A week ago, we had one of our few snowfalls of this winter. Not a lot of snow fell, but the panorama of white flakes and overcast inspired me to walk around the house with a cup of tea reciting one of my favorite poems, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. I memorized it for a sixth-grade assignment. (I don’t recall the teacher’s name, but I remember the inspiration he was to me.)
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.
His horse, like some people, who might think my day-dreaming a waste of time, didn’t understand.
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 final stanza of the poem kept repeating in my head.
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.
Then, a brain neuron synapse brought another poem to mind--Trees by Joyce Kilmer. During my senior year, my high school English teacher challenged the class to analyze that poem—its figures of speech, imagery, etc.
I praised the dickens out of the poem. It’d been turned into a song, for goodness sake. The stanza “A tree that may in summer wear/a nest of robins in her hair” might be an image Walt Disney would have used in a magical forest animation. I’m a tree-hugger—literally. That image of a tree proudly displaying nests of baby robins among its leaves still appeals to me.
Ah, but the teacher trashed my glowing critique. “It’s very rhythmic,” he said, “but the metaphor doesn’t work. Are the leaves hair on the tree’s head adorned with nests, or are they green growth on her arms? (‘A tree that looks at God all day,/And lifts her leafy arms to pray;’)Why is her bosom above her mouth?” (‘A tree whose hungry mouth is prest/Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;’ vs. ‘Upon whose bosom snow has lain;/Who intimately lives with rain.’) He had others.
I didn’t take it as a personal attack—in this introductory lesson most of the students missed the mixed metaphors. I couldn’t believe, though, that I had taken the poem’s merits for granted because it was famous. For me, the lesson opened a new world of literary appreciation. I read widely, with an eye to appreciating literary devices. I write with an eye to never mixing metaphors. Ha.
My reveries that morning took me back and helped me appreciate my mentors anew. Of course, there was still that repetitious line: “Miles to go before I sleep/Miles to go before I sleep.” You said it, Robert Frost. Watching the snow fall and thinking beautiful thoughts might bring peace, joy, and happiness. But I had work to do.
I went to my desk and wrote for hours, glances out my window reminding me of my brief, energizing “stop.” Today is sunny and warmer, and look what my little break inspired—this blog post. Are you stopping along your way to “watch your woods fill up with snow”, even when your “horse” thinks it “queer”?