When I taught in China in the early years of the 21st century, a fellow English teacher of considerable skill asked me about this poem by American Poet Laureate Robert Frost.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
BY ROBERT FROST
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.
Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost.
I was not surprised when this Chinese man asked me what the poem meant. The Chinese are materialists. This life is all they have and they are told to live it not as an individual for themselves, but for the State, in this case, for China and for the communist government. That is why they have no compunctions about stealing intellectual property – it is for China and not one’s individual profit. Their worldview is exactly opposite from ours. Secular humanism is not about individuals; it has no afterlife; if you want to live, you do it all now.
This poem is evidence that Christianity, with the imprimatur of the Judeo-Christian God, informed America. Here we are uniquely individual, all with a plan from God for our lives. That is the woods. It is dark and deep. It must be personally searched out, appreciated and followed. You don’t find God’s plan for your life in or through a group. It is not about an idea, or an ideal – it is only about you and God. What does He want? Where does He want you to go? Or not.
It has been a long hard winter and many of us contemplated in the cold and dark the change in our lives and where we are going now. The frenetic lifestyle of summer, the business of fall and the growth of spring do not fit in with a blanket of white snow on which to write one’s plan. That clean sheet tells us the past is not to intrude into today or tomorrow. As the song from Frozen says, we must let it go. God wants us to keep our eyes forward, in hope and anticipation.
2018 will be a revolutionary year for us all. There are forces of evil around us. We are looking into a tangled underbrush of good and bad, covered with snow so we have few clues as to our future. The anarchy in our streets tells us we have a country to save. We also have the next generation to lead back to stability and hope. We have promises to keep, forgiveness to share, and also a chance to rest and watch God move to invigorate our lives and our nation.
Many miles stretch on ahead. There is no better future resolution than that – to keep those promises we made to ourselves, to God and to our country.