Miles to Go Before I Sleep - Meaning, Origin, and Usage (2024)

Origin of Miles to Go Before I Sleep

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, “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, and needs to cover some distance before getting back home.

Meaning of Miles to Go Before I Sleep

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 the speaker has many responsibilities to fulfill before sleeping or dying.

Usage of Miles to Go Before I Sleep

This phrase is used in almost every walk of life, including literature, business, politics, and everyday life. For instance, an old man can say this to his children to show that he has much more to do for them before he dies. A businessman can allude to his business and 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.

Literary Source of Miles to Go Before I 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 the speaker regarding his duties and responsibilities to fulfill before going to sleep. He says:

“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 the weather is soothing, the scenery is bewitching, making him want to stay for a while. However, the speaker needs to continue this journey to fulfill his promises.

Literary Analysis of Miles to Go Before I Sleep

The theme of this phrase is about affirming a path of life, and fulfilling promises. Some critics of Frost have suggested that this poem expresses a secret death wish, though the mentioning of dying soon does not mean that the speaker wishes to die. Mostly we all, 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 a death wish, but quite the reverse – he has assured himself, for he has more years of life to fulfill obligations. It could also suggest that the narrator is falling asleep slowly, knows his responsibilities and obligations at home, yet is unable to defy a peaceful lull in the drifting snow.

Literary Devices

  • Metaphor: “Miles to go” is a metaphor for continuing journey of life, and “sleep” is a metaphor of death.
  • Tone: Calm, dreamy and soothing

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Miles to Go Before I Sleep - Meaning, Origin, and Usage (2024)


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