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.
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.
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!