“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is easily one of the most famous, as well as one of the most anthologized, of Robert Frost’s poems. It consists of four quatrains that have the following rhyme scheme: aaba, bbcb, ccdc, dddd. The poem’s central narrative is simple, and the scene is understated, even stark, bare of elaboration or detail. A traveler pauses late one snowy evening to admire the woods by which he passes. He reflects that the owner of the woods, who lives in the village, will not see him stopping to “watch his woods fill up with snow.”
The speaker interrupts his reflections by imagining that his “little horse must think it queer” to stop without a farmhouse nearby on the “darkest evening of the year.” In the third stanza, the speaker expands this conceit, suggesting that anxiety over the untoward action causes the horse to shake his harness bells “To ask if there is some mistake.” Then, by way of contrast, the speaker notes that “the only other sound’s the sweep/ Of easy wind and downy flake.”
Something about the woods compels the speaker’s interest, and by the poem’s end, as most critics note, one has the sense that there is more to these woods than meets the eye. In the last verse, the speaker acknowledges that the “woods are lovely, dark and deep.” He seems reluctant, however, to pursue this insight more deeply, since he immediately observes that he has “promises to keep,/ And miles to go before [he] sleep[s].” Nevertheless, the central focus of the poem is not the woods. Of more importance is the inward drama of the speaker as he reflects about and understands—or fails to understand—why he stops and why he finds the woods so captivating.
The poem ends, then, ambiguously. The reader learns very little about the speaker—either where he is coming from, where he is going, or why he stops. The speaker, however, does not permit himself to reflect too deeply about the occasion, either. One can only speculate, and this is perhaps the full intent of the poem’s title: “Stopping by woods” is a gratuitous action, a grace note, an imaginative possibility. The reader, like the speaker, is always “stopping” by woods, and the reader, like the speaker, can choose to make the most of them or to go on.