Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening Analysis

Robert Frost

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Robert Frost wrote to Louis Untermeyer in 1923 that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” would be his “best bid for remembrance.” Frost’s instincts were correct, but like Walt Whitman’s famous “Captain, My Captain,” Frost’s poem is often remembered for all the wrong reasons. Part of its appeal, surely, is its simple and accessible narrative, which contains only sixteen words that are more than one syllable. In addition, Frost’s end-stopped lines, accentuated by the insistent rhyme, make the poem easy to remember.

Frost, born in California, worked hard at developing the persona for which he is now mostly known—the farmer-poet from New England, the writer of Currier & Ives miniatures. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is Frost’s most memorable “genre study” in his “New England” manner, though examination of the poem reveals nothing distinctively regional about it at all. Despite Frost’s reputation as a regionalist, his lyrics are generally so underdescribed that they tend toward allegory or parable. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is an example of Frost’s art in this respect: It gains its power by suggestion and implication, in its stark understatement, powerfully conveying a depth and fullness of human experience. It is, as Frost remarked, “loaded with ulteriority.”

Criticism of the poem has generally treated it allegorically or biographically, and it is easy to see why. Like “The Road Not Taken,” another frequently misread lyric, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is almost earnest in its simplicity, though close attention to the text shows it to be more crafty than at first it appears. For example, as is often the case in Frost’s first-person lyrics, the speaker of the poem is not to be mistaken for the poet himself, nor is the “I” in a Frost lyric always credible or aware of the complexity of his reflections.

Thus, in this poem, the speaker indicates that his horse thinks it “queer” for them to stop, though it is evident that whatever the horse may think or feel, it is the speaker who projects his own anxiety onto the horse. The poem is constructed as the speaker’s reflections of the event, and the first line indicates the speaker’s sense that the woods are owned. Thus, some nameless feeling of impropriety or perhaps social violation keeps him from his ease. Consequently, his abrupt dismissal of the wood’s allure and his lofty response that he has “promises to keep,” though idealistic and possibly true, sounds like a dodge. Mistaking the speaker for Frost himself, one could miss the author’s implied criticism of the speaker’s sentimentality—who avoids the issue of why he stops by taking refuge in rhetoric and cliché.

To read “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as simply a story about a weary traveler longing for the comforts of home, or even to allegorize it as the journey of Everyman, is to miss the subtle qualities that identify it as a Frost lyric. For one thing, Frost balances the onward rhythmic pull of the verse against the obvious stasis of the poetic scene itself: The speaker never arrives, nor really leaves; he is simply always stopping. Frost also arranges the natural scene so as to heighten the drama of the encounter and to reveal its symbolic density. Finally, Frost’s sense of dramatic and contextual irony undercut the simplicity of the narrative. After all, despite the speaker’s confident assurance about where he is going and the miles he has yet to go, his restiveness (projected onto the horse) and the vagueness of the future “promises” he must keep reveal his assurance to be, in a word, a fiction. This is an important point for Frost. Frost celebrated the necessity of imaginative extravagance in human affairs, but he knew well enough that the imagination traps as well as frees.

Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

"Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" was first published in 1923, when the pace of social growth was in the process of breaking out into a...

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Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is written in iambic tetrameter. "Iambic" means that each metrical foot contains two syllables, an...

(The entire section is 227 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Poetry for Students)

1923: The Soviet Union came into existence, expanding the Communist empire established by the Russian revolution of 1917.


(The entire section is 164 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

Write a short story about the owner of the woods finding this poem's speaker. Why is he out in the woods, instead of at his house in the...

(The entire section is 88 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Poetry for Students)

An audio record titled "Robert Frost Reads the Poems of Robert Frost" was released in 1957 by Decca.

A video titled Robert...

(The entire section is 63 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

Henry David Thoreau's Walden is an American classic and was one of Frost's favorite books, which he reread often throughout his...

(The entire section is 228 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Cox, James M., Editor, Robert Frost: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice Hall, 1962.

Cox, James...

(The entire section is 256 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Robert Frost. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Burnshaw, Stanley. Robert Frost Himself. New York: George Braziller, 1986.

Faggen, Robert. Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.

Galbraith, Astrid. New England as Poetic Landscape: Henry David Thoreau and Robert Frost. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.

Gerber, Philip L. Robert Frost. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982.

Lathem, Edward Connery. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Robert Frost: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Poirier, Richard. Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Potter, James L. The Robert Frost Handbook. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980.

Pritchard, William H. Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Thompson, Lawrance Roger, and R. H. Winnick. Robert Frost: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982.