I absolutely cannot divulge my favorite poetry without including something by Robert Frost as we continue to celebrate National Poetry Month. Perhaps one of the most-studied American poets in language classrooms ranging from middle school to University, Frost is renowned for his contemplative depictions of philosophy often conveyed through beautifully-laced words bringing forth life to rural settings and situations.
Born in California in 1874, Frost later moved to Massachusetts, the origin of his ancestors. He greatly relished New England life and locale and often incorporated them into his writing, giving him recognition as a regionalist poet of the North Eastern United States. Frost did not encounter exclusive success as a poet in his early years, and he made his living as a teacher. He would continue on, after his works began appearing in literary magazines and undergoing critical reviews nation-wide, to receive a total of four Pulitzer Prizes for his work across his lifetime, as well as much-deserved recognition. While Frost’s style of writing could be comparable to Walt Whitman’s convention of free verse, and Emily Dickenson’s movement of experimental verse, his writing is a culmination of the traditional and his own personal style.
His most well-known poem, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” happens to be my most beloved of Frost’s collection.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
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.
I resonate with this poem for one simple reason: it gives me nostalgia for experiences I had in my youth. Stanza one presents a quaint picture of the speaker pausing on his horse-drawn passage through a forest mid-winter. Stanza two gives us more context for the environment, that these woods are sparsely-populated, no farmhouses in the vicinity. Likely in the heart of winter, everything is frozen over, the trees, the nearby lake, and “the darkest evening of the year” indicates the tenebrosity of the evening. Stanza three highlights the impatience of the horse as the speaker is paused here in reflection, perhaps indicative of not being accustomed to such silence offered by the woods. “Easy wind” and “downy flake” are the only slight sounds observed by the speaker, and either of those are soft, pleasant sounds. Finally, in stanza four, the speaker shows his admiration for the peaceful depth of the woods, observing that they are “lovely, dark, and deep”; however, he also recognizes that he has much to do and must continue on his journey. Ultimately, I see this poem as a momentary pause in the mundane daily tasks and responsibilities of life, giving oneself that time to stop and reflect in a moment of clarity the world in which one is surrounded. In many criticisms, the dark and deep woods are a metaphor for death, the speaker having been called away from the temptation of sweet eternal rest with the reminder that his responsibilities await him. Regardless of any interpretations, I have always admired and been drawn to this poem because I, too, have had my own experiences in the lovely, dark, and deep woods as they filled with snow.
Nearly everyone, or at least every person in existence who thinks and feels, has had their moments of angst and existential awareness. As a teenager developing an identity, and as a young adult trying to understand life, I admit I’ve had those moments of just trying to just figure stuff out! I can recall many long walks in the woods of my childhood home, seventeen acres of forest to explore and enjoy. I have been out in the woods at the heart of winter at the midnight hour, crunching lightly through inches of fallen snow, the cold luminescence of the moon being my only source of light as it filtered through bare branches. The memory of these excursions is one of the most peaceful recollections I have over my 33 years of living. It’s almost otherworldly, and in those moments I felt a kinship with the speaker of Frost’s poem as he paused, taking that moment to not consider his responsibilities, to not consider his worries, to not consider the world’s troubles, but to simply consider the tranquility and beauty of that moment.
Click here for more poems by Robert Frost.