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.
by Robert Frost (1922) from his home in Shaftsburg, Vermont
Another calendar page has been turned bringing us into a new year. I hope that 2016 will be a great year for all of you!
I can hear some of you saying, “What does Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” have to do with aging?” I am not a poetry lover; so I was somewhat surprised when Frost’s poem came to mind. As I thought about the poem “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening,” I realized that the poem can have great meaning for those of us who are older (You notice I did not say wiser!).
“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.” As those who grew up in the 1950s through 1970s, we remember many events that shaped our lives: Vietnam, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, drugs, etc. We also remember the deaths of great men like: President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. And along the way, we remember family events, going to school, and losing classmates who were in the class or two ahead of us in death due to the Vietnam War or drugs.
I think many of us were idealists. We wanted a better world for ourselves but also for our families, friends, and communities. I remember living in Boston, Mass. for a while after Carl and I were married. I remember the protests and the anger and the language we heard, saw, and participated in. (Yes, I was in Boston during the bar burning incident. LOL) Today I can laugh at some of the things we did, but at the time we were very serious.
As the years moved on, we had families of our own. Kids in school, community events, school carnivals, jobs. Many of us work, raised a family, and went to college at the same time. We worked hard hoping that we were making a difference in the lives of others. Maybe something we did would even affect the world. The great idealism!
I believe that Robert Frost’s poem is telling us to stop — not slow down, but stop. Look at what is going on around you. Maybe you are watching your grandchildren at play, or participating in sports, or in a school play. I remember a few years ago, our youngest granddaughter Jenna was in the school play “The Wizard of Oz.” She was Toto the dog. I still laugh when I think of her jumping around the stage barking — she took her part seriously!
Maybe you have children or grandchildren who are getting ready to go to or graduate from college, getting married, or have children of their own. It is shocking when you realize that your children are adults. I was sitting in church one morning a couple of years ago when it came time to collect the offering. I really was not paying attention as the ushers walked down the aisle. When I looked up my son Chuck was up front getting one of the offering plates, and for a split second I saw him as an adult, as a man. It really stunned me! Chuck had just turned 40. Of course, I knew he was an adult, but I had not seen him as an adult if that makes sense. For that instant his life kind of flashed before me: playing basketball in high school, graduating from college, getting married, having a son — where did the time go!
So maybe Robert Frost is saying “Stop.” Look and listen. There is much going on around us that we are not seeing.
“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.” There are a lot of expectations that go along with getting older. A person retires; they move a little slower; their backs and knees and hands don’t work as well as they once did; they can’t eat spicy foods like they use to. Even though these are true, people look at us little “queer” when we begin doing something that is very new to us.
I was reading an article from “The Writer’s Dig” (Writer’s Digest) titled “The Big Lie of Age and Writing” by Babette Hughes. (Yes, this is where I got my title for this blog.) Babette Hughes lives in Ohio and she is a writer. She has recently published three-novels of the Kate Brady series (The Hat, The Red Scarf, The Necklace). She is now working on her fourth and fifth novel. Oh yes, she is 92 years young. (Maybe my aspirations of writing a book is not so “queer” after all.)
In her article, Ms. Hughes writes, “At the age of 89 Doris Haddock began walking the 3,200 miles between Los Angeles and Washington DC which took her 14 months. Kimani Maruge enrolled in the first grade at 84. (Mr. Maruge had never gone to school.) Grandma Moses began painting at 75 and lived to 100 still painting. At 93, Tao Porchon and her 23-year-old dance partner swept ballroom-dancing competitions in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. A Japanese woman, Mieko Nagoka took up swimming at the ago of 80 and at 100 became the world’s first centenarian to complete a 1,500-meter freestyle swim …” Do you get the picture yet?
“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.” Have you noticed that as we get older, people shake their “harness bells” at us? “Why is she taking so long?” “Why didn’t he have his credit card out earlier?” “Man, that’s got to be an old person driving in front of us!” “Hey, lady, you are in the way!” Hmmmmm.
“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.” It was the last two lines of this poem that I remembered first. “And miles to go before I sleep – And miles to go before I sleep.” In other words, there is still a lot that needs to be done. I believe that the worst thing we can do to ourselves and the world around us is to stop for very long. I love rocking chairs; in fact, I am sitting in my favorite one right how. But I don’t believe the rocking chair is there to stop us from continuing on in our adventures. I don’t believe the rocking chair is there to stop our dreams of being a writer, or poet, or swimmer, or walker, or take up ballroom dancing, or start our education even if it means we have to begin in the first grade, or going to college. The rocking chair is there to give us a little rest now and then!
“Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” reminds me to stop for a little while and enjoy the past and present, but it also reminds me that there is much left for me to do. The Big Fat Lie About Age is sitting down to die; your time is over. NOT TRUE: we are to keep moving forward into the future that is waiting for us. Thank you, Robert Frost, for reminding us “And miles to go before I sleep – And miles to go before I sleep.”
Today (really today) do something that will challenge you. You may have some surprises ahead of you!