A Father’s Heartbreak, A Poet’s Legacy

On a frigid December 22 many years ago, a New England farmer returning to his home from town stopped at the edge of his neighbor’s woods to watch the beginnings of a snowfall. Night was falling. The woods were quiet except for the sweep of snow and the jingling of the horse’s harness. The man was tired; early that morning he had loaded his wagon with produce from his farm and headed into town hoping to sell enough to buy Christmas gifts for his wife and children.

Poet Robert Frost

Poet Robert Frost

He hadn’t sold a single thing. And Christmas was three days away. There in the quiet solitude of the woods, he dropped the reins and let the tears come. Later he would say that the snow had given him shelter and the horse had understood his shame and grief and had given him time to weep.

After a time he gathered himself and drove home. And later he took out paper and pen and began what would become one of the most beloved poems in the English language. The farmer was Robert Frost and the poem was of course, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. It was first published on this date, March 7th in 1923.

Robert Frost gave me one of the things I try to remember when I write: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Maybe when he said that, he was thinking back to that dark December night in the woods when alone and ashamed, his own tears fell.