robert frost | on frost — and those snowy woods

8 03 2008
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


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”]



robert frost | birches

25 11 2007


Poetry Dispatch No.147 | January 6, 2007

ONE MORE ‘FEEL-GOOD/NEW YEAR-LIKE POEM,’ then back to the old business: love, hate, survival, hope, disappointment, envy, inspiration, kindness, dejection, humor, calamity, consternation, harmony, bitterness, joy, admiration, tranquility, ego, loss, conflict, competitiveness, distrust, possessiveness, contempt, stupidity, inspiration, apathy, mayhem, depression, insight, cowardice, grief, silence, resoluteness, instability, enlightenment, dissipation, languor, insipidness, confusion, ignorance, defeat, revenge … intimations of immortality…and the silent man in the black coat always waiting at the door…Norbert Blei


BIRCHES by Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows–
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

from The Complete Works of Robert Frost

robert frost | november and linda pastan | rereading frost

28 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 117 | November 2, 2006

When it turns November here in northern Door, cold winds and fallen leaves, I turn to Robert Frost, an old friend, always in a rural state of mind. He almost never lets me down. I open his COMPLETE POEMS like a bible late at night, letting whatever poems appear upon the page, call me in, comfort me with language and feeling, always finding more than meets the eye. A Frostian warmth, if you will, to last all through the coming winter into spring, which needs no poetry. Norbert Blei


November by Robert Frost

We saw leaves go to glory,
Then almost migratory
Go part way down the lane,
And then to end the story
Get beaten down and pasted
In one wild day of rain.
We heard ‘ ‘Tis over’ roaring.
A year of leaves was wasted.
Oh, we make a boast of storing,
Of saving and of keeping,
But only by ignoring
The waste of moments sleeping,
The waste of pleasure weeping,
By denying and ignoring
The waste of nations warring.


Rereading Frost by Linda Pastan

Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?

At other times though,
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect

as you get to the top of a hill
in Colorado, say, in high summer
and just look down at all that brimming color.
I also try to convince myself

that the smallest note of the smallest
instrument in the band,
the triangle for instance,
is important to the conductor

who stands there, pointing his finger
in the direction of the percussions,
demanding that one silvery ping.
And I decide not to stop trying,

at least not for a while, though in truth
I’d rather just sit here reading
how someone else has been acquainted
with the night already, and perfectly.

from Queen of a Rainy Country. © W.W. Norton & Company

robert frost | the peaceful shepherd

10 10 2007



Poetry Dispatch No. 43 | Deember 25, 2005


If heaven were to do again,
And on the pasture bars,
I leaned to line the figures in
Between the dotted stars,

I should be tempted to forget,
I fear, the Crown of Rule,
The Scales of Trade, the Cross of Faith,
As hardly worth renewal.

For these have governed in our lives,
And see how men have warred.
The Cross, the Crown, the Scales may all
As well have been the Sword.


robert frost | my november guest

6 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 28 | November 15, 2005

My November Guest by Robert Frost

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
For they are better for her praise.

from Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays.© Library of America

Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet. His work frequently employed themes from the early 1900s rural life in New England, using the setting to examine complex social and philosophical themes. While Frost’s poems continue to be popularly interpreted optimistically within the frame of an idyllic pastoral life, most modern literary criticism is preoccupied with their frequently pessimistic, menacing, and disingenuous undertones. A popular and often-quoted poet, Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes.

Although he is commonly associated with New England, Robert Frost was a native of California, born in San Francisco, and lived there until he was 11 years old. His mother, Isabelle Moodie Frost, was of Scottish descent; his father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a descendant of colonist Nicholas Frost from Tiverton, Devon, England who had sailed to New Hampshire in 1634 on the Wolfrana.

Frost’s father was a good teacher, and later an editor of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin (which was eventually merged into the San Francisco Examiner), and an unsuccessful candidate for the city tax collector. The road not taken for young Robert might have been as a Californian editor rather than a New England poet, but William Frost Jr. died May 5, 1885, debts were settled, and the family moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts where William Frost, Sr., was an overseer at a New England mill. Frost’s mother joined the Swedenborgian church and had him baptized in it, but he left it as an adult.

Despite his later association with rural life, Frost lived in the city, and published his first poem in the Lawrence high school magazine. He attended Dartmouth College, long enough to be accepted into the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. Frost returned home to teach and to work at various jobs including delivering newspapers and factory labor. He did not enjoy these jobs at all, feeling his true calling as a poet.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life — It goes on” — Robert Frost

In 1894 he sold his first poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy” (published in the November 8, 1894 edition of the New York Independent) for fifteen dollars. Proud of this accomplishment, he proposed marriage to Elinor Miriam White, but she refused, wanting to finish college (at St. Lawrence University) before they married. Frost then went on an excursion to the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, and asked Elinor again upon his return. Having graduated, she agreed, and they were married in Harvard University, which he attended for two years.

He did well, but left to support his growing family. Grandfather Frost purchased a farm for the young couple in Derry, New Hampshire, shortly before his death. Frost worked on the farm for nine years. He wrote early in the mornings, producing many of the poems that would later become famous. His attempts at farming were not successful, and Frost returned to education as an English teacher at Pinkerton Academy from 1906 to 1911, then at the New Hampshire Normal School (now Plymouth State University) in Plymouth, New Hampshire.

In 1912, Frost sailed with his family to Great Britain, living first in Glasgow, before settling in Beaconsfield, outside London. His first book of poetry, A Boy’s Will, was published the next year. In England he made some important acquaintances, including Edward Thomas (a member of the group known as the Dymock Poets), T.E. Hulme, and Ezra Pound. Pound would become the first American to write a (favorable) review of Frost’s work. Surrounded by his peers, Frost wrote some of his best work while in England.

As World War I began, Frost returned to America in 1915. He bought a farm in Franconia, New Hampshire, where he launched a career of writing, teaching, and lecturing. The family homestead at Franconia, which served as his summer home until 1938, is maintained as a museum and poetry conference site. From 1916 to 1938, Frost was an English professor at Amherst College, encouraging his students to account for the sounds of the human voice in their craft. Starting in 1921, and for the next 42 years (with three exceptions), Frost spent his summers and into late fall teaching at the Bread Loaf School of English of Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont. The college now owns and maintains Robert Frost’s farm as a national historic site near the Bread Loaf campus.

Frost was 86 when he spoke at the inauguration of President Kennedy on January 20, 1961. He died a little more than two years later, in Boston, on January 29, 1963. He was buried at the Old Bennington Cemetery in Bennington, Vermont.

Harvard’s 1965 alumni directory indicates his having received an honorary degree there; Frost also received honorary degrees from Bates College and Oxford and Cambridge universities, and he was the first to receive two honorary degrees from Dartmouth College. During his lifetime, the Robert Frost Middle School in Fairfax, Virginia, as well as the main library of Amherst College, were named after him.


  • * After Apple-Picking
  • * Acquainted With the Night
  • * An Old Man’s Winter Night
  • * Birches
  • * Choose Something Like a Star
  • * The Black Cottage
  • * Blueberries
  • * A Cow in Apple Time
  • * The Code
  • * Come In
  • * The Death of the Hired Man
  • * Departmental
  • * Desert Places
  • * Design
  • * Directive
  • * Dust of Snow
  • * The Fear
  • * Fire and Ice (1916)
  • * For Once, Then Something
  • * The Generations of Men
  • * A Girl’s Garden
  • * Good Hours
  • * Good-bye, and Keep Cold
  • * Mending Wall
  • * The Mountain
  • * Neither Out Far Nor in Deep
  • * Dedication
  • * The Gift Outright
  • * Nothing Gold Can Stay
  • * Once By The Pacific
  • * Out, Out— (1916)
  • * The Oven Bird
  • * Pan With Us
  • * The Pasture
  • * Putting in the Seed
  • * Range-Finding
  • * The Road Not Taken
  • * The Rose Family
  • * The Runaway
  • * The Self-seeker
  • * A Servant to Servants
  • * Home Burial
  • * The Sound Of The Trees
  • * Spring Pools
  • * The Star-Splitter
  • * Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
  • * To E.T.
  • * The Tuft of Flowers
  • * Two Tramps in Mud Time
  • * The Wood-Pile
  • * Stars
  • * My November Guest
  • * Ghost House
  • * Tree At My Window
  • * What Fifty Said
  • * The Road That Lost its Reason
  • * Lure Of The West
  • * War Thoughts At Home

Poetry Collections

  • *North of Boston (David Nutt, 1914; Holt, 1914)
  • o ‘Mending Wall’
  • * Mountain Interval (Holt, 1916)
  • o The Road Not Taken
  • * Selected Poems (Holt, 1923)
  • o Includes poems from first three volumes and the poem The Runaway
  • * New Hampshire (Holt, 1923; Grant Richards, 1924)
  • * Several Short Poems (Holt, 1924)
  • o Several Short Poems (Holt, 1924)
  • * Selected Poems (Holt, 1928)
  • o -this seems to be a 2nd edition of the 1923 publication; cannot verify
  • * West-Running Brook (Holt, 1928? 1929)
  • * The Lovely Shall Be Choosers (Random House, 1929)
  • * Collected Poems of Robert Frost (Holt, 1930; Longmans, Green, 1930)
  • * The Lone Striker (Knopf, 1933)
  • * Selected Poems: Third Edition (Holt, 1934)
  • * Three Poems (Baker Library, Dartmouth College, 1935)
  • * The Gold Hesperidee (Bibliophile Press, 1935)
  • * From Snow to Snow (Holt, 1936)
  • * A Further Range (Holt, 1936; Cape, 1937)
  • * Collected Poems of Robert Frost (Holt, 1939; Longmans, Green, 1939)
  • * A Witness Tree (Holt, 1942; Cape, 1943)
  • * Come In, and Other Poems (1943)
  • * Steeple Bush (Holt, 1947)
  • * Complete Poems of Robert Frost]], 1949 (Holt, 1949; Cape, 1951)
  • * Hard Not To Be King (House of Books, 1951)
  • * Aforesaid (Holt, 1954)
  • * A Remembrance Collection of New Poems (Holt, 1959)
  • * You Come Too (Holt, 1959; Bodley Head, 1964)
  • * In the Clearing (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1962)
  • * The Poetry of Robert Frost (New York, 1969)
  • * A Further Range (published as Further Range in 1926, as New Poems by Holt, 1936; Cape, 1937)
  • * Nothing Gold Can Stay
  • * What Fifty Said
  • * Fire And Ice
  • * A Drumlin Woodchuck


  • * A Way Out: A One Act Play (Harbor Press, 1929).
  • * The Cow’s in the Corn: A One Act Irish Play in Rhyme (Slide Mountain Press, 1929).
  • * A Masque of Reason (Holt, 1945).
  • * A Masque of Mercy (Holt, 1947).


  • * The Letters of Robert Frost to Louis Untermeyer (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963; Cape, 1964).
  • * Robert Frost and John Bartlett: The Record of a Friendship, by Margaret Bartlett Anderson (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963).
  • * Selected Letters of Robert Frost (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964).
  • * Interviews with Robert Frost (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966; Cape, 1967).
  • * Family Letters of Robert and Elinor Frost (State University of New York Press, 1972).
  • * Robert Frost and Sidney Cox: Forty Years of Friendship (University Press of New England, 1981).
  • * The Notebooks of Robert Frost, edited by Robert Faggen (Harvard University Press, January 2007)
  • Published as
  • * Collected Poems, Prose and Plays (Richard Poirier , ed.) (Library of America, 1995) ISBN 978-1-88301106-2.

Pulitzer Prizes

  • * 1924 for New Hampshire: A Poem With Notes and Grace Notes
  • * 1931 for Collected Poems
  • * 1937 for A Further Range
  • * 1943 for A Witness Tree