Monday, February 28, 2011

Looking for Leopardi: “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”

I wrote previously that we English-speakers in Communion and Liberation ought to be looking for verse that moves us the way Giacomo Leopardi moved Father Giussani. Since I was a boy—and there is significance in a boy, not an academic, loving poetry—I have always been moved by the poetry of Robert Frost. My wonderful eighth-grade English teacher, Mr. Griswold, taught me “Birches,” and I can still say it by heart, as I once learned to recite the lengthy “Death of a Hired Man.” But there is no better-known Frost poem, and few easier to memorize, than the deceptively simple “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

If you want to sample some high-powered analysis of this poem, you can go here (and plenty of other places). If, however, you want experience like the one Frost describes here, you just have to come walking with me on winter mornings before five o’clock, along the wooded lanes north of my house. There is mystery here, and Mystery, on the frontier between the wilderness of the never-to-be-known and the promises, promises that call to us from life.


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.

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