What is the usual routine of the poet and the horse in the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The usual routine of the speaker and his horse is to hurry from one spot to another without stopping to watch the snowfall. We know this for several reasons. First is the behavior of the horse. Not only does the speaker surmise that the horse will think it "queer," or unusual, to stop, the horse himself

... gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.  
The horse thinks it is a "mistake" that they are stopping. 
While the speaker does stop to take a moment and enjoy the snowfall on this "darkest evening of the year," he emphasizes that he must hurry onward. He says:
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.
These lines indicate that he is a busy man with many responsibilities ("promises to keep"). He is burdened by the cares of life. That he is busy is emphasized by the repetition of the last line of the poem. He is not a person with time to linger, though he wants to and has to urge himself on by repeating that he has "miles to go." This moment of stopping to appreciate the beauty of the world is unusual for him.
chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The key to the answer lies in the lines:

My little horse must think it queer   

To stop without a farmhouse near  


He gives his harness bells a shake   

To ask if there is some mistake.

We understand from these references that the wagon driver and his horse usually travel along their rural roads from one house or building to another: probably from home to a store, or to another house to drop off something to a neighbor. Horses that are hitched up to wagons, carriages, or buggies grow to recognize routines and places. This stop, next to the woods, was something the horse wasn’t used to. To stop beside a forest without a house or business sitting in the midst of it was an unusual occurrence for the horse. The driver could have been happy with just a quick glance at the snowy woods as they rode along. But no. He made the choice to stop, in spite of what his horse would think or do. The sight of the snowy woods was important enough for him to do this.

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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