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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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Robert Frost’s poem explores the idea of a journey interrupted in literal and metaphorical terms. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” can be appreciated as a straightforward description of a person stopping to appreciate the beauty of nature. The poem has often been interpreted as a reflection on numerous personal themes, including transgression, perseverance, and survival. The richly evocative language, in which the dark evening and woods are contrasted with the light that the snow creates, offers a monochromatic visual image.

The speaker implies that he is transgressing a natural or moral boundary by pointing out that he and his horse are on or at the edge of someone else’s property. Saying that the owner “will not mind,” he conveys his assumption that this transgression will be overlooked or permitted.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not mind my stopping here . . .

The beauty of the woods and lake as a natural setting is mentioned in the speaker’s description, which also accentuates its isolation. His only companion is his horse, and the snowy woods are far from any house.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near . . .

In contrast, the setting is not particularly hospitable, so the reader questions, as the horse does, the speaker's desire to stop and watch. This apparent temptation may be interpreted as more than a temporary diversion. The coldness of the setting is emphasized by the snow, which is mentioned several times—“fill up with snow” and “downy flake”—as well as by ice (“frozen lake”). Along with cold, darkness is stressed by repetition: “the darkest evening of the year” and “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.” The idea of night is similarly emphasized by reference to “evening” and to “sleep.”

Although the poem is short, Frost uses the techniques of repetition and emphasis through slightly different wording to create a strong impression of the setting, which helps the reader interpret the meaning beyond the literal level. This tendency toward repetition is brought home in the last two lines. These not only emphasize the idea that the speaker will be moving on, but also imply that he is trying to convince himself to get moving. This movement, by extension, means pulling away from the temptation of the dark, cold woods—presumably toward warmth and light, or away from death and continuing in life. This impression, coupled with the “promises,” leads the reader to see the idea of responsibility as an inspiration to continued action.

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

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"But I Have Promises To Keep"