Robert Frost (1874-1963)
The lake is almost frozen. It is now very dark. It is quiet, and there is only the sound of the wind on the flakes of snow. Because the traveler stops the horse in an unusual place, where there is no house nearby, the horse shakes its head, in the manner of asking if there is some mistake. Then the traveler becomes conscious that he has a long way to go before he gets home to sleep. “The wood are lovely, dark and deep”, but he has promises to keep. We do not know whether the promises were made with someone, or they are his own commitments, but anyway he cannot stop there: he must go.
Stopping by Wood on the Snowy Evening is a simple romantic poem on its surface. It is also a poem with levels of complex allegories. The journey in the poem is an allegory of the life journey and a spiritual journey besides being connotative of other more philosophical issues of life. The poem is simple in language but certain strange clues trigger off deeper meanings. The poem is remarkable in its chain-like rhyming scheme and its rhythm, too. The simple-looking statements are unusually underscored by the sudden change of tone.
On its literal level, the poem is “romantic” in subject and theme. The speaker is probably returning home and is crossing lovely woods on a pleasing evening. That makes him feel like stopping there and enjoying the beauty and quiet of the place. And the necessity to go ahead makes him regret that he has to go. We miss what we leave. The speaker romanticizes what are passing by: both time and pleasure. He is a typical romantic personal who enjoys what the owner of the woods does not. In this sense, the poem is romantic because of the speaker’s love of nature. His feelings are emotive the expression is spontaneous and simple.
However, the poem can be interpreted symbolically. At one of the symbolic levels, it is an allegory of life. The journey in the poem is symbolically man’s life journey. As in real life as a whole, the speaker cannot stop and enjoy what he likes, life goes on. The horse is like time. The speaker is going ahead and his ‘sleep’ may be the end of life.
Certain clues in the poem make us feel that even the life journey is not only of a simple life but the journey of a religious or spiritual life. The speaker is a religious man who has “promises to keep”. The lovely woods are not only beautiful but also dark. The darkness could be the connotation of ‘confusing’ evils on the way of the religious man. The attractions of the journey are wayside temptation of worldly life. The horse is his conscience or reason. The journey man must not fall a victim of ‘easy’ wind and comfortable looking downy flakes. Their softness is deceptive, for they are luring, cold, dark and evil. In this sense of the religious allegory or symbolism, the speaker is a kind of Everyman on his Christian journey, and he is resolved to go ahead after almost being tempted and stopped by the attractions of worldly pleasures.
At yet another level of possible interpretations, the poem is even more general and philosophical in its allegorical suggestions about life, time, and dedication to a goal or vocation, consciousness, and so on. Including the romantic theme, ‘life journey’ ideas and religious themes, these general suggestions can be called ‘philosophical’. The horse is the will power persistent in the subconscious of a man. The journey could be a vocation (profession) like poetry, art, academic, pursuit, personal ambition, a commitment to some ideal or other dedication. We all have promises of all sorts to keep. We have promises towards ourselves and towards others. We are unable to stop but flow with time.
In short, the poem is not only rich in meaning and word-game; it is also rich in music and expression. The word-game in the poem is so rich due to the central metaphor of ‘journey’ and ‘having to go’ miles before sleeping, and so it applies beautifully to many kinds of interpretations. The expression is simple and typically meditative. The music supports the mood and meaning of the poem very well.
Shrestha, Roma. "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 27 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/stopping-by-woods.html.