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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"But I Have Promises To Keep"

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Context: On the surface, this poem may be taken as a simple narrative of the New England life that provided Frost with so much of his subject-matter. It is "the darkest evening of the year," as the narrator halts for a moment on his drive home to watch the snow pile up silently in the woods. The only sound is that of the harness bells shaken by the puzzled horse, who does not understand the reason for the delay in the woods. It is also possible to interpret the poem as an expression of the "death wish"–the dark silent woods are death, where the traveler is tempted to linger. But his sense of duty (symbolized by the jingling of the harness bells) reminds him that he has obligations to life; that he has "promises to keep." And so he leaves the woods and returns to the world where his obligations await him. The poem ends:

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.

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