On meeting Robert Frost in a snowy wood

I never much considered Robert Frost, that ubiquitous poet of school English texts. The sort of thing people think of when they think of poetry — pastoral, conventional in rigid rhyme and meter. Easy. Old-fashioned.


I came across him again in Turco’s Book of Forms:

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.

— ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost

And he thrilled something in me, old Robert Frost. Born in a time of war, coming of age in the Gilded Age, writing in the conventions of his time and place, oh this pretty picture of New England. A snowy wood on a winter evening. And yet.

And yet.

I’ve been in snow soaked woods in the dark of night, places where there is no ‘farmhouse near’ and they are not moments from Currier and Ives. They are dark, wild places where humanity is small and I feel the Fimbulwinter that awaits. Looking at the skeletal trees, the pines shrouded, and the world blanketed in white and silence, I imagine the end of the world and the heat death of the universe.

Robert Frost, with his little horse, thinking he’s crazy to stop here, in this lonesome place, this end of time place, this place of wolves and silence, he must have felt that too. The winter wood is not a pastoral place; it is not charming or idyllic. It is a savage place, a place that sleeps and dreams of death. And there is Robert Frost, longing to enter that wood, ‘lovely, dark and deep’.

Oh yes, that place of darkness in all its seductive power. And how easy it would be to ride his little horse into that dark. But he can’t. Not now. He has promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps.

Sometimes there is the right time for meeting someone. Meet them too early, and you don’t recognize them; you overlook them. When you meet them too late, the moment you could’ve fallen in love with them is already past. And I wonder, maybe, if I have met Robert Frost, again, at exactly the right time.

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