Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening Summary

Robert Frost

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

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Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening Summary

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Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was published in 1923. The poem, sixteen lines long, and explores themes such as the return to nature, beauty, and duty. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which means that there are eight syllables in each line—four pairs of two (hence the prefix tetra-). Iambic means that each pair of syllables contains an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Iambic rhythm is common in poetry written in English as it most closely mimics the natural rhythm in which the language is spoken. In poetry, whenever a line does not conform to the rhythm and meter, it is usually a hint that the meaning of that line should be granted extra weight. The poem uses a rhyme scheme, or pattern, to create a musical feeling when reading the poem aloud. In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Frost uses the pattern aaba bbcb ccdc

dddd. In this pattern, each letter represents one of the sixteen lines, and more specifically, the rhyme pattern at the end of each one.

The opening line of this poem provides the setting and intention. It is winter, and snow is falling. The speaker is in the woods. The woods belong to someone else, but as that person is elsewhere, he will not mind the speaker stopping to observe the snowfall. Moving through the first stanza, the reader may be tempted to think the poem simply a celebration of nature. After all, the speaker has no reason to stop other than to marvel at the beauty and silence of the snowfall. However, line eight brings some darkness into the poem, and with reference to the frozen lake, cold settles into Frost’s words.

Sounds, particularly quiet or silent sounds, are the focus of the next four lines. The speaker hears his horse’s sleigh bells and the wind, but the wind is subtle. Even the alliteration—or repeated use of a sound such as “s” in “sound’s” and “sweep”—suggests a quiet hush while evoking the essence of the wind whispering through the speaker’s surroundings.

The next two lines pull the focus away from simply observing nature and back onto the speaker, who wants to explore the woods further. However, his obligations prevent him from venturing into the woods because they are deep and dark—potentially dangerous. He might get lost or meet with some worse fate that would make it impossible to fulfill those obligations. Here the reader gets the first sense of the speaker’s responsibilities. He cannot abandon those who rely on him to do as he wishes, to enjoy the beauty of nature.

The last two lines of the poem repeat, marking them as important, not only because they’re the last two lines, but because they repeat, emphasizing the idea. For the speaker, there is much to do in life before he can allow himself to die. The miles to go are figurative as well as literal, and sleep is eternal. What his obligations or duties are, the reader does not know. They might be specific, or they might imply all the speaker has yet to do before succumbing to the peaceful quiet of death.

In analyzing the poem, one should consider the impact of the 1920s on society. The “roar” had already begun when this poem was published in the early 1920s. Life was moving at a breakneck pace compared to before World War I, and industry was encroaching on nature. People revered and feared nature in equal measure, as shown by this poem; the speaker wants to explore the woods but is deterred because the dark is dangerous.

In addition to industry’s destruction of nature, there was the concern that industry—mainly working in a factory—would destroy the soul. As men, women, and children gave their full days to working in squalid conditions, industry flourished, profiting from imposing poor working conditions and low wages. Many scholars suggest that the miles to go before the speaker can sleep refers to the strain of industry on the worker as well as on nature, perhaps because the speaker seems to prefer the idea of death, but feels obligated to keep on living for a long while before enjoying that silent, permanent return to nature.

Robert Frost was hailed as one of the foremost poets of the twentieth century, and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one of his most celebrated poems.