Describe the role death plays in Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."  

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," Robert Frost calls on nature to set the stage for the illusion he creates of normalcy. However, everything is  not as it seems. The woods, though beautiful in their pastoral setting, cross the bridge from solemnity to danger. What is interesting about the woods is their allure. Beautiful, black, far reaching--but to sleep in this dangerous situation might lead to freezing and death.

The man and his horse are surrounded by the woods and "frozen lake," on the blackest night of the year. The man stops to ponder. It is the dead of winter. The lifeless pond lies nearby. The woods are inviting to the tired traveler--like the mythological Sirens, the woods are calling him to them.  The horse, sensing that something is not right, shakes his bells, jolting the speaker and the reader out from under this trance.

The pattern of the poem also seems to mirror the death motif of the poem. The rhyming follows this scheme:

aaba bbcb ccdc dddd

This design seems to nudge the reader. Each stanza opens with a couplet.  In addition, the rhyming includes one line of rhyme from each following stanza, a reflection of the man's dazed thoughts. The pattern is familiar, yet not exactly what is expected. Death, too, is familiar, but often comes without warning.

The last two lines signify the man's contemplation of death almost but not fully relenting to it:

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Sleep is the natural recurring physiological state of rest.  Symbolically, sleep also represents the peace of death. The last two lines bemoan what lies ahead--a long life without the peace of sleep.

The repetition of the these lines supports their importance.  Their impact is soothing; however, the lines are neither to be ignored nor forgotten. The narrator literally has a long journey ahead of him. Figuratively, he also has a long time before the final journey toward death.

The poem implies a good deal more than its actually says. It asks to be read again and again. The basic conflict in the poem, resolved in the last stanza, is between an attraction toward letting nature take him back or give into the pull of responsibility outside the woods. 

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