One hundred years ago this week, the poem that Robert Frost called “my best bid for remembrance” was published in The New Republic. Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is one of the best known and loved poems in American literature.
Here it is as it originally appeared in the magazine:
Until the final stanza, we follow the poet ever deeper into solitude and silence as he pauses “on the darkest evening of the year” to watch the woods fill up with snow. But those last lines turn us and the poet back toward the unrelenting realities of life in relationship, a life of “miles to go” and “promises to keep.”
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.
Wilderness time can be full of possibility and peril. But what drives Frost’s person out of the woods is neither possibility nor peril. It is those “promises to keep,” and the renewed awareness of “miles to go before I sleep.”
By contrast, Linda Pastan’s “Imaginary Conversation” starts at dawn. We join the grumpy poet as she faces down a day that feels like little more than an “obstacle race of minutes and hours.” And we journey with her through an imaginary conversation until, in the final lines, she glances outside – and there finds a sudden, quieting reminder of grace.
Imaginary Conversation by Linda Pastan
You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.
But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first—
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?
You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every
At first glance, these two poems might seem like unlikely pieces to discuss with your church board … until you think about the wilderness we’ve been in, and the promises you feel pressing in on you through your church board work, and the obstacle race to meet those promises. There is a steadfastness to church board work that is admirable – but probably in equal measure exhausting, given current circumstances.
The journey we take, as individuals and as church boards, can feel like one of depleting determination, with miles to go before we sleep and an obstacle race of minutes and hours after we wake up.
But the person who left Frost’s dark and lovely woods did so to rejoin a community of promises. Could it be that keeping promises can be a source of motivation and of joy?
And the person at the start of Pastan’s grinding day finally looks up and out – and there sees the baptism of every living surface. Could it be that looking up and out can bring grace to our grind?
Way too casually, church folk like us repeat “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” But just because we repeat that mindlessly at times doesn’t make it any less true, or any less a path to joy, embedded in our work of keeping promises.
Why does Frost’s narrator stop in the woods? Why does he keep going?
Why do you as a board keep going? What are your promises to keep?
What is the ‘imaginary conversation’ in Pastan’s poem? Why does it end with a glance out the window?
What is the ‘imaginary conversation’ you might have as a board about the obstacle race before you? How can you, together, look up and out? What would you see?
Where in your board work have you experienced joy?