What significance does the word ‘but’ have in the 14th line of the poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost?
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. / But I have promises to keep,”
Going by the allegorical meaning of the poem, the use of the word ‘BUT‘ in the quoted line above is really significant. It is used here to create a contrast between our expectation and realization, between fancy and reality. In another words, it highlights the popular adage ‘Man proposes, God disposes.’ We, the human beings, fancy everything according to the ideal situation in our mind, want to enjoy the beauty of this world. But when we look at the ground reality, we are often dejected.
Here, the preceding line ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep’ is very important in creating that fanciful state in our mind. And then comes the word ‘but’ to make a sharp decline. This is anti-climactic. The speaker’s hopes are ruined when he remembers that he has ‘promises to keep’. Here goes a sense of failure, futility and dejection. And all that has been possible for that very word ‘but‘.
‘But‘ in the second line reminds the poet that he must not remain there, for he has “promises to keep,” and a long journey ahead of him. He has a long way to travel before he rests. Here, the traveller, the journey and the sleep take symbolic implications. The traveller is a man on his great journey of life and sleep is the end of life or death, the eternal sleep. Hence, much against his keenness to stay there to indulge in the soothing sensation of the solitude, the poet carries on as he has to cover long distance in order to keep his promise.