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

Subject: Literature
Pages: 4
Words: 920
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College

Literary pieces have always tempted both esteemed critics and layman audience to seek interpretations of their meaning. Robert Frost’s poems are some of the most widely discussed pieces. One of the most notorious poems by Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Day,” has gained excessive attention both on the part of the audience and critics. Some may think that the theme of the piece is associated with death since the setting is gloomy and sinister since the narrator is passing through a dark forest on a cold winter night. However, it seems unreasonable to relate this poem to such a sad and pessimistic subject. After all, the man is happy to make a stop there; he is awed by nature’s beauty so much that he does not mind making a pause in his exhausting and lengthy trip. The purpose of the present paper is to perform a thorough analysis of the poem at different levels in order to explain what meaning rather than death it might have. Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” raises some important questions, but death does not seem to be one of them.

Probably the most viable reason why Frost’s poem has been associated with the concept of death is the setting selected by the author. The narrator is all alone (not counting the horse) in a dark wood, far away from home. The narrator supposedly knows the owner of the woods, for he says, “Whose woods these are I think I know” (Frost 1). However, he still decides to stay and watch the beauty of nature, believing that the owner will not notice him “stopping there” (Frost 3) since he lives “in the village” (Frost 2). Hence, the first notion that is likely to be attached to the idea of the death theme is that the person is trespassing, thus, not being afraid to be punished. This feeling of excessive bravery in the place where one is supposed to be worried creates a faulty idea that he is also not afraid to die.

Another probable explanation of why the death theme is raised in relation to the poem is the time of the day and year. The narrator mentions that it is the “darkest evening of the year” (Frost 8). Such a gloomy atmosphere might make one think about the inevitability of death since the darkest evening of the year is December, 21. Thus, it is both murky and cold, and the narrator is far from the warmth of his home. However, the lines “But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep” offer a direct opposition to the opinion about the narrator’s inclination to die or the possibility of dying (Frost 14-15). The man has merely stopped to marvel at nature, but he does not look like wanting to stay there, get frozen, and lose the possibility of seeing magnificent landscapes and natural elements ever again. He feels responsible for the people waiting for him to return. Most likely, they are his family members who rely on him as a breadwinner.

The other possible explanation of why one might have noticed the looming death in the poem is that the narrator’s horse is surprised by the unplanned stop in an unknown place. As Frost puts it, “My little horse must think it queer / To stop without a farmhouse near” (5). Furthermore, the whole picture is rather silent, the only sounds being the horse’s harness bells and “the sweep / Of easy wind and downy flake” (Frost 11-12). Such quietness may indeed look sinister, but not when taking the whole picture created by the poet into consideration. It is easy to perceive the literary piece as an ode to natural beauty in general and winter in particular. The narrator is sorry that he cannot remain and keep gazing at the picturesque trees under glistening snow. As he says, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, / But I have promises to keep” (Frost 13-14). Hence, he gives the last wistful look at the picture that caught his attention and resumes the journey. Although snow symbolizes cold and danger in the form of getting frozen, there is also another side to it. The color of snow is white, which personifies purity and innocence, as well as hope and glory. The narrator does not say that it is too cold or dangerous in the woods. Instead, he mentions that it is “lovely” (Frost 13) there, and he cannot but stop and watch the “woods fill up with snow” (Frost 4). Therefore, even though much attention is paid to the horse’s surprise at their stop, there is no evidence that the narrator is thinking of anything but the beauty and serenity of nature.

Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” raises several crucial questions. These include the person’s attitude to nature, the ability of a simple working man to stop and marvel at a picturesque landscape, and one’s spiritual connection to beauty. Most of all, a person’s need to make a pause in a hasty lifestyle and simply gaze at nature for a while is emphasized. Despite the persistent opinion concerning the presence of the death theme in Frost’s poem, it does not seem to be valid. The picturesque wood is not menacing but beautiful, and the dusk is not scary but nostalgic and adventurous. Therefore, Frost’s poem should be viewed as a hymn to beauty and one’s ability to notice and cherish it.

Work Cited

Frost, Robert. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web.