What is the interpretation of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost?

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Michael Otis | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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The second stanza of the famous Frost poem published (1923) in New Hampshire contains a highly significant allusion:

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. (my emphasis)

Although Frost never made the claim to have done so, it is possible, perhaps even probable that once written he would have allowed this allusion to the opening lines of Dante's Inferno to stand. Briefly, the opening lines of the Divina Commedia (Inferno) find the poet lost midway upon the road of life within a dark wood, having strayed from the right way. However, Frost's allusion is far more sweeping in its implication. Not only does it refer to the "woods" of despair into which the middle-aged Dante has wandered, it takes in the whole topography of Hell, including its bottom most "frozen lake" in which Satan is encased. This sweeping allusion imparts a significance to the poem far beyond the simple tableau it depicts. Frost struggled with despair all his life. What better way to convey this than by linking his dark winter journey of life to the pilgrim poet par excellence - Dante whose "dark night of the soul" and search for God are reflected in the Divine Comedy.

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