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Miles to go Before I Sleep

March 7, 2016

 

"It was on this day in 1923 that Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was published, the poem he called his "best bid for remembrance."

Frost claimed that the poem came to him and he wrote it all at once, but an early draft of the poem shows that it was reworked several times.

More than 20 years later, in 1947, a young man named N. Arthur Bleau attended a reading Frost was giving at Bowdoin College. Bleau asked Frost which poem was his favorite, and Frost replied that he liked them all equally. But after the reading was finished, the poet invited Bleau up to the stage and told him a story: that in truth, his favorite was "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." He had written the poem based on his own life, he said. One year on December 22nd, the winter solstice, he realized that he and his wife wouldn't be able to afford Christmas presents for his children. Frost wasn't the most successful farmer, but he scrounged up some produce from his farm, hitched up his horse, and took a wagon into town to try and sell enough produce to buy some gifts. He couldn't sell a single thing, and as evening came and it began to snow, he had to head home. He was almost home when he became overwhelmed with the shame of telling his family about his failure, and as if it sensed his mood, the horse stopped, and Frost cried. He told Bleau that he "bawled like a baby." Eventually, the horse jingled its bells, and Frost collected himself and headed back home to his family. His daughter Lesley agreed that this was the inspiration for the poem, and said that she remembered the horse, whose name was Eunice, and that her father told her: "A man has as much right as a woman to a good cry now and again. The snow gave me shelter; the horse understood and gave me the time."

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" ends:

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."

 

Thanks to The Writer's Almanac and Garrison Keillor for this information.

 

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