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

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
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.
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.
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.

The first four lines are the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of this entire poem, with the important words being “though” and “his.” The man in the sleigh believes he knows who is the property owner, the man this tract of woods belongs to. He also knows that if he is correct, the man won’t be around tonight on a snowy, cold evening. The word “though” conveys that thought; the idea that someone in the village would never be out and about during such weather. The use of the phrase “to watch HIS woods fill up with snow” shows resentment, as if the man should not have the right to regulate who can stop and gaze upon his woods. It also implies that the man in the sled is jealous and probably poor and overburdened by his obligations.

The next four lines reveal that it is very much out of the ordinary for this fellow to stop and take in a beautiful scene like this for the sake of simply doing so. His whole life seems regimented and structured, so that for him to just stop and be looking would make even his horse think it odd. His horse is “little”; he cannot afford a top level animal, again indicating a lack of status. The “a farmhouse” reference indicates that the driver has some sort of menial job that involves going between farms, perhaps as a delivery person or a peddler. Frost would have used the words “the farmhouse” or “my farmhouse” if this were not so. “Between the woods and frozen lake” paints the picture of the aloneness and isolation that this man is feeling as he sits in the cold. His situation in life and his point of view regarding it, indeed make this, for him at that moment, the “darkest evening of the year.”

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Lines nine through twelve denote that the man’s responsibilities are calling him. It is the equivalent of “Hello! What are you thinking here? We have someplace to be right now.” It is not the horse asking the question; it is the individual himself, trying to snap himself out of what he is experiencing. He looks around for answers, but there are none, only the “sweep of easy wind and downy flake.” Not a cold, biting wind, an easy wind. Not a wet, stinging snow, rather it is a downy, soft floating snow. It is here, combined with the next line, that one gets the feeling that this man is contemplating ending his life, or at best, trying to escape his dull and unrewarding existence.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.” The woods are a metaphor for the afterlife; a release from the pressures the man yearns to escape. How easy it would be to just stay there forever, to not return to the tedious reality that waits for him. Then he snaps out of it. The word “But” tells us how he reluctantly gives in, almost surrendering to his fate. Frost could have used the word “yet” as in “Yet I have promises to keep.” “Yet” would have at least meant that the man felt that the promises were worth keeping, and that his family was worth all he went through for them. “But” points toward his hopelessness and what he sees as lack of courage to escape the life he despises. And he knows that the rest of his life will be the same monotonous routine until he finally does get any relief from death. The use of the same line twice drives home that point.