What imagery is used in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

The imagery used in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" primarily relies on the sense of vision, as the speaker watches a scene and contrasts light and dark. The senses of sound and touch also play important roles in evoking the scene. Along with their actual sensory experiences, the speaker encourages the reader to share in imagining distant scenes and events.

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Most often discussed in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is its rich visual, auditory, and tactile imagery. Readers cannot help but picture a dark forest being blanketed by white snow. The scene is nearly silent and cold. Although less frequently analyzed, another type of imagery—kinesthetic—is equally important in creating the snowy scene that confronts the traveler.

Kinesthetic imagery is the vivid description of action to help the reader visualize and feel motion. This type of imagery creates the sensation of movement and associated feelings.

Both the poem’s title and first stanza emphasize the speaker’s act of “stopping” or not moving. A traveler pauses at a complete standstill in the middle of a quiet forest to watch the “woods fill up with snow.” In contrast to the man, snow is falling and “filling up” the deserted woodland. This example of kinesthetic imagery conveys the motion of falling snow; it also creates the visual image of snow piling up, as well as auditory images of muted flakes forming an ever-thickening blanket of silence. Man is static while nature moves; nonetheless, both man and nature are peaceful.

In the second stanza, Frost personifies the traveler’s equine companion:

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near.

This kinetic image also emphasizes a lack of physical movement but suggests anthropomorphic action. Instead of running, rearing, snorting, or neighing in protest, the horse stops with the traveler and wonders what it going on, like a puzzled companion. When the horse does move, its small movement is described by this kinetic imagery:

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.

The horse swings his head slightly in order to ring the bells (an example of auditory imagery) and does not use a larger gesture like jerking up its head, stomping its hoofs, or swishing its tail. The animal’s subtle motion represents its unspoken conversation with the traveler.

The traveler notes that

The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

Snow is gently falling down by the “sweep” of a breeze. This kinetic image includes auditory imagery (the sound of mildly blowing wind) and tactile imagery (soft, “downy” snowflakes).

Despite stopping, the traveler must resume his journey. He has “miles to go before [he] sleep[s].”

With this kinetic image, he emphasizes that he still has quite a way to trek before he can stop again to rest. The repetition of “miles” implies an interminable distance. The repetition of “sleep” is an example of organic imagery—vivid descriptions that communicate and invoke internal sensations (like pain, hunger, fatigue) and emotions. The reader feels the traveler’s weariness in having journeyed some distance already with yet many more miles still to cover. The reader also feels the traveler’s dread in having so much farther to go in order to complete his odyssey.

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In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the imagery generated by the horse engages the senses. In visual terms, we can easily imagine the horse shaking its head as the snow begins to fall. In auditory terms, we can hear the sound of the harness bells as the horse shakes his head. This breaks the peace of a scene that is quiet and placid.

Frost's use of adjectives is extremely helpful in making his images come to life. He refers to the horse as a “little horse,” for example. He expertly conveys the scene by describing it as taking place during “darkest evening.” We also have the “frozen lake” and the “easy wind and downy flake.” We are left in no doubt just what kind of scene is being depicted here.

All these images combine to give us an accurate picture of the scene that Frost wishes to convey. Thanks to the vivid imagery that he uses—such as the woods filling up with snow and relating their “lovely” depth and darkness—we are able to insert ourselves into the scene depicted in the poem. As the poem deals with universal themes, most notably the perennial struggle between man and nature, this is important as we need to feel that the poem is speaking to us directly. The reader understands the speaker's longing to stay in the woods while knowing he cannot, as he has “miles to go” before he can rest.

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Imagery is a literary device in which the author uses descriptive language that vividly depicts any aspect of the poem, including physical, mental, or emotional aspects. These span setting, characters, objects, events, and ideas. Imagery is achieved by appeal to any of the five senses.

Robert Frost’s poem is set in a woods at night. The speaker relies primarily on visual imagery, as the reader joins the speaker in seeing the white color of “snow” against the “dark” woods. They create a sense of companionship by mentioning the “little horse.” At the same time Frost presents what the speaker actually sees, however, he also refers to the imagined setting and events. The speaker quickly refers to the “house” and “village” that they are not currently looking at but knows exists. They even draw the horse into this imaginative world, by referencing the “farmhouse” that the house supposedly misses.

Other aspects of “real” visual imagery include the “frozen lake” and the horse’s “harness bells.” Auditory images, relying on the sense of sound, include the sound that the bells presumably make, as well as the soft sound of the “easy wind” and the falling snowflakes. The tactile images are closely intertwined with the visual and auditory ones. The speaker does not mention if they are mounted or standing near the horse, so the reader must imagine the sensation of closeness between them. The “downy flake” prompts the reader to see the snow as lightweight and feathery. The last images are of imminent lengthy, forward motion in “miles to go.”

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The first image Frost constructs is visual (sight): the speaker stops "To watch [the owner's] woods fill up with snow" (line 4).  We can imagine, based on this sensory description, what the scene looks like: the silent and darkened trees with the snow piling higher and higher around them, as though the forest could "fill up" (like a container) with snow.

The next image is visual (and perhaps also auditory) as well: the speaker describes this spot as secluded, "without a farmhouse near / Between the woods and frozen lake / The darkest evening of the year" (6-8).  The night is very dark and very still because the narrator is the only person around and there is no ambient light from a farmhouse.  Then, again, we see the woods he's described as well as the "frozen lake" (so it must also be very cold -- this could be considered tactile imagery).

The next image is auditory (hearing): "The only other sound's the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake" (12).  Thus it is really very quiet, with no human sounds at all, and all the narrator can hear is the gentle wind blowing the soft snowflakes around.  Because he describes the snowflakes as "downy," we might also consider this a visual image (they are the fat and fluffy kinds of snowflakes) and/or a tactile (touch) one (they are soft and light and airy snowflakes).

Thus, Frost combines mostly visual imagery with some auditory and tactile images to achieve a very tranquil mood for the poem.

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