The poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”, by Robert Frost, is a short, yet intricate poem. What appears to be simple is not simple at all. What appears to be innocent is really not. The woods seem pristine and unimposing, however, they are described as being “dark and deep”, and it is the “darkest evening of the year”. He speaks of isolation, “between the woods and frozen lake” and of duty “But I have promises to keep”. And also, Frost’s usage of “sleep” easily implies death. Though this poem might come off at first to be nice and peaceful, however, that peace has an underlying menace.
In the first four lines of the poem, the speaker explains that he is trespassing on someone else’s land. He does not expect to be seen, because the owner lives in the village, nor does he want to be seen, because, besides being on someone else’s property, it would be out of character for him to be there. He is a man of the world who has promised his time to other people, so it seems unusual that he has stopped what he’s doing to watch the woods. He knows who owns which pieces of land, or thinks he does, and his speech has a sort of pleasant familiar-ness, as in just “stopping by.” The speaker says, “Whose woods these are, I think I know/ His house is in the village though.” He is unsure of the owner in the first line, and then in the second he says that the owner lives in the village. In the second line, he seems to say that it is a shame that the owner of the woods does not live in the woods, or that the owner should have a house in the woods. Also, the speaker makes it seem like the owner should be here with him, watching the scene of his woods in the snow.
In the next four lines, the speaker goes on to express the isolation of the woods and on the winter solstice, or “the darkest evening of the year”. The speaker lays the responsibility of saying that it is strange to be her on his little horse who “must think it queer”. The speaker is in isolation in the growing dark, yet he stops and stays in the lonely woods. The line, “between the woods and frozen lake” gives a sense of being trapped and having no escape. He is ensnared between the ever growing foreboding of the woods and an icy expanse that could prove deadly. Also, throughout history, the winter solstice has been a night of superstitions, of fear and loathing. It seems strange that with all of this, the man still desires to be alone in a dark wood when he has a long way to travel yet before he gets home. In a way, the speaker is intentionally isolating himself from society.
The next four lines just increase the feeling of loneliness and menace. Even the little pony knows that it is not safe to stand next to the dark woods. He has sense enough to know that they should be inside somewhere. The speaker goes on to say that the only other sound near that forest is the sound of the wind sweeping the snow around. Almost as if the sound of some woodland creatures would be welcome in the silent desolation of the forest. The phrase, “of easy wind and downy flake” seems happy or pleasant against the lonely background of the effacing snow.
The last four lines complete the emotion that the speaker is feeling. He says that though the dark woods are beautiful, and almost welcoming in a sinister way, he must keep going because he has obligations to people. It seems like he is speaking not only of staying by the woods, but of death. He has things to do, and promises to the people close to him, so he can’t die yet, though the darkness is welcoming. He repeats the line, “and miles to go before I sleep”, which again with the word “sleep” which is commonly used as a metaphor for death. The speaker simply cannot leave this plain of existence yet because he has miles to go yet before he will be ready for that trip.
This poem is beautifully worded and seems innocent at first glance, but in reality it speaks of a man’s conflict with his duty and his desire to be finished with his life. To some men, their responsibilities are the only things that give them meaning enough to go on with life, such as the man in this poem. Though the images of the “little horse” and “downy flakes” seem merry and nice, the contrasting images of “dark and deep woods” and the winter solstice show the poem for what it is. Robert Frost is one of the great poets. He makes the concept of death seem like a walk in a dark wood, and promises the only reason to live.