illustration of a snowy forest with a cabin in the distance

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost

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What is the central theme of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

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One central theme of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is the contrast between society and the natural world. While society is a place of confinements and restrictions, nature is a place of respite and peace.

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One theme central to "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is the contrast between society and nature.

From the first stanza, the speaker is on a journey between two places. He decides to "stop" and simply "watch [some] woods fill up with snow." This presents nature as a place of respite—a space to find serenity and a quiet stillness.

The speaker considers how his decision to stop must seem "queer" to his horse, who is likely used to pressing forward from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Undoubtedly, the speaker initially departed on this particular journey with a sense of urgency since it is the "darkest evening of the year." Yet despite his plans, he finds himself stopping in the midst of nature, completely alone and isolated as he notes the "easy wind" which blows through this forest.

This place of respite stands in contrast to the man whose "house is in the village" and who likely owns this property on which the speaker pauses. The speaker wants to avoid being seen by this man, which further demonstrates his desire to avoid a return to the restrictions of society. After all, who determines ownership of a beautiful wood covered in a majestic snowfall? The owner will never know of this speaker's presence, which demonstrates an ultimate futility in society's need to lay claim to the natural world.

Although these woods are "lovely," the speaker must eventually tear himself from the serenity of nature in order to continue on his journey. His obligations pull him back into the society which he would rather avoid and away from the sense of calm stillness which nature provides.

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The speaker of the poem is mindful that he has "miles to go before" he can stop to rest, so aware is he and so pressing are his responsibilities that he actually repeats this idea twice at the end of the poem. He knows that his "promises" must be kept, his responsibilities met. However, he cannot help but be arrested by the beautiful and tranquil sight of the deep, dark woods "fill[ing] up with snow." It is the darkest evening of the year and the "downy flake" blows gently through the "lovely, dark and deep" forest. The speaker is so awed by the sight of the dark woods and the pure white snow that he stops, and even his horse is a little confused because he is used to their routine and knows that they would not normally "stop without a farmhouse near." Thus, one theme of the poem is that the beauty and tranquility of nature can provide a respite from the demands of society and work.

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The two previous posts show how the interpretation of literature is fundamentally arbitrary.  There's no one right answer -- the first says it's about death, the second about accomplishing duties.

The eNotes discussion of themes of the poem argues that there are three main ones:

  • Beauty
  • Return to nature and how difficult it is to do this given the demands of everyday society.
  • Duty and responsibility

As a non-literature person, I have always been struck by the beauty of the imagery or maybe it's the rhythm of the poem.  But I've always thought it was a beautiful and soothing poem.

If I had to pick what I think is the central idea, I would agree that it's about the second bullet above.

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It seems that the narrator is contemplating death on this "darkest night of the year." Not that he is thinking about ending his own life, but he feels the lure of death that will be there later for him. Death looks to him "lovely, dark, and deep." Not scary, not grim, but rather welcoming, almost a relief.

But it is not yet his time, for he has connections with other people, "promises to keep" and a long way to go before the end finally comes..."miles to go before I sleep." Yet, it feels like he is comforted by the thought of the end in the distance. One day, sure, but not right now.

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Frost focuses mostly on the theme of nature, and how the speaker's duties keep him from stopping and enjoying the beauty of nature.  He almost envies the owner of the woods.  He owns this beautiful land, yet he lives in town.  So there's a hint there that the owner does not appreciate what he has.

"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though"

Even the horse gives his bells a little jingle as if he knows he's not supposed to be stopping.  It's as if the horse too has a sense of duty.  He understands that he is to keep moving and will stop when he gets to his stable. It's almost a reversal in roles here.  The man should be the one who continues on and the horse, being considered a part of nature himself, should long to stay a while.  Here it's the opposite.

The speaker longs to stay and enjoy the beautiful scenery, but knows he must move on after his brief stop.  He has "miles to go before [he] sleep[s]."

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At the beginning of the poem, the speaker stops in the woods and simply enjoys the scene before him. He's in the country, and it is snowing. The beauty of it overwhelms him, and it's so quiet that the speaker hears nothing but a very gentle wind. He wants to go further into the woods, but if he gets lost, he won't be able to fulfill his obligations that he has in town, and he takes his promises to others very seriously. The speaker contrasts the man-made modern world with the elegant beauty of nature. He's more attracted to the natural world of the falling snow and the quiet, peaceful setting of nature, but he's pulled away from it by his obligations in the modern world.

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This poem is about taking time to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature. The speaker is overwhelmed by the sight of the snow on the fields, and he stops to enjoy it. He must move on, however, because he has responsibilities and "miles to go before I sleep."

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What does Robert Frost want to convey through the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" can be read as an allegory. Frost devotes the first three stanzas of the poem to describe the woods he comes across while he was on his way to accomplish some important task. But it's only in the final stanza, he reveals the main theme of the poem. 

He halts for the serenity and bewitching beauty of the place holds him spellbound. He lingers there for a while pleasing himself with the peaceful joy the woods offer him in that “snowy evening.”

The snow has covered the entire place. The soft snow hangs over the trees and the lake has frozen completely. The only sound that can be heard in that uninhabited place is that of the horse’s “harness bells” and “the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake.”

The pristine and idyllic beauty of the woods casts a spell on him making him reluctant to move on. But soon he recalls he has “promises to keep.” He ought not to linger there pleasing himself rather continue with his journey. He’s still “miles to go.”

So, we see he faces a dilemma. On the one hand he wants to prolong his stay in the woods and revel in the delight that he hasn’t found anywhere else, while on the other hand, he knows he must leave instantly to fulfill his duty.

What the poet wants to convey is, perhaps, the fact that life often comes up with attractive enticements once we have made up our mind to stop not until our goal is achieved. It makes our journey even more arduous and challenging.

The poet, too, is offered a similar enticement in the form of the beautiful woods. There’s nobody to question him or order him to leave the place. But he wouldn’t indulge in self-gratification. He would forsake this pleasure to keep his promises. 

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What is the interpretation of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost?

The second stanza of the famous Frost poem published (1923) in New Hampshire contains a highly significant allusion:

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. (my emphasis)

Although Frost never made the claim to have done so, it is possible, perhaps even probable that once written he would have allowed this allusion to the opening lines of Dante's Inferno to stand. Briefly, the opening lines of the Divina Commedia (Inferno) find the poet lost midway upon the road of life within a dark wood, having strayed from the right way. However, Frost's allusion is far more sweeping in its implication. Not only does it refer to the "woods" of despair into which the middle-aged Dante has wandered, it takes in the whole topography of Hell, including its bottom most "frozen lake" in which Satan is encased. This sweeping allusion imparts a significance to the poem far beyond the simple tableau it depicts. Frost struggled with despair all his life. What better way to convey this than by linking his dark winter journey of life to the pilgrim poet par excellence - Dante whose "dark night of the soul" and search for God are reflected in the Divine Comedy.

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What is the theme of the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost?

One way to look at this poem is through the theme of the contemplation of life. In the poem, the speaker has paused in the middle of the woods to look at the landscape and admire its beauty. Note that, in the last stanza, the woods are "lovely, dark and deep." Foremost, they are lovely. Had Frost put a comma after "dark," each term would have been given equal weight. However, he singles out "lovely" first and then adds that the woods are "dark and deep" as well. So, in this moment of contemplation the notions of "dark and deep" might not be interpreted in negative ways. The speaker could be remarking that the entire scene (snow, darkness, and depth) as a combined whole is lovely. 

On the surface, this is a moment of contemplation of an evocative landscape. But note - it is evening. This is a time after work hours and before actual night. It is a transition period. It is the darkest night of the year. That means it is December 22nd, the winter solstice. This is also a transitional date, moving from autumn to winter. So, in this moment of contemplation, the speaker must be thinking about the past and the future. Such is the nature of being in a transitional phase. Given that it is evening, he is not preoccupied with work, which would occur earlier in the day. And given that it is prior to nightfall and he is not home yet, he is not with his family or going to sleep. He is in between these two phases of the day. It is a transitional part of the day and year.

Consider this as a parallel to his life. The early part of the day (youth) is past and the night (death) is yet to come. He is perhaps in the midlife stage. This is a time for reflection. He wonders about what he should or would have done in the past. He then looks forward to the promises he has to keep for the future. So, this thematic analysis of contemplation shows how Frost is using a moment in the woods to evoke other notions of reflection and contemplation in a transitional yet fleeting stage. 

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What is the theme of the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost?

One theme is the theme of isolation.  

This is probably my personal favorite theme of the poem. It's a lonely poem. The speaker is a man who has stopped with his horse beside a lonely wood. He doesn't know who the woods belongs to, but he is sure that the owner lives in the town that is in the area.

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;  

There's nobody else around. In fact, he is so alone that the only sound that he hears is the wind and the harness bells. 

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.  

I never get the feeling that the man is scared by his isolation. In fact, I get the opposite feeling. I think that he enjoys his isolation and alone time. I feel that is especially evident by the positive way in which he talks about the dark and snowy woods.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 

The ending of the poem seems to indicate that he is tired and not looking forward to keeping those promises. Those promises are likely reminders of his busy, people-centered life. I always get the feeling that the man is thinking those final two lines with a heavy sigh.

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What is the overall theme of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

The poem has many different possible themes. One of the most poignant is the theme of sadness, or of possibilities that cannot be taken because of current responsibilities. The narrator wants to take more time to view the woods and enjoy nature, but he has "miles to go" and cannot take more than a few moments. He doesn't want to just work and work every minute of every day, but he has no other choice, and he feels sad that he can't spend more time just living and experiencing nature. It is even possible that he is constrained by the owner of the woods:

He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
(Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," eNotes eText)

For some reason, the narrator is compelled to mention that the owner can't see him stopping; either he is not supposed to stop there, or he is simply mentioning that the owner lives far away from these beautiful woods. Regardless, the narrator is filled with a certain kind of sadness, the kind that builds castles in the sky and dreams of escape. He must fulfil his promises, but perhaps the sight of the snowy woods will give him the motivation to escape his daily toil.

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What is the overall theme of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

There are many possible themes to be read in the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." One of the most common interpretations is Personal Responsibility; the narrator is enthralled by the snowy woods, and stops in his civilized pursuits to take in the beauty of a natural landscape, but he can't stay. This can be read in the final stanza, which contrasts the beauty of the woods with the narrator's obligations:

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.
(Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," eNotes eText)

Although the narrator appreciates and loves the woods for their natural beauty, he needs to continue his journey, because he has "miles to go before [he] sleeps." He must continue working as a part of society because that is the role expected of him; his obligations leave him only moments to enjoy the simpler things in life. Perhaps in time, if he works hard within societal constraints, he will own a plot of land in the woods to sit in, enjoying nature for its innate perfection; for now, though, he must continue to travel to keep his promises.

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What is the central idea of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

In the poem, an individual is briefly arrested by a beautiful winter scene. Despite the fact that he has so much work to do and obligations to which he must attend ("promises to keep"), he feels compelled to stop to "watch [the] woods fill up with snow" and to appreciate how "lovely, dark and deep" the forest is. The poem's mood feels quite tranquil, aided by images that convey the scene's beauty and silence. The narrator is alone in the woods (except for his horse) because the man who owns the land lives "in the village." Moreover, it is the "darkest evening of the year," and the speaker enjoys the serenity to be found in solitude and the relative silence of "the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake." The poem shows how possible it is for us to stop and appreciate the beauty of a moment like this. We may be pulled in many different directions by our many and myriad responsibilities, but this should not prevent us from stopping to appreciate these peaceful moments when they come.

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What is the central idea of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

At the center of Robert Frost's poem is the description of a moment of contemplation -- how our daily activities, in all their complexity of decision and actions, the moments obfuscate the larger "meanings" of our actual physical existence.   The narrator here (we always assume "I" means Frost himself here) is near the end of a day of mundane, everyday activities, when the tranquility of the scene temporarily causes him to pause.  Even his horse, a creature of simple consciousness that is freed of the burden of self-consciousness, "thinks it queer" that they should stop here for no apparent reason (Frost purposely uses the word "thinks"), just as we, in our daily routines, do not stop to contemplate the present.  The poem, then, becomes a snapshot of our own (the reader's) failure to live in the moment. 

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What is a major theme of the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

A theme is the statement, directly expressed or implied, that a text makes about its subject. This particular text seems to comment on both the positive effect nature can have on us as well as on the nature of obligations and responsibilities and their contrast with what we might prefer to do with our time. First, then, the poem conveys the idea that nature has the ability to impact us for the better. The speaker cannot help but stop in the woods to "watch [them] fill up with snow." They are so beautiful—"lovely, dark and deep"—and he is comforted by their tranquility and relative silence compared to the village. Second, the poem conveys the idea that what we want is often in conflict with our responsibilities or obligations. The speaker says,

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

His repetition of the next-to-last line seems to convey a wistfulness or longing to remain in this tranquil place, but he cannot because he has responsibilities that call him away.

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What is a major theme of the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

As with most of Robert Frost's poetry, there are several major themes to be found within "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Different readers will define different interpretations as being the "major theme."

Certainly, one theme contained within the poem is the appreciation of the natural setting in which the speaker finds himself. He stops his travels to watch the falling snow and listen to the soft sounds of the wind in the woods. He may be regretting the difficulty of remaining in tune with nature as his horse shakes its harness and interrupts the solitude.

On a more introspective level, the "lovely, dark and deep" woods may be seen as a symbol for a peaceful time in the speaker's future - death, perhaps? The speaker is obviously attracted to the tranquil nature of the wooded area he is observing, but he has obligations to fulfill before he can "sleep."

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What is the figurative meaning of the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost?

Figurative meaning refers to meaning that is conveyed through the use of figures of speech such as comparisons, analogies, and other symbolic uses of language.

As with most poetry, interpretation of the meaning of the poem is possible on several levels. Literally, the poem features a speaker who has stopped to admire the beauty of snow falling in the woods before continuing on with his journey to complete obligations of some sort. Figuratively, the wintery timing of the poem, the "darkest evening of the year," and the attraction to the "dark and deep" woods could all be references to the speaker's thoughts of approaching death. It would appear this prospect is something the speaker is anticipating with pleasure rather than fear or apprehension, but there is business to be completed before death arrives.

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What are the key ideas of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"?

“Idea” is a pretty vague term, so we should begin by dividing the ideas into types:  On the symbolic idea level, many readers see this poem as a comment on death and suicide, as though Frost was musing on whether the thought of death could be compared to a moment of quiet contemplation of ending our “journey” through the “night” of our cold and lonely existence.  The extreme popularity of the poem, however, calls for a more thorough look at the poem’s “ideas.”  It might merely be, on the social, human level, a poetic expression of our life, partly simply a fulfillment of prior commitments (“I have promises to keep”)—a sort of model of the momentum our lives have, through the “woods” of our environment—effort and rest, and the “getting through” our day.  But the real value of the poem is the idea of its immediacy, its portrait of presence, of “being here now.”  The narrator/traveler pauses a moment in the dark and looks around him or her at the landscape, devoid of all human contact, both quiet and still, and takes in the tranquility. The horse, ever a servant to its master’s command, has stopped its journey, for no discernable reason for a beast, and shakes its bells, an artificial noise that fills the void, unlike man, who throws the blanket of cause and effect over every decision to act or not act, but can “imagine” a pause in logical actions.  The remarkable mood and atmosphere of the poem, embellished by the easy rhythms and smooth rhymes of the words, are alone the “idea” of this poem/scene, and could alone give the poem its reason for being, over and above any symbolic value.

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