Robert Frost is one of my very favorite poets, and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one of my very favorite poems. When you take that poem, and add illustrations by Susan Jeffers, you get a truly remarkable picture book.
You know the poem, of course.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
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.
Frost’s beloved poem is the entire text of the book. It is arguably the most perfect poem ever written in the English language.
Frost, as he so often does, writes in a voice that sounds natural, almost conversational. He chooses words that are simple and straightforward. The most common meaning of the word queer has shifted since Frost wrote the poem in 1923, but other than that, even a young child will find only words that are comfortable and familiar.
And yet this natural, comfortable voice is carried with a remarkably complex use of rhyme and sound. The first, second, and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme. The third line of the stanza rhymes with the first, second, and fourth lines of the next stanza. This interlocking rhyme scheme unifies the poem. It feels as though you couldn’t change a single word. Everything must be there, exactly as it is.
Illustrations by Susan Jeffers
A reader who doesn’t yet know “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” might not immediately realize they’re reading a poem. Each spread had only one or two lines from the poem. The language is natural. It sounds more like an old man’s musings than like a poem.
But maybe I think that because I’ve seen Susan Jeffers’ amazing illustrations. Working in pen-and-ink and gauche, she creates a soft, subdued world of woods and snow. The only bright spot is the old man. He’s wearing a red and black plaid coat, a green scarf, and a black hat with ear-warmer flaps. When he’s in the sleigh, he’s got his lap covered with a blue blanket with yellow stars.
He rides out, on this dark night, into a world muffled in snow. Forest animals and birds are there, but everything is quiet. The old man doesn’t appear to be in a hurry. He stops to leave food for the forest animals. He throws himself into the snow to make a snow angel, startling the birds. He stops for a visit at a house blessed with children and dogs.
But he doesn’t stay. He moves on, because of those promises, and those miles.
The book is exquisite. It’s sold as a children’s book. Children will love it. And so will adults who love poetry. And most especially those who love the poetry of Robert Frost.
The Other Side: A Review: Jacqueline Woodson’s story about two children separated by race and a fence reminded me of another poem by Robert Frost, “Mending Wall.”
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