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Joel Sumner Smith

Product Manager @Gatsby focused on cloud native platform.
Analogical thinker in an analytical world.


Commentary on an Elementary Poem

Today, I’m dealing with Robert Frost, perhaps one of my favorite poets.


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 have begun to take Frost’s poem as a description of confrontation. This confrontation is the struggle with death, and he ultimately concludes that he has “miles to go before I sleep.” I do not take this reference to death as sleep as either cheaply or poorly employed. Consider its weight in terms of the solitude of the poem. The promises have no one to receive them; the woods are his alone to watch; the silence is his to endure. Ultimately this confrontation with death may indeed be one of solitude, but what of the “miles to go?” Perhaps one must simply endure these miles or even shape them toward some final purpose. But I think that the power of what Frost is saying lies in the fact that those miles must be traveled. In spite of our strongest attempts to fixate our beings on death, life is ultimately the medium through which one fixates his being at all.


I chose Frost’s poem for a reason, and I’m getting there. Time, a tragic element Frost understood well, dictates many of the necessities of life. What I have realized that these necessities change within the ebb and flow of life. Each period of our life demands a specific task, which connects with the universality of human existence. As Frost states, there will be a time for the act of confrontation; but to live now, to keep promises, to endure many miles before sleep, to hear the silence of the snowy woods is an active presence of human will, a will to love.

© 2021, Joel Sumner Smith