The speaker in Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening" does seem to be considering ending it all, or perhaps is merely considering that it is an option. What's striking is that there are no references to strife or despair in the speaker's life, no hint of troubles that may be prompting such morbid reflection, only the alluring comfort of the soft, dark woods - eternal sleep. The speaker does not reveal the reason for being out and about on such a night - was there an urgent errand? Is it near the start or end of a journey? Why is he so weary? We don't know where the village fits in to the travel plans, if at all, nor his relationship with it, if any. These unknowns are worth considering.

Another unknown is the religious beliefs of the speaker. There are no hints in the text of the poem of an anticipated afterlife or fear of the damnation that is the fate of suicides in standard Christianity. Frost's religious background was Protestant. His mother was Presbyterian, Unitarians and Universalists made up his father's side.1  Frost's mother later became a Swedenborgian, even baptizing Robert as one.1  Unitarians are practically atheists; their religion is more a philosophy. Universalists reject the idea of hell and a wrathful God. Since his mother was originally Presbyterian, Frost may have been to their services, modeled loosely on the Catholic Mass, for family reasons from time to time, and perhaps absorbed some of their Calvinist ideas. Swedenborgianism is nominally Christian, though many regard it as Christian in the same sense that Mormonism is. Clearly Frost wouldn't have had a dogmatic indoctrination into a rigid belief system. A looser, more freeform, inward-looking spirituality would have been the road he traveled. Weddings and funeral observances in Frost's family were generally conducted by Unitarian ministers.1  Frost said he had been Swedenborgian, but was not any longer, describing his beliefs as "I am a mystic. I believe in symbols. I believe in change and in changing symbols."1  Considering that mental problems and instability were in evidence up and down the Frost family tree it is unsurprising he had some form of intensely personal relation to the numinous.2

When I studied this poem in high school, as legions do, Father Donat presented, naturally, a Catholic interpretation of it, with no mention of Frost's religion; that he was Christian was presumed. Frost probably didn't intend the religious overtones Fr. Donat saw, at least not to the same extent. The popularity of the poem means that it resonates for many people who have more traditional religion than the poet himself did, so the interpretation that follows, recalled vividly yet surely both embellished and diminished over 30 years, must be considered somewhat valid, insofar as beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


"Whose woods these are I think I know." - Ultimately, they are God's woods, in the concrete sense. Abstractly, the woods represent the afterlife, and the comfort found in God's presence.

"His house is in the village though;" - The village church, the most prominent building in a rural village, its center, God's house.

"He will not see me stopping here" - God sees all, so either this is a subtle joke or it indicates that the speaker is, in a sense, lost.

"To watch his woods fill up with snow." - The endless stream of those called to be with God, perhaps.


"My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near"
- Wouldn't the horse be more concerned about a stable? Or a manger? (Not interpretation, per se; my own musings.)

"Between the woods and frozen lake" - In Dante's Inferno, Satan is trapped in ice at the center of Hades, the destination of suicides. One would aim for the comforting woods yet end up elsewhere (as a barren tree with one's discarded skin draped upon the branches, according to Dante).

"The darkest evening of the year." - The darkness of the speaker's thoughts is an obvious image. Arguably, the darkest night of the year is the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, Dec. 21-22, mere days before the birth of Christ, who brings redemption.


"He gives his harness bells a shake" - The bells recall church bells, rung as a call to worship or to toll someone's passing.

"To ask if there is some mistake." - The mistake here would be the speaker's premature departure.

"The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake."
- God's gentle voice in the background and the steady, gentle, natural progression of life - the individual souls borne along.


"The woods are lovely, dark and deep." - Again with the comfort of eternal rest. A simple statement, the line is a complete sentence; the only other such line is the first.

"But I have promises to keep," - Responsibility - to others, to God, to self.

"And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. "
- There is much remaining to do, of course. The repetition of the line has a quality of chant or prayer, and evokes a re-dedication to carrying on according to God's plan.


1. - The Religious Sensibility of Robert Frost