Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

The first reading of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” strikes the reader with a charming simplicity. The poem captures a static picture, common for pastoral poetry. Stopping in the wood in snowy evening was the moment of truth for the hero of the poem. The ending lines of the poem describe the triumph of life over death.

Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

Robert Frost’s “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening” can be considered as an autobiographic poem. According to the testimony of the poet’s daughter Leslie Frost, in this poem the poet described a real return home to the farm near West Derry in New Hampshire on December evening in 1905, when, after an unsuccessful attempt to earn some money at the fair and buy Christmas gifts for the family, Frost stopped at the forest where the road made a turn and the horse slowed down, and gave way to despair and tears (Tuten & Zubizarreta, 2001). Also, it should be noted that the poem tells about the darkest evening of the year (apparently, December 21-22), but was written in the lightest night – the night of June 22, at the dawn of the longest day of the year. Of course, this circumstance may not mean anything, but since Frost himself found it worthy of mentioning, it can be assumed that in this “mirror” element some irony is concealed, or maybe the poet tried to stress spatial and temporal distance that separates human emotions from its poetic expression.

The first reading of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” strikes the reader with a charming simplicity. The poem captures a static picture, common for pastoral poetry. By an unexpected stop in the snow-covered wood the poet stops the moment and shows its beauty, making the reader think about the meaning of life. The recognition that the wood is beautiful with all its darkness and mystery (“The woods are lovely, dark and deep”) is equivalent to the recognition of the beauty of stopped moments. Imagination immediately offers a textbook description of winter landscape: “the land wrapped into a thick white blanket, the forest edge with snowy fir trees, the ice lake, the low gray sky, which is almost invisible through the snow flakes, and in the midst of this silence there is a still frozen horse and sledges, with a man charmed by the beauty of nature” (Tuten & Zubizarreta, 2001). Cradled by riding he stops the horse for some reasons. In a daze, sighing deeply, he contemplates the change of landscape, the silence, the whiteness of snow, against which the wood seems really black. But the charm of the place weakens. The traveler merely gets cold and wakes up, having remembered about the practical purpose of his trip. Maybe something scares him – either “otherworldly” sounds at the edge of the earth (rustling of the blizzard, howling of the wind, creaking of the trees), or lack of the lights, thoughts (of death, human losses, the vanity of life and the lure of eternal rest), or the winter nature itself.

One way or another, but the traveler is sighing again (this sigh, or a series of different sighs, represents a major rhythmic part of the poem), the main hero forgets about the dreams and the night flights of thought, remembers where he is and that he should go home. He, as far as it is known from this and other poems by Frost, lives in the village, is engaged in mending fences, does not like strangers in his land, has buried his child and is ready to compare himself with the bird singing a death song in the sunset.

The color scheme of the poem is based on the contrast of brightness and darkness. White snow covers the forest, defined by the epithets “dark” and “deep”, snowflakes falling from the sky cut through the darkness of “the darkest evening of the year”. However, this opposition does not form a contrast: white and black, as the eternal opposites interpenetrate each other and merge into a single entity. Dark forest is covered with snow, and the open area between the edge of the forest and the lake is enveloped in darkness. In this dark-white stillness two worlds meet – being and non-being. The man and his horse belong to the civilization and images of wildlife unite in one big drawing – charming, mysterious, fascinating and unknown, both alluring and threatening.

The reference to an owner of the forest, who frightens a lyrical hero, seems strange and even weird. Of course, it can be assumed that this is just a sullen and uncommunicative neighboring farmer, who cannot stand even the most innocent intrusion into his possession. However, Frost, although mentioning a house in the village, clearly deliberately avoids further characteristics of the master of forests and forces the reader to imagine involuntary some kind of folklore character – the Forest King, the Lord of the mysterious realm of the winter, powerful enough to punish the intruder for reckless crossing of his borders.

By repeating the last lines Frost underlines an important decision made by the hero. He would go on in his long journey to keep his promises. What kind of journey does Frost mean? Repetition of the 15th verse clearly indicates the double meaning of the poem. The first line “And miles to go before I sleep” refers to the actual path, that must be completed by the traveler to get to human habitation and fell asleep. However, this phrase repeated in verse 16 is read as a metaphor for spiritual path, which must be followed by the hero before he is able to leave this world. Here his dream becomes synonymous with death, as it often was, for example, in the works of the Romanticists. Stopping in the wood in snowy evening was the moment of truth for the hero of the poem. Contemplation of a dark wood enlightened his mind and gave the power to live on. The end of the poem is somewhat sudden, as if Frost brings his character out of torpor. The triumph of life over the death is predictable due to the symbolic meaning of the image of the horse. The horse in European symbolism is endowed with magical powers of predicting the future, he knows the secrets of the other world, and also represents the animal vitality and continuity of life. This horse wakes up the man, reminding him of human habitation. One more important detail: if Frost describes the darkest evening of the year, which is associated with the winter solstice, then it is inevitably followed by the movement towards the light. A similar movement to the light begins in the life of a lyrical hero. Thus, the mood of a quiet sadness and manifestation of the moment of weakness, gives way to stoic intention of staying alive.

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