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Analysis of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 12/6/2012

Why would anybody stop in the snow and cold to stare at some trees? We'll find out in this an analysis of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."

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    Doing a Poetry Analysis

    An analysis of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening begins with reading the poem. It's short. Read it several times. That's what I did. Then I followed these step by step instructions:

    1. Print out the poem. Most poems can be found online. If you have a book you're allowed to write in, then write in it.
    2. Annotate the poem using the following steps:
      • Identify the rhyme scheme
      • Identify the meter and any examples of straying from the meter
      • If the poem is difficult, summarize each stanza
      • Circle important words, ambiguous words, and words you need to look up
      • Circle examples of figurative language
      • Write questions
      • Write down insights.
    3. Draw conclusions based on the information you gathered while annotating.
    4. Write the analysis. The following steps are for how to write a paragraph analysis:
      • The topic sentence should state the poem's theme (one that may not be so obvious).
      • The examples, facts, citations from the poem you're analyzing should support your topic sentence.
      • Provide analysis explaining how your facts support your topic sentence.
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    The Data

    snowy-frozen-branch 

    My annotated analysis of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" produced the following observations:

    1. Rhyme scheme: a a b a b b c b c c d c d d d d
    2. Meter = iambic tetrameter
    3. The rhyme scheme represents the ever-present hand of death reaching back to get us.
    4. The rhyme scheme jolts the reader: We are given a couplet to open each stanza and instinctively expect a couplet to end each stanza. Instead the stanza ends with an additional line of rhyme for the couplet. It's familiar, but not what we expect. Death, too, is familiar, but often comes unexpectedly.
    5. The poem takes place in the dead of winter as the speaker watches the "woods fill up with snow" (4).
    6. Nearby is a frozen lake (lifeless). It's the darkest evening of the year--death.
    7. The horse senses something amiss and shakes his bells, knocking the speaker and the reader out of a trance.
    8. Line 13 - "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep." Sounds inviting to the reader--the chance to rest eternally.
    9. lines 14-16 - The speaker realizes it's not his time to enter the woods. He has "promises to keep" (14), and "miles to go before I sleep" (16).
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    Sample Paragraph

    Feel free to disagree with my interpretation:

    In "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," Robert Frost contemplates death. The setting symbolizes death. There's a "frozen lake" nearby a woods filled up with snow on the "darkest evening of the year." The speaker is enchanted with the woods, death, and stops to ponder. The rhyme scheme, with one line of rhyme present in each preceding stanza, mirrors the thought of death reaching into the speaker's thought. Although the woods become inviting to the tired traveler, as death does for some, the speaker realizes he cannot yet stop and rest because of his "promises" (14). The last two lines seems to be a lament at what lies ahead--a long life without rest.

    Did you come up with something different? Let me know in the comments.

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    For an analysis of Robert Frost poems and others, check out the study guide on poetic devices or the study guide on sound devices in poetry.

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