One of Robert Frost’s most famous poems, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” first appeared in the collection New Hampshire (1923). At first glance, it’s a picturesque poem about a man taking a moment to appreciate natural beauty. At second glance, it points to something darker and deeper. As critic John T. Ogilvie wrote in 1959:
What appears to be “simple” is shown to be not really simple, what appears to be innocent not really innocent….The ascription of “lovely” to this scene of desolate woods, effacing snow, and black night complicates rather than alleviates the mood when we consider how pervasive are the connotations of dangerous isolation and menacing death.
The structure is a work of art in itself. It is seemingly simple and perfectly symmetrical, comprising four four-lined stanzas or quatrains. The lines themselves comprise four iambic tetrameters, that is four metrical feet or iambs per line, where a iamb is made up of one unstressed followed by one stressed syllable.
The rhyme scheme, however, is startlingly clever. In stanza one the pattern is AABA. Stanza two picks up the ‘odd line out’ and sets it as the initiating rhyme, so the rhyme is BBCB. The next stanza is CCDC. Finally, the last stanza is DDDD; a neat and satisfying conclusion.
In throughout the poem Frost alternates between the human and natural world, contrasting the spiritual and dangerous nature of his experience with reality.
Why did Robert Frost choose this structure? We can speculate that, perhaps, he was signalling that a straightforward, simple surface masks deeper complexity.