Robert Frost was my first favorite poet. I remember being assigned to recite by memory Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, when I was in middle school. I practiced incessantly for weeks and I can still recite most of it by heart. The words echoed through my mind as I wandered through Frost’s homestead in Derry, NH last summer.
From those early school days, I’ve identified with Frost, as many have. His words are accessible and easily applicable to life. Who hasn’t stood at a fork in the road and thought: ” I took the road less traveled…” That sentiment rings true in so many of life’s situations, literally and figuratively – it often does make all the difference.
While providing a glimpse into the poet’s life and inspiration, walking through Frost’s home and the surrounding woods offers a sense of solace and reflection. It’s said that he wrote most of his noteworthy work at this home during the nine years that he lived on the property with his wife and young children (1900-1909). In a letter written later in life, he said: “The only thing we had was time and seclusion”.* Even now, more than 100 years later, walking through the same woods provides a blissful detachment from modern distractions. Nature’s nuances come into sharp focus among the willowy trees, graceful fields and welcoming ponds. Along the trail is a low, stone wall, which was the inspiration for Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, and the spot where it was said he sat when he returned to the homestead following the death of his wife, and decided the place was too changed for him to follow her wishes and spread her ashes on site.
After selling the property in 1911, the Derry homestead had gone into disrepair and was eventually sold to an automobile salvage company, turning Frost’s beloved fields into a vehicle graveyard. At the end of his life, Frost pushed for the property to be returned to its original pastoral state. The Robert Frost Farm website has a detailed history of the property, and credits Frost’s friend and colleague, John Pillsbury, for ultimately orchestrating the final purchase of the homestead and converting it to the historic site we are able to enjoy today.
Robert would be pleased at the restoration and preservation of his former home. Though he only lived on the site for a relatively short time, it was clearly instrumental to his poetic development and central to his career. Despite a century of change, the site continues to inspire, and Frost’s ghost rustles the leaves.
Though it was a hot summer day when I visited, I could imagine a light snow falling. I let the woods envelop me in their simplicity.
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 sounds 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.
*From: Selected Letters of Robert Frost, Lawrence Thompson, ed. New York: Holt, 1964. Sourced from http://robertfrostfarm.org/historyproperty.html