Today’s poem is very suitable for these cold & dreary January days. It reads quite easily, but the interpretation is less straightforward and can be quite bleak.

CW: suicide

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

On the surface, the poem is a simple anecdote about someone who goes for a sleigh ride in the snow and is tempted to stop for a moment in the woods but then remembers all of their previous commitments and goes back home.

Sinister interpretation

Personally, I have always read this poem as being quite dark. The woods are described to be ‘lovely, dark and deep’, they are beckoning and tempting the narrator. They are quiet and restful, like deep sleep or oblivion. To lie down in the woods with the snow falling will almost certainly lead to death.

‘The darkest evening of the year’ could be a metaphor for depression, or another moment in which life is at its toughest, thus making the oblivion of the woods extra appealing.

The narrator’s horse, however, rouses him from his thoughts and brings him back to the present moment, in which he realises that he has ‘promises to keep’, such as a duty to his loved ones to stay alive. Moreover, he has ‘miles to go before he sleeps’, referring to all the things he still wants to, or feels that he has to do before he can give in to his urge to go into the woods and potentially die there.

On A Happier Note

Naturally, we don’t *have* to read the poem as something so dark. We can also argue that the temptation of the beauty of the snowy woods is enough to make the narrator pause and that he really only wants to ‘watch [the] woods fill up with snow’.

Other interpretations include seeing the woods as something wild and natural and the village as society or civilisation. The narrator describes how he is torn between an urge to be free and wild and his commitment to the other people in the village.

As always, a poem is what you make of it.

What do you think?

Is this a poem about death/ suicide or about the beauty of still, snowy woods? Or both? Should we even be digging this deeply into a simple anecdote?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

10 thoughts on “A Dark Poem by Robert Frost | Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

  1. Agree with you Emmie, it’s both of your main interpretations simultaneously, plus the other possibilities – as you say, that’s what makes this deceptively simple poem so haunting. It’s also a wonderfully sharp conjuration of being in a moment and a place, almost a kinaesthetic experience where sound and the other senses blend – how can one experience the cold, the sound of the bridle bells, the sense of emptiness and space, simply from words? Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your interpretation, as dark and sad as it is. I’ve always thought of this poem as the division between the expectations society and duty place on us and the things we truly want to do. The woods could represent the wildness of escape, but we have so much work to do to maintain our obligations. Yes, the woods belong to someone in the village but that doesn’t stop the siren song of throwing away our obligations and running off. Only until the horse reminds us that we cannot stop to dream or dally — people are relying on us — do we refocus and move on.

    Fun post! Thanks for asking for our thoughts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I can also really see this as an interpretation. It is amazing how well the push and pull is portrayed in the poem, even though it sounds so simple. Thank you for replying! I loved reading your thoughts 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In the 1950’s, I believe it was, Robert Frost was asked about this poem, if it was about reincarnation, or this thing, or that interpretation, and his answer was, when he wrote this he was remembering that he was very cold and miserable in that sleigh and still had a long way to go before he got home to a warm fire. It meant just what it said.
    Being a writer, artist and poet myself, I believe that “interpreting” someone’s work is to aggrandize the interpreter, not simply enjoy the artists gift. People who assume they know another persons “intent” or thoughts are fools.


  4. This became my favorite poem when I learned it 50 years ago in 4th grade. As I’m home schooling, I am teaching my grandkids that poetry is like paintings–open to interpretation. The authors know and expect this, I am sure, or else they would have included a footnote if it meant that much to them. The beauty of both poetry and paintings is the personal interpretation of the reader. There is no way that a reader or observer could give a definitive interpretation, which is why we say “I think…” or “To me…” As a writer and artist I thoroughly appreciate the perspective of others. Thank you for yours! What fun!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. In the 40’s or so, Robert Frost was secretly in an audience at a symposium discussing his poems. When they started the similar interpretations (as above) on his poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”, Robert Frost stood up in the audience and told these self appointed experts that he was going home on a very frigid night; he was cold and wet and miserable, but the scenery was beautiful, so he stopped a moment to admire it. He then decided he was too cold and he was tired to linger hence, “…the woods are dark and deep BUT I have miles to go before I sleep,…”
    There are always these self appointed “experts” that think they know the minds of an artist. I have even had some of my stories misinterpreted without so much as anyone bothering to ASK, “What did you mean by this?”
    Just morons trying to look smarter than they are at the expense of the artist.


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