Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
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
This is one of the most famous pieces in all of American literature, so I will revere Frost’s words by keeping mine brief. Tonight I am sitting here, my mind is numb from the day’s toil. It’s a good kind of numb, the kind of numb where you know that you have given it everything you’ve got today. “The sleep of a laborer is sweet,” Solomon wrote.
But, I am thinking about my journey as a writer. I started this journey somewhere around ten year years ago, and have had stops and starts, and frustrating detours. I have yelled, and prayed and cursed, all while toiling on. Writing, working, and pushing forward, success just the faintest light—glittering in the distance like a flickering candle. I press on.
This last year has been an amazing one toward this journey. I have reached milestones I had begun to think were only starry-eyed delusions of grandeur. And, though, I still have yet to arrive. If it were easy, the Facebook cliché taunts, everyone would do it.
Shut up, Facebook. What do you know of toil? What do you know of tired? What do you know of discouragement, and wiping your brow to start again, and again, and again? What do you know of beating your head against so many walls, you bleed, and yet you press on with your sweat, blood and tears, rolling into your eyes? What do you know of dogged determination, in the face of exhaustion and monotony? What do you know of success?
Frost’s other most famous piece, was The Road Not Taken, where he ends the piece, by saying, “I shall be telling this with a sigh, ages and ages hence. I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Literature scholars for decades have analyzed those lines. What does he mean? Was it a sigh of relief, or a sigh of regret? Ah, yes. Isn’t that one of life’s deeper questions… If I choose the path of most resistance, will it be worth it? Or will I regret it in the end? So, the piece ends as nebulously as life would have it.
When I studied Frost in college, the professor had actually attended a live Robert Frost lecture toward the end of the poet’s life. As he tells it, sometime during the lecture, a student in the audience asked Frost about this great literature conundrum.
After speaking his mind to the bravado of the fresh-faced twenty year old to approach him with this timeless question on the human condition, Frost is said to have smiled, ear to ear, and given the audience a heaping thumbs up.
The audience roared with standing applause. Frost is said to have meant, that his years struggling, and toiling as a writer, giving up financial security, in the end, were all worth it.
Now we put that on placards, Facebook memes and random Jesus junk.
I say all of this to bring around to the Snowy Woods piece. The last two lines are one of my favorite lines in literature. The whole last stanza, really.
I think of Robert Frost, standing on that University of Texas stage, wrinkled with age, experience and wisdom. And, then I think of the younger man he must have been when he wrote Snowy Woods. This is what it takes to get from here to there.
Oh, how I would love to stop in the snowy woods. Watch Netflix, and cast off all my cares. How easy it would be to choose mediocrity. Be normal, average, and have what one is supposed to have for my age. Oh, how those woods would be lovely, dark and deep.
But, I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. Miles to go before I sleep.
So, I press on. While my eyelids grow heavy, and only the yellow lamplight illuminates the deepening night. I press on, on the chance, that one day, my face will beam with pride, as I tell this with a sigh…I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
(So much for keeping my words brief).