Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
“And miles to go before I sleep.”
The last line (well, two lines, as it’s repeated) are among the best-known of Frost’s poetry and have found a place as common reference in North American culture, used particularly as eulogy. Parts of the poem were used in reports on the death of John F. Kennedy, and in the funeral of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. It’s a simple little poem, like so much of Robert Frost’s work, and one that best represents the poet’s ability to capture quiet moments of daily life, the emotional states they inspire, and the calm individual reflections that touch on universal experience.
A four-time Pulitzer winner, Robert Frost became one of the most accessible, most widely-read, and best-loved of American poets. Most of his work – “Stopping by Woods…” included – uses classical, familiar poetic forms to give voice to the common and the everyday, producing a verse that is made for recitation and memorization. Where the major trajectory of twentieth century English-language poetry was to break with form in order to give greater room for symbol or greater ease of narrative, Frost largely held to verse as a means of communicating his reflections. Poetry to be read aloud. Poetry to be intoned. Poetry to be remembered. Combine this with his preferred themes of rural life, simplicity, neighbours and work and animals and the natural world, and you get something almost quaint. But not insipid dime-store quaint. Quiet. Timeless. Alone. Calm. Fleeting and permanent, solitary and universal. Robert Frost’s poetry is not poetry to read and ponder. It’s poetry to pass on, to share, and also poetry to mutter to oneself over a hot drink.
Read it aloud.
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.