Frost's "Snowy Evening"

March 7: Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" was first published on this day in 1923 in The New Republic. The poem was included in Frost's New Hampshire collection, published later the same year; it earned Frost the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes, and confirmed the fifty-year-old as one of the preeminent poets of his generation.

 

The beloved poem may be, as Frost thought, "my best bid for remembrance," though some, looking at the manuscript revisions, doubt his memory of writing it one dawn at his Vermont farm in "a few minutes without strain." Although Frost's daughter Lesley has confirmed some of the details, some have also questioned Frost's description of the poem's inspiration. There is certainly a dubious tone in the following account by the poet-scholar Carol Frost (no relation):

In his essay "Robert Frost's Favorite Poem," M. Arthur Bleau recollects Frost's telling him "the circumstances which eventually inspired what he acknowledged to be his favorite poem." It's a good story: Christmastime, family living on a farm, and no extra money for presents. Frost takes goods to the market but is able to sell nothing and heads home. Evening comes on and it starts to snow. Frost dejectedly drops the reins to give the horse his head. It knows the way home but slows down as the carriage approaches the house, sensing the man's despair over his failure. How could he face them with nothing in his hands? The horse stops, and Bleau records what he says were Frost's exact words: "I just sat there and bawled like a baby," until there were no more tears. Then the horse shook its harness and the bells jingled. Nothing had been said to the horse but he knew he was ready and took him home. Love would see the Frost family through that Christmas and the rest of hard times.

Frost's farming techniques may very well have resulted in hardship. The biographies include amusing details about how Frost tried to train his cows to sleep in, to accommodate his late night writing habits.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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