Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening Symbolism

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

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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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