A walk with Robert Frost: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

The woods by my parents' house (Photo by Kailey Setter/NCC staff)

The woods by my parents' house (Photo by Kailey Setter/NCC staff)

March 12, 2018 | by Kailey Setter

While science and logic have the ability to influence our thoughts, poetry has a marvellous ability to move our hearts and capture our imagination.

Robert Frost has long been my favourite poet. Not just because his poems are relatively short and have the added benefit of rhyming, but because he writes a lot about nature. Many of his poems evoke natural settings, like a road in a yellow wood or woods on a snowy evening, yet also use those settings to tell a very human story.

After recently rereading “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” published by Frost in 1923, I was suddenly inspired to follow in his footsteps — to take a walk with him. So I decided that I too would stop by some woods on a snowy evening and enjoy the scene. It was winter, after all!

Upon further reflection, however, I realized that this was, frankly, a very weird thing to do, and an even harder thing to plan to do. Living in the city, where was I going to find a proper snowy wood? And how was I going to justify stopping by someone else’s property at an unusual hour of the day? Lurking near some trees around dusk is decidedly suspicious behaviour.

So I put it off and I put it off, until one evening I was driving out to my parents’ house in the country and had cause to stop, get out of my car and unlock a gate. There I was, right on the edge of a snowy wood. I was stopping by woods on a snowy evening.

The moment was fleeting. I was away from my car (my modern-day horse) for no more than a minute, but during that time I paused and took it all in. As I walked back to my car, a gray owl suddenly swooped down from its silent perch somewhere on my left and disappeared into the darkness of the trees. I marvelled a moment longer (an owl in flight is a spectacular sight), then went on my way.

That’s the true jewel of wisdom in Robert Frost’s poem, I think. We’re all busy, endlessly moving from task to task, and we rarely take the time to stop and take in our surroundings. We all have “miles to go before we sleep,” but we can also savour the unplanned moments along the way and appreciate the deep and abiding beauty of nature. We might even witness something spectacular.

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.

Kailey Setter

About the Author

Kailey Setter is the national manager of conservation engagement at the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

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