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“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” A Poem by Robert Frost

Robert Frost was a man torn between his poetic dreams of retreating into the solitary woods and his responsibilities as a provider and family man. In 1912, he moved his wife and children to England, where he published his first two poetry books and made literary connections. However, with World War I looming in 1915, Frost returned to America.

There, he purchased a farm in New Hampshire that became the family’s summer home for over 20 years. Frost taught English at several colleges including Amherst, Middlebury and Michigan over the next few decades. His approach emphasized capturing the nuances of spoken English in writing.

Despite his successes – winning four Pulitzer Prizes between 1924-1943 – Frost seemingly never fully indulged his yearning for the “lovely, dark and deep” solitude of the woods. His duties as an educator paying the bills, a husband, and a father with “promises to keep” prevented him from emulating Thoreau’s seclusion in nature.

Yet Frost could still dream of those metaphorical woods through his poetry while fulfilling his real-world roles tending to crops, shepherding students’ writing, and providing for his family. The woods beckoned seductively, but responsibilities anchored Frost to civilized life, unable to stray too far or too long into peaceful isolation.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

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.

The woods beckoned Frost as a refuge from the enormous personal tragedies he endured throughout his life. Of his six children with wife Elinor, four preceded him in death – son Elliott from cholera as a young boy, daughters Marjorie from puerperal fever after childbirth, and Elinor Bettina just one day after being born. His wife herself battled heart problems for years before succumbing to breast cancer and heart failure in 1938. Frost stoically shouldered these devastating blows, a retreat to the woods representing an escape from such profound grief and stress in his family life. Yet as much as he may have wanted to lose himself in the lovely, dark depths of nature, his obligations as a provider, father to his surviving children, and public figure endured. Though the solitude of the woods called out, Frost felt compelled to stay the course, denying himself the sweet revelry of solitude in order to remain dutifully grounded in the promises he had to keep.

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