Why does the speaker stop by on the darkest evening of the year? 

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What seems to arrest the narrator as he travels through this forest is the incredible beauty of the scene around him.  The beauty of the scene is enhanced by the stillness he feels, and this stillness is conveyed, in part, by the complete and unbroken darkness.  So much of the poem is a play on and exploration of opposites: total darkness and the comparative light of the village where the owner of the woods lives, the silence of the woods and the bright jingling of the horse's bells, the tranquility of the idea of staying here forever and having to continue on for many, many miles.  Perhaps the narrator would be less struck by the scene were the night less complete, less utterly black.  He seems to stop on this night because the peacefulness he feels and beauty that he recognizes is so connected to the perfect darkness and stillness of the scene.

harrylime | Student

Though it is tempting to respond that it is impossible to know from the text precisely why the narrator of the poem has stopped, there is some evidence at the beginning that he's simply making sure of his surroundings: 

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
That is: Where exactly am I? I'm not near the village. How much longer before I'm home?
 
Once we've stopped and are looking around, however, the narrator takes the time to notice how striking the setting is--so much so that we might conclude that the narrator is not only determining his position in the world, he may also be trying to determine if he's actually awake. Is this scene real or am I dreaming?
 
The question seems to wonder about the relevance of "the darkest evening of the year." But is this actually the darkest evening of the year? The woods and the cloud cover likely make it seem so, but snow itself tends to reflect any light that might otherwise be available, making an otherwise dark evening seem rather bright. This seeming conflict of imagery adds to the dreamlike quality of the poem, lending credence to the idea that the narrator has stopped and is trying to get his bearings--and wake himself up--before moving on.
 
Further evidence of his concern for staying awake for the rest of his journey are the repeated final lines:
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
He has his bearings now, and is awake enough to continue (though there is not actual movement by the time we reach the end of the poem other than the shake of the horse and the easy wind and the falling snow). Though we are left thinking that he must be moving on from here to keep his promises, there is some question: Perhaps this dream is more important than the promises; Perhaps just one more moment before setting off again.
 
Read the study guide:
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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