robert frost | on frost — and those snowy woods

8 03 2008
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Poetry Dispatch No. 214 | March 8, 2008

On Frost—and Those Snowy Woods


Editor’s Note:
You know the poem. You can probably say it by heart. It’s one of those poem’s that’s always there—and always right. Before winter gets away from us (some of us) I thought it both good and proper to share a little background on this old snowy Frostian poem, which appeared on Garrison’s great writing site yesterday, the anniversary of the first publication of “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It’s always a revelation when writers, artists, musicians, deliberate on the source of a particular work of art which—well, just ‘came’ to them. Frost and his ‘snowy woods,’ no exception. It’s even beyond fascinating when they tell you that everything they knew about art was in that particular work…leaving you, as Frost does, with a kind of New Englander’s-Zen koan. —Norbert Blei

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On this day (yesterday, March 7th) in 1923, Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was published in The New Republic magazine . It was Frost’s favorite of his own poems, and he called it “my best bid for remembrance.” He’s remembered for many of his poems today, but that one is his best known and one of the most popular poems in American literature.

Though it’s a poem about winter, Frost wrote the first draft on a warm morning in the middle of June. The night before, he had stayed up working at his kitchen table on a long, difficult poem called “New Hampshire” (1923). He finally finished it and then looked up and saw that it was morning. He’d never worked all night on a poem before. Feeling relieved at the work he’d finished, he went outside and watched the sunrise.

While he was outside, he suddenly got an idea for a new poem. So he rushed back inside his house and wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” in just a few minutes. He said he wrote most of the poem almost without lifting his pen off the page. He said, “It was as if I’d had a hallucination.

He later said that he would have liked to print the poem on one page followed by “forty pages of footnotes.” He once said the first two lines of the poem, “Whose woods these are, I think I know, / his house is in the village though,” contained everything he ever knew about how to write.

[SOURCE: Garrison’s “Writer’s Almanac”]

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