to represent a larger or more important concept.

The village in the second line and the farmhouse in line 6 are symbols for civilization; by twice emphasizing that he is near neither, the narrator is telling us that he is alone in the world. The "promises to keep" would imply the existence of others in the narrator's life, and his interactions with them, as would the personified horse, who almost talks.

The dark and mysterious woods of the poem have been considered by many to be a metaphor for death, as has the concept of sleep as presented here. Many view the poem as someone contemplating suicide; the fact that the woods are "lovely" indicates thatdeath would be somewhat welcome.The sonorous repeat of the final line gives it special emhasis. "Miles to go' - many years to live - "before I sleep" -before death.

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