• Apr, 15, 2021

Stopping by Woods by Robert Frost | How the Poet Achieves His Effect

Updated June 15, 2021

This poem is fascinating to me. It appears to be a simple poem, but actually, the rhyme scheme is very sophisticated. It is thought to be borrowed from a translation from the ancient Persian poem the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam and the translation by Edward FitzGerald preserved this very, very interesting rhyme scheme.

Ostensibly it is a simple poem about a man stopping by the woods–his horse is there–he looks into the woods and sees them filling with snow… But there is a very interesting transition in the last stanza, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep…” Well, is he just saying, “these woods are lovely, I would like to stay here a bit longer?” Or is he thinking something a bit darker? You can decide for yourself, or check out my full commentary in the video below. I will say, this last stanza has certainly influenced my thinking, especially as it relates to some of my patients.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, By Robert Frost

ForestWhose 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.

How the Poet Achieves His Effect


Robert Frost in 1941

The structure of the poem is simple: Four stanzas for four lines each. The rhythm is relatively straightforward — iambic tetrameter: four feet per line, each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one — and seems to echo the rhythm of the horse’s hoof steps as he makes his way along the country road (Clip-Clóp, Clip-Clóp, Clip-Clóp, Clip-Clóp).

The rhyme scheme is captivating and unusual (AABA; BBCB, CCDC; DDDD). Apparently, the poet modeled it after the poet Edward Fitzgerald, who famously translated “The Rubáiát” of Omar Kháyyam, the twelfth-century Persian poet and mathematician, who used the same rhyme scheme. The penultimate line is repeated for emphasis.

Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. Reading & Commentary


Poetry-RxFor those of you interested in learning more about how poetry can heal and inspire–Poetry Rx is available on Amazon.

Related Reading

For additional analysis on this poem please see, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening | Analysis, Meaning, & Summary.

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