Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a poem that, at first glance, seems to simply describe the author’s journey through the woods. The poem’s language is uncomplicated and the rhyme scheme flows smoothly. Also, the subject matter is easily relatable to the audience; the poem speaks of things such as woods, snow, and a horse, which any reader can identify with or visualize. These qualities make it easy for the reader to take this piece at face value without reading into what the words mean rather than just what they say.
Upon taking a closer look, however, the poem is undoubtedly the author’s memento mori. This becomes evident at the end of the poem, where there is an interruption in the flow of the language that elicits reconsideration of the poem’s facade of simplicity. Up until the last stanza, all the lines run seamlessly together. Then, the first two lines of the last stanza read “The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep. ” What causes the reader to consider a second look at these two lines is the word “but. This word usually signals to the reader that what follows is in contradiction to what precedes it; however, in this case the second line does not contrast the first.
Therefore, the reader must search for what is being contrasted. The author is not merely commenting on the “lovely, dark and deep” woods, but is contemplating something. To better understand what is being contemplated, a broader look at the poem is necessary. The first stanza the author writes, “He will not see me stopping here/ To watch his woods fill up with snow. This implies that the author is thinking about spending a considerable amount of time in these woods, which would be necessary to watch them fill with snow. The second stanza says that this snowy evening is “The darkest evening of the year. ” It is possible that it means literally dark; however, it is more likely that the author is figuratively speaking as to say his darkest, or most depressing, evening. The third stanza speaks of “downy flake,” which invokes images of soft down, commonly used as a pillow filling.
The last two lines of the poem mention “miles to go before I sleep,” in which “sleep” is a euphemism for death. These six lines, when examined together, imply that the author is depressed and considering these woods as a final resting place. The author’s thought of spending much time, in this case eternity, in the woods using the downy flake to rest his head upon can be interpreted as his contemplation of memento mori. This brings the reader back to the word “but. ” What is the author contrasting when he states that he has “promises to keep? The author is saying that although these woods are “lovely, dark and deep” and would make an ideal final resting place upon death, there are “miles to go,” or more life to live before the journey of life ends. After reflecting on one simple word, “but,” which leads to an examination of the piece as a whole, it is evident that the this poem is the author’s memento mori in which mortality is contemplated and a final resting place is considered while stopping by woods on a snowy evening.