This phrase appears in the two last lines of Robert Frost’s simple poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The speaker in the poem repeatedly utters it in the fourth stanza of the poem, indicating that the phrase is very important. The speaker says as, “But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.” The poet intends this phrase to have literal meanings by stating that the speaker is traveling, needs to cover some distance before getting back home.
The speaker is away from his home, where he feels that he needs to repeat this fact to himself that he has miles to reach home. However, symbolically the word “sleep” suggests death and darkness. Hence, this line refers to a long journey ahead before the speaker could go to eternal sleep of death, or it simply proposes that speaker has many responsibilities to fulfill before sleeping or dying.
This phrase is used in almost every walk of life, including literature, businesses, politics and everyday life, etc. For instance, an old man can say to his children to show that he has much more to do for them before he dies. A businessman can alludes to his business to his workers that he has to do much to give them some bonus. A military strategist can allude this to his troops to urge them to complete the mission before they could sleep.
This is a very famous phrase used by Robert Frost in the last stanza of his poem, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” In the lines 15 and 16, this phrase points towards the realization of speaker regarding his duties and responsibilities to fulfill before going to sleep, which he mentions as,
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.
(Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Lines 15-16)
The traveler in this poem enters into a remote area where weather is soothing, scene is bewitching where he wants to stay for a while. However, he needs to continue this journey to fulfill his promises.
The theme of this phrase is about affirming a path of life, and fulfilling promises. Some critics of Frost have suggested that this poem has a secret death wish, though the mentioning of dying soon does not mean that speaker wishes to die. Mostly we, at one time or another are struck with a realization that we will die one day. Figuratively, Frost has not used this phrase to suggest his death wish, but quite the reverse, he has assure himself, for he has more years of life to fulfill obligations. It could also suggest that narrator is falling asleep slowly, knows his responsibilities and obligations at home, yet unable to defy a peaceful lull in the drifting snow.
- Tone: Calm, dreamy and soothing
- Metaphor: “Miles to go” is a metaphor for continuing journey of life, and “sleep” is a metaphor of death.