Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.
The woods in this poem are something to write home about. Our speaker can't get enough of them, telling us that "the woods are lovely, dark and deep" (13), as though he were hypnotized. The woods must be all that and a bag of chips, because our speaker is compelled to stop and stare at them on the freezing, dark winter evening. There's a mysterious element to these woods as well, and we get the sense that the speaker is not alone, even though he is very much by himself. Whenever we see woods in literature, we almost automatically see them in contrast to civilization. If you've read The Scarlet Letter, think about the woods Hester Prynne frequents. We also think of woods as being mazelike and full of hidden obstacles, like the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride (watch out for the Rodents Of Unusual Size and the quicksand). These are some pretty intense woods, so feel free to interpret them how you will. We will offer a few ideas below.
- Lines 1, 4, 7, 13: Some interpret the woods as an extended metaphor for death.
- Line 4: Here we see woods as a clear and crisp image as our speaker describes them filling up with snow.
The Natural World
Our speaker is digging the natural world. Picture him hanging out with his horse, between a frozen lake and the edge of the woods, while the snows falls gently all around him. The ideas of the village, of a farmhouse, or of the promises he must keep are not nearly as appetizing to our speaker as the cold beauty of the world around him. There's something very lulling about the "easy wind and downy flake" (12), and we get the sense that the natural world is pretty compelling and pretty good at convincing our speaker to forget about civilization. Nature is powerful in this poem.
- Lines 6-8: With these lines, we get a crystal clear image of the snowy woods and frozen lake at night.
- Line 11: We can almost hear the sound of the wind in the alliteration of "sound's the sweep."
- Line 13: While the fact that the woods are "lovely, dark and deep" might not seem visually helpful, this description actually helps us visualize the image of the woods even more clearly.
Alone as alone can be. That's our speaker on this snowy evening. Why then, do we feel like he's not alone? Is it his little horse that seems to have a mind of its own, is it the landowner who is snug in his cozy house in the cozy village, or is it the presence of something else entirely?
- Line 2: The "village" can be interpreted as a symbol for society and civilization.
- Line 5: Horses have thoughts? We knew it all along. The horse is personified in this line.
- Line 6: Farmhouses may not be the most hoppin' places in the world, but they do usually involve people. Because of this, the farmhouse that our speaker mentions seems like a symbol for society and civilization.
- Line 10: Giving his harness bells a shake, the horse is personified once more as he asks "if there is some mistake."
- Lines 15-16: "Sleep" is a solitary activity, no? In these lines, "sleep" could be interpreted as a metaphor for death.