Sunday, November 29, 2009

Before I sleep

Robert Frost wrote a poem much beloved of Nature-philes and English teachers: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” You may recall it from your school days—“Whose woods these are, I think I know….” The narrator sits in a sleigh far from home, watching his neighbor’s woods fill up with snow. The little horse pulling the sleigh “gives his harness bells a shake to ask if there is some mistake,” and we can almost hear the solitary jingle of those sleigh bells in the silent night. “The only other sound’s the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.”

Many a time I’ve stood in the forest on a dark snowy night, listening to nothing else but the whispered soughing of the wind in the trees and the slight padding, just below our conscious hearing, of snowflakes piling up. The experience, to the uninitiated, might seem fraught with loneliness. But… “the woods are lovely, dark and deep….”

Frost was not happy in his life of tending a farm to survive financially when all he really wanted to do was read literature and write great poems. I understand. Another season, another potato crop.... Eventually, though, the poet came to balance his time spent in subsistence and creativity and in fact to incorporate his passion for Nature and the outdoors with the workings of the pen.

What thought was in his mind on that night, “the darkest evening of the year,” as he sat watching the snow fall? Was he tossing around the beginnings of a new poem as he watched the trees become top heavy with snow, contemplating the image of birches, and how, when loaded with ice, they bend, “like girls … that throw their hair before them over their heads to dry in the sun”? Or did he muse upon the idea that “promises” kept him from what he would really like to do if unfettered? Or did he simply celebrate, finally, the passing of the solstice, as I will in 22 days, knowing that more light each day means more time outdoors?

“The woods are lovely….” Thankfully, in these days of disappearing sunlight, the trees retain their statuesque beauty. Indeed, that beauty is only enhanced when draped with the diamonds of ice crystals or robed in a soft pelt of powder snow. I, too, have promises to keep, and will attend to them… after a walk in the woods. If only I had the horse and sleigh….


  1. This is lovely. Thank you for allowing me to start the day with such beautiful words and images. Libby

  2. I remember when we had to memorize this poem for your class, among many others poems too! And also, I think I painted the birches trees for one of your assignments :D

    I miss your classes!