Why does the speaker stop in the woods in Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Robert Frost answers this question himself. He does so in the first stanza. He stops

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Frost was extremely sensitive to the beauty of nature. He is similar to William Wordsworth in this respect. Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" might be compared with Wordsworth's sonnet "The World is Too Much With Us." Wordsworth says

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
Frost did not want to waste his life or his powers in the pursuit of money and material things. This is suggested in another of his most popular poems, "The Road Not Taken." Clearly, he chose to live a simple life which would enable him to devote most of his time to creative writing. "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is deceptively simple. Frost is just stopping because he is struck by the beauty of a single scene, a single aspect of nature which we can all relate to--the snow, the trees, the silence. No doubt Frost is writing about such a scene and is doing so because the scene seems to call for such a simple poem as a sort of homage to nature.

 
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auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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What the speaker of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost does is very simple; however, why he does it is a bit more complicated. He stops to watch the snow fall near the woods. 

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

The second stanza adds a few more menacing (though not terrifying) details which add some depth and meaning to the beauty of this simple scene:

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.

This farmhouse is isolated and the lake is frozen on this, the "darkest evening on the year." Even the horse wonders why they are here, impatient to leave and suspicious that their stopping at this place is a mistake. 

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The final stanza explains perhaps why the speaker stops, mesmerized by the sight of the falling snow. He has "promises to keep," obligations which he does not hate or fear but which are obviously tedious.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

He has miles to go before he can rest, and he says it again, to add emphasis to the miles and the long wait before he can rest (sleep). But for these few moments, he stops to see the beauty of the snow in front of the farmhouse. It is a respite before he goes back to the things he must do. 

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