Pause and Your World May be New: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

2 01 2013

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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.

Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem.

 Robert Frost’s poetry, while not always exactly lighthearted and cheery, gives me a cozy feel.  Maybe it is because his words are so familiar to me, as they might be for you, or maybe it’s because the experiences he writes about are pretty universal and relevant to the modern reader.

 This one, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” is almost like a Christmas carol in its effect on me, but don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it veers into sentimentality.

 Plus, it is a pretty good poem to start the year. 

 As he and his horse travel a familiar path through someone’s woods, he takes a moment to watch the woods fill with snow.  Who knows how many times he has traveled this same route and has never really seen things the same way he does on this trip. 

 Has that ever happened to you?  It does for me all the time, especially when I am out for a jog.  I have jogged down roads that I have driven on for decades and can still find things I haven’t noticed before.  Most recently, I noticed that a house just a few blocks down the street from my parents’ house is built sideways.  The front door is not facing the road, it’s like it got up and turned on its side, very strange.

 I never noticed that till I slowed down and looked around a bit more.  It makes me wonder what else is out there that I haven’t noticed before.  Stuff hiding in plain sight. 

 Maybe it’s the snow falling that makes our speaker hit the pause button for a moment.  Snow does that for me, too.  Especially when those giant snowflakes fall so slowly that they seem to reject all rules of gravity.

1/365 & 1/52 - Snow,

1/365 & 1/52 – Snow, (Photo credit: netzanette)

 We know it is not a common occurrence for this rider to stop in the middle of his journey from the behavior of this horse.  The horse shakes his harness bells—he wonders what’s up, this is not where we are supposed to stop.  This is not part of the normal routine.

After a moment, the rider reflects that, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep” but concedes that he has promises to keep.  He’s got things to do, places to go.  No, he can’t shirk all his responsibilities and hang out in the woods all day, even though he may want to.  There are things to do before he can really rest. 

 However, he can take a few minutes to press pause from time to time.  He can slow down, admire, and appreciate what is around him, and make his world a little newer.

 Here’s to a year full of many pauses of new appreciation for you.

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Heartbreak and the Holidays: “The Feel of Not to Feel It” and Keats

28 11 2012

In Drear-Nighted December

John Keats

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne’er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne’er remember
Apollo’s summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would ’twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

Ah, December— it’s the end of the year, (and if you want to believe the Mayans— maybe the end of the world? Gasp!) so naturally it invites a certain melancholic reflection, a yearning for days gone by. Honestly, I think it’s a really good thing that December is full of celebratory anticipation and glistening lights, because at least in my part of the world, it might get overwhelmingly gloomy at times.

This would be especially true in those years when the first snows don’t fall until late December. The first snows are pretty magical for many of us, especially on the heels of an extraordinarily mild winter last year. Even those of us who grow snow-weary by January, February, or March, tend to enjoy the first snows that cover everything in crisp shimmering white, hiding all the muddy leaves and abandoned toys in the back yard.

But, especially without the snow, things are often drear-nighted, so I can feel what Keats is saying here. Things do get pretty gray, cold, and bare. What a perfect metaphor for how you feel when you are heartbroken. Gray, cold, and bare.

Frozen.

Dark.

And really, is there a worse month to be heartbroken than December? First, there is the natural world that seems to be dead all around you, and then there are the terribly long nights. On top of all that, there is the pressure to have a most joyous and wonderful season of togetherness with the ones you love. Everyone talks about it, and there are images of love everywhere.

So, what if your love isn’t there anymore?

It’s a tough time for many people, especially those who know “the feel of not to feel it.”

This poem looks at how poignant romantic heartbreak is. It is one of my favorite poems reflecting on heartbreak and that hopeless anguish that feels so suffocating. It captures that despair, doesn’t apologize, and doesn’t offer hope. Keats knows that when you are heartbroken, you don’t want to hear people trying to cheer you up.

Heartbreak sucks, and you can feel as lousy as you want without feeling guilty about it. Go ahead and wallow in it for a while. It’s okay.

Keats says it is okay, and he is like the best poet who ever lived.

Frozen light

Frozen light (Photo credit: Nanaki)

In the first stanza, he looks at a frozen sleety tree with bare branches and thinks about how the tree is just fine. It is not at all upset in its current state even though it once had beautiful leaves, and the reason this is possible is that the tree has no memory of that better time. None the wiser, the tree is content, and it will bloom again in the spring without fear of losing the leaves, and the cycle continues.

;

Next, in the second stanza, the speaker’s attention turns to a frozen brook. In

Frozen Brook

Frozen Brook (Photo credit: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton)

a similar way, he considers how lucky the brook is that it has no memory of the happy time when it once flowed freely. Even encased in an icy prison, the brook is perfectly happy because of the “sweet forgetting.” The brook has no memory of Apollo in his hot “summer look”, so it is happy even in a less comfortable situation.

In the final stanza, the speaker laments that people don’t have this ability to forget, too. Instead, we all are doomed to writhe in the pain of remembering happy times before our heartbreak, and there is nothing that can be done to ease the pain.

Keats believes “The feel of not to feel it” is so excruciating that is was never “said in rhyme”. That might seem like a contradiction at first. I mean, there are loads of poems about heartbreak, right? In fact, isn’t this a poem about it??

Well, yes,

But what he is saying is that the feeling cannot be truly expressed in words; it can’t be said in rhyme. It can’t be communicated at all, only felt.

But Keats! Isn’t It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

Nope.

Keats does not agree at all. It is painful and he wishes he could just erase it from his memory. I agree that this is how it feels when heartbreak is fresh, but I don’t agree in the long run. I’m not going to delete anyone from my memory.

I think Keats would have liked “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” don’t you? What are your thoughts? Would you push delete on a lost love if you could? Would you be happier if you couldn’t remember?