Stopped by Woods
Caroline Ognibene on the work of Robert Frost.
The bookmark I use most loyally is a small notecard on which I’ve written out “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost. It holds a simple weight in my heart with its gentle rhythm and plain imagery. For many years it has been a reliable source of courage – “miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep” – these were lines which accompanied me, in a bag, in a book, back and forth over the Atlantic for the past six years as a student. I’d look out the plane windows over the clouds and whisper “Whose woods these are I think I know,” casting myself as the poem’s gently resigned and brave protagonist.
Frost thought this work would be his “best bid for remembrance.” Indeed, the words have echoed globally as eulogies, tattoos, engravings, little bookmarks. They never change their form but are constantly reconsidered and understood. Just as now, our world is paused, yet we all must carry forth while remaining still. Now, the words have changed for me; I turn to the third stanza, and the poem’s little horse, who, upon being stopped suddenly, “gives his harness bells a shake/To ask if there is some mistake.” Each day, I see frightening rhetoric carry throughout the seas over which I had flown so recently, as I watch from a home to which I returned so abruptly. I am still, though not idle, gently revising, like Frost’s snowy lines over the years, but as I witness the world around me, I wonder: surely, there is some mistake.
This art is bewilderment and quiet resolve, the marriage of which would be impossible for me without the words of Robert Frost.
Caroline Ognibene is a writer based in Massachusetts, and a recent MA graduate from the University College London.
Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874. He won four Pulitzer Prizes throughout his lifetime. He was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1960 for his poetry. He died at the age of 88 in 1963.