Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost: Explication
Throughout the Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Frost describes a brief moment in a journey home, and captures his mind state in that small instance. The speaker says “Whose wood these are I think I know”, and I think the key phrase here is “I think”. By keeping a slight uncertainty of ownership, Frost shows the speaker’s comfort in the woods yet still a moderate unfamiliarity. The sense of being alone and peaceful is continued when the speaker points out that the owner’s house is in the village, and he will not see “me stopping here”. The distance Frost creates from the village only bolsters the sense of being one with nature and quiet. The end of the first Stanza sums this sentiment up as Frost mentions how the “woods fill up with snow.” Snow evokes images of purity but also coldness, creating a slight sense of absurdity for stopping at this particular point in time and in the woods, but maintains the peaceful motif.
The second stanza introduces a second “character”: his horse. Frost is often criticised for being too pastoral, but the horse serves well to both add to the quiet nature of the poem, but also adds a sense of questioning. The horse adds to the quiet and placid nature of the poem by having the only other character be a silent animal acting as a man’s companion, also helping the sense of safety in this mildly familiar wood. More importantly, though, Frost uses the horse to check the speakers absurdity of stopping at such a place, at such a time. He allows the horse to think it is “queer” to stop in such a remote place on the “darkest evening of the year”. By having the speaker come to this realization through his horse, Frost maintains the sense that the speaker is at peace. Through the diction of “darkest” and “Frozen” Frost juxtaposes the negative connotations of winter with the speaker’s familiarity and comfort in the woods.
The third stanza further personifies the horse using words like “ask if there is some mistake”, to explain why the it shakes its bells. The shaking of the bells is also important because it is the only instance throughout the whole poem where sound is made. It is as though the horse is serving as a reminder that the speaker still has a journey to complete despite his sense of comfort in a place filled with “easy wind” and “downy flake”. In the fourth stanza the speaker uses the words “lovely, dark, and deep” to describe this place where he can take but a brief pause from his “promises to keep” . On his long journey home the woods serve as a break from the reality he is about to arrive in again. Despite all of the speakers peace in the woods he repeats the line “And miles to go before I sleep”, as if he is dosing off as he says the line and has to reassert that he in fact said it.
The overall poem creates a sentimental view of the woods and nature, even on the darkest day of the year. The horse serves as the speaker’s reminder that the real world is still waiting for him so that the speaker can resolve to continue his journey. Despite the fact that he must go home, though, the speaker still find a brief moment of comfort in the “lovely, dark, and deep” woods on a snowy evening.