Something for Chrtistmas, and to keep.

This is from ROBERT FROST - A TRIBUTE TO THE SOURCE and is one of my favourite pieces of writing.


Frost was at work on a new book. Poems from Derry were still maturing,
some from England were almost ready. He had never succeeded in
larruping a poem as one might a horse to make it go. Poems had to come
to him in their own ways:

"A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a home-sickness or a
love-sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to
find fulfillment. A complete poem is where an emotion has found its
thought and the thought has found the words".

Some poems took years to find their words. Among the slow-growers was
"Birches." The impulse for "Birches" had been with him from the
earliest memories in Lawrence, never changing, always nagging him with
the sensations of striving and balance, but always incomplete.
Throughout Derry the poem seemed to be waiting a revelation. In England
(where no boys swing birches) Frost found the physical act carried
through to a spiritual meaning, something to do with Earth and human
aspirations. Now, in Franconia, after three full decades, the poem
found its thought and the thought worked out its words.

There were other times when words came bubbling like a spring runoff.
At such times Frost would often write straight through the night. One
spring night a few years later he found the cantankerous drafts of a
long satiric poem suddenly turned agreeable, almost doing the writing
for him. During five hours he hurried to keep up--images, stories,
history, snatches of conversation, phrases flowing together as though
following some unseen channel. The poem ran on page after page without
serious hindrance right to the concluding ironies. Only then did he
look up. Dawn's first graying had begun outside his window; across the
road the angular rooflines of a barn were emerging. He realized how
tired he was, let out completely.

He got up to make coffee. Opening the door, he watched the light coming
and listened to the birds waking up in the trees... Suddenly he knew
he had company: in that tranquil moment a new troupe of words began to
play through his mind:

Whose woods these are I think I know....

Pine trees, dusk, December, a horse-drawn sleigh, falling snow--where
did these words come from, so unbidden, so self-assured?

His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Derry again, never-to-be-forgotten Derry. The words drifted down out of
the dark memories: a Christmas Eve when, much too late to be selling
anything, he had driven into town to peddle milk and eggs in order to
buy presents--no one interested, all busy with their own family
celebrations--returning home empty-handed. And yet this poem seemed
bent on avoiding the personal reality in order to create a new reality
of its own. To make matters more difficult the lyric demanded a tighter
than usual bonding of rhyme: four rhymes instead of two, and a linking
of one stanza to the next: a-a-b-a, b-b-c-b, c-c-d-c ...

This posed an enormous challenge: how to keep such a linkage going.
Dante could manage a rhyme-chain in Italian, but in English the weight
of crude links usually buried its poem. Frost felt the bind at once.
Four times he tried to get into his second stanza; four times the lines
collapsed. Going on to explore the third stanza, he had better luck.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake....

Beginning with the right words, the third stanza not only moved freely
to completion but showed the poet how to go back and remake the

One other test remained: the ending; where and how to cut the
rhyme-chain. Leave it dangling? Stop the poem in a final three rhymes?
Jam the end with five rhymes? Try to hook the last link back into the
first stanza? All were unworthy of the symmetry the poem has promised

Frost tried one line, then another; both were wrong. But half-hidden in
the words of the second attempt--"that bid me on, and there are
miles"--he saw the shining ending he had been looking for.

The collaboration was done, the unexpected company satisfied. Groggy
but elated, Frost could now go to bed. The Sun was just coming up.

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is a work of pure sorcery.
Whatever there is about good poetry--a mystery beyond meter, rhymes,
images, metaphor--it throws a spell over the simple scene. An
experience of pain and humiliation is wholly transformed. Poet, reader,
light, dark, duty, life, love join in an instant of communion. No words
or rhythms interrupt the spell. They all move in a planetary harmony.
Form and energy become one within the poem, as elemental as the mystery
of an atom. The poem is a culminating display of why Frost trusted


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.

Poems by Robert Frost
Photographs by Dewitt Jones
Text by David Bradley
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York 1979
PS3511.R94Z518 1979 811'.0'12 78-10444
ISBN 0-03-046326-2


Catch you on a hillside somewhere. Take care.