Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is a mysteriously impactful piece that goes beyond the literary meaning. Although written in simple language, Frost’s creative use of literary devices, including symbolism, personification, imagery, and foreshadowing throughout the poem, offers a deep meaning. Moreover, through these devices, Frost communicates significant themes such as isolation, nature’s idyllic lure, and responsibility. Therefore, the literary devices the poet incorporates aid in the analysis and give bearing on the poem’s deeper meaning, especially life and death.
Personification in poetry refers to attributing human characteristics or traits and emotions to animals, phenomena, and inanimate objects. The device is considered a type of figurative language that helps readers develop relatability, understand abstract ideas, and enhance visualization. The poet writes in lines nine and ten in the third stanza, “He gives his harness bells a shake/ To ask if there is some mistake” (9-10).
Here, the persona’s horse is personified when he questions why they stop by shaking its harness bells, presenting the horse as a human who understands his owner and enjoys a close relationship with him. Many readers are likely to make a personal connection with this personification.
For instance, pet or animal owners are likely to relate to this situation, and how they communicate with the animals they consider significant companions. Therefore, Frost’s use of personification allows the three effects on readers because it engages imagery that helps develop imagination, making it easy for them to create a personal connection with the events described in the poem.
Frost also uses symbolism, a figurative language that improves literary meaning with symbolic meaning. Symbolism in poetry or other literary works is used to represent ideas since symbols align with the overall theme and tone of the poem. Frost’s poem comprises signs and events that symbolize or indicate different things.
The poem has an ambiguity where images, sounds, and words appeal to readers who are likely to regard it as no more than the narration about a serene winter that features a rider, a horse, snowy woods, a farmhouse, and a village. However, most of these objects have a deeper meaning: the farmhouse and village symbolize civilization and society, and the horse represents responsibilities or duty towards his family and companionship.
While nature’s tranquility tempts the persona to stay, his duty to his family compels him to continue with the journey where he encounters the darkest evenings and the frozen lake, symbolic of the obstacles and difficulties like despair. The poem is also considered an overall symbol of life as a journey before death. The idyllic lure in the woods, the frozen lake, and the darkest evenings are the bitter and sweet moments humans endure before they die. Overall, Frost uses symbolism generously to represent specific ideas and align them with themes like responsibility, life and death, and nature.
The poet also uses imagery, which applies poetry elements and the five senses to develop a set of mental images. Precisely, imagery is the application of figurative or vivid language to represent actions, objects, or ideas to appeal to the readers’ imagination and senses through vibrant descriptions. Visual images Frost uses include the lake, house, and woods. The persona’s description of the wood as ‘lovely’ and nature’s allure that almost tempts him to neglect his duty help the readers to view the woods as a source of comfort and peace in an arduous journey for a lonely traveler.
In this case, the persona uses visual imagery, which appeals to the sense of sight by describing what characters and scenes look like. Frost also applies auditory imagery in line one of stanza three. Frost writes, “He gives his harness bells a shake” (9). Auditory imagery describes the sounds in a story or poem and appeals to the sense of hearing. The reader is likely to imagine the sound of the harness bell ringing. Therefore, through various types of imagery, Frost sends the readers a series of cues that direct their attention to what events in the poem mean because they create a context and background for comprehension.
Foreshadowing or premonition is a literary device writers use to hint to the readers about what happens next. Poets and authors may use allusion, mood change, prominent or obscure plot events, or dialogue to craft foreshadowing and encourage readers to continue reading to see how events unfold. In Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Frost uses obscure plot events to create foreshadowing and keep the reader engaged.
The poem features this device in stanza two, lines two, three, and four. Frost writes, “To stop without a farmhouse near/ Between the woods and frozen lake/ The darkest evening of the year (6-8). The sudden stop, the use of ‘frozen’ instead of cold, and the emphasis on how dark this evening is may be a foreboding of lurking danger, which motivates the reader to read on to know what happens to the traveler and his horse. Additionally, foreshadowing in his case creates discomfort and uneasiness for the reader, who acknowledges that the persona has stopped in a snowy and wooded area with no civilization around, which creates fretfulness and worry.
Some readers may deny that Frost’s poem has nothing to do with death, thus refuting a deeper meaning of life and death due to its ambiguity. Ambreen et al., for instance argue that Frost uses literary devices to show readers the duties and responsibilities everyone has towards nature (26).
Additionally, the contrary opinion may argue that the poem captures the existing conflicts between nature and man particularly daily human wishes and obligations in life, since the persona desires the potential peace the woods can provide and almost neglects what is expected of him. In the woods, the persona can escape the daily stress in his social life but is pulled back by the reality of his responsibilities, hence signifies the boundaries and limits humans face in life.
Conclusively, Life is considered a journey full of ups and downs, and the final destination is death. The literary devices Frost uses not only communicate the major themes but also provide a bearing on the poem’s deeper meaning: life and death. Personification helps readers relate to the events, symbolism represents specific ideas, imagery appeals to the readers’ imagination, and foreshadowing keeps them engaged. While the poem’s ambiguity may oppose a deeper meaning, the devices create a mysterious atmosphere, which suggests that something clandestine is unfolding.
Ambreen, Tehmina, et al. “ANALYSIS OF STYLISTIC DEVICES IN ROBERT FROST’S POEM, STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING.” PalArch’s Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology 17.15 (2020): 25-33.
Frost, Robert. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Irwin Limited, 1978.