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Maurice’s story: ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ Monday, 21 December 2009

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.

My favourite poem is the American poet Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. I love Frost’s directness and his wisdom. For a short time he was a farmer in New Hampshire and much of his early poetry has a rural setting.

I first read this little poem while teaching Frost and searching for something short and memorable as an introduction. I loved the feel of it: the woods filling with snow, the man stopping in his neighbour’s woods, a little anxious that such an action with no practical purpose might cause suspicion. But he is beguiled by the beauty of the moment to watch the woods “fill up with snow”. Such a direct description and yet it captures what is happening perfectly. I also loved the idea of his horse shaking his harness bells “to ask if there is some mistake.” Not only a practical man but a practical horse too! The gentle beauty of the poem is like the snow it seems to me – it fills up spaces in the soul where harshness lies. The final few lines are also so memorable as worldy responsibilities and good sense reassert themselves. He can’t linger long for he has “promises to keep” and his life calls. As his horse is encouraged to trot on, its pace is captured in the repeated last lines -“And miles to go before I sleep.” you can hear the rhythm of the horse’s hooves.

I don’t spend time memorising poems but I learned this one through love I suppose. That’s the best way to learn any poem I think.

Years after I stopped teaching, my son sent me a funny postcard which was a spoof of this poem. I asked him why he’d sent me it and he told me it was his favourite poem. You know, I have no recollection of ever telling him about this poem. Spooky or what. “Stopping by Woods…” is hereditary!


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