Monday, February 21, 2011

Poetry Classics: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Once again this winter, here in Michigan we are buried under snow. During the past seven days, almost all of the 12 or so inches on the ground melted away. But apparently winter isn't over yet because Sunday night we were pounded with about another foot.

"Watching it Snow at Night" is right up there with "Mountains on the Horizon" and "Waterfalls" and "Sunsets" and "The Sound of the Ocean" on my "Things in Nature I Love" list. And whenever I take a moment to watch or, even better, stand outside in, the falling flakes in the nighttime, my mind often turns to one of my favorite poems, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."

I think I first heard this poem as an elementary school student. Naturally, I was drawn to its near perfect meter and its exquisite rhyme scheme. I return to it often in my teaching and somehow it always comes to mind when there's an evening snowfall. It's ingrained in my memory, for sure. I'd also guess it's one of the most widely known poems in American history. And for good reason. There are some poems that truly will live on forever. And this has to be one of them...

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.

I think the opening image of the speaker trespassing in the woods is a great one. But it's the last stanza that gets me. That intentional repetition reinforcing the remaining journey leaves a lasting impression and probably resonates with anyone who has ever walked the earth.

You might enjoy the version of this poem illustrated by Susan Jeffers:

It's one of the books in my collection that I treasure the most.

So wherever you are, and however many feet of snow you are buried beneath, I hope you enjoyed a few moments with this classic poem.

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