Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday's Poetry: "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

This evening, and for the next several Monday evenings, I am going to talk poetry. In particular, I am going to present poems that have had some impact on my life, and attempt to explain how and why they touched me. The initial selection for Monday's Poetry is Robert Frost’s simple, yet beautiful, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, a poetic account of a traveler pausing briefly in the woods to contemplate the solitude and snowfall.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
(by Robert Frost, 1923)

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.

I went to high school in the small town of Noel, Missouri. My senior year was the last year that high school was in operation, because it was being consolidated into a county school system the following fall. My twenty-one classmates and I literally shut the little school down in May of 1966.

One of the classes that I took my senior year was speech, and my teacher, Jennibel Paul (who was also my English and Latin teacher), came up with the idea of taping all of the speech students reading a poem early in the school year, with the intent of playing the tape back at the end of the year to have some sort of measure as to our level of public speaking progress. She borrowed a large reel-to-reel tape recorder for the project.

I have no idea what poem I chose to read, but my friend and classmate, Linda Merchant, selected Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Sadly, I can still hear her reciting those stanzas over forty years later.

Linda and her younger sister, Susan, had moved to Noel that year from the neighboring small town of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, a community five miles south and just across the state line. They lived in a large house on Sulphur Street, just off of Main and about three blocks from the school. Most mornings I would ride to town with my dad and then walk to school. Many mornings I would pass Linda and Susan’s house just as they were emerging, and we would all walk together.

It was a warm Saturday night early in the school year. I had just gotten off duty at the local movie theatre when the horrible news started making its way up and down Main Street. Linda and Susan, as well as two other sisters, Shirley and Thelma Todd of Sulphur Springs, had gotten into a car with a young man who was home on leave from the military, and they had just been in a bad accident south of town on a treacherous piece of highway prophetically referred to by the locals as “Dead Man’s Curve.”

We quickly learned that the car had been travelling downhill and had careened into the path of a semi-tractor trailer that was struggling uphill. Several of the kids in the car had, according to the flying rumors, been killed.

Linda and the Todd girls did die that night, as well as the driver of the car. Susan hung on for a few days longer before joining her sister in death. Several weeks later Mr. and Mrs. Merchant heard about the taped recording that their oldest daughter had made just days before her death. The class presented it to them in remembrance.

Linda Merchant and those other young people should have had many more miles to go before they slept, but that was not to be. We need to appreciate our snowfalls as they happen - and experience each as though it might be our last.

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