Stephen Fuller *** Poetry, Essays

March Gratitude 3/11/20 “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost or the One Where I Thank My Fourth Grade Teacher and Explain How I Found My Spiritual Strength.

Today, I thank Ms. McManus my 4th Grade teacher for introduced our class to Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening and for being the first teacher who believed in me, albeit for my math aptitude, still her belief helped me evolve from a trouble-making adolescent into, well, something else. I guess it was Sharon who first gave my ship a course and faith to steer it.

For friends who are most familiar with my poetry, including the many poems that remain unpublished here or elsewhere, Frost’s influence on my writing is obvious. He is my first dead poet, a small pantheon, really, but in Greek terms he might be considered my poetic Jupiter. To illustrate this, I turn to a poem, The Road Taken, I have shared both here at Fullbeard Lit and over at the Go Dog Go Cafe, both in its infant form and crafted, as well as an analysis of how it grew up. For my reflection today, though, I specifically look at the first stanza:

Yes, I found it, just the road I needed,
Less the doubts and questions,
Inside woods I know I knew. Now, that done,
The snow begins in small flakes
One each one each
One at a time they fall to their place
On the leaves that too
One each one each
One at a time fell to their place. Here.

The allusion to Frost’s poem is, perhaps obviously, in the third line. Beyond that, what am I writing about here? To explain, I turn to my recovery journey. On step three, we seek to define the source of our spiritual strength so that we can turn to it when we are weak. Over the past three years, searching for this strength has in fact been the great feature of my journey. When my own addictive behavior resulted in the perceived collapse of my life, the few who remained with me offering encouragement and kind words were more often than not drowned out by the crushing grief I felt at the loss of the many, many more people who turned and walked away from me and the very angry few who stayed to remind me very loudly again and again what a fuck up I was. As if I needed the reminder.

To be able to hear any positive affirmations I had to dive deep inside to find my God. So I began to read everything I could put my hands on: the Bible, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Aurelius, Thomas Merton, Augustine, Emerson, Thoreau, de Beauvoir, Rilke, Thich Nhat Hanh, Brene Brown, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Plato, Jon Kabot-Zinn, Suzuki. The days I failed to show up for the early meetings at work, which I am sure only fed the confirmation bias of the ‘he’s-just-a-fuck-up’ crowd, I was actually either losing track of time on my search or buried by a depression so deep that I was being pulled by the thought of swimming out into the bay until my arms could stroke no more.

What did I learn? A few things:

1. I believe in a God, or some form of omniscient being, who understands the vast order of the universe and on occasion reveals an insight of truth to us through either spiritual practice, creativity, or self-sacrificing good work for others.

2. Life is hard, really hard, but if we choose a noble path, defined as a spiritual practice, a creative life, or good work, we can make of life something worth the suffering.

3. Each of us, alone, are as insignificant as a single snowflake falling on an autumn leaf.

4. The place where I found my insight into God was out in Nature, on trails, on mountains, in forests, on the beach, in the ocean, under trees, etc.

5. I cannot evangelize for my path, but if you join me, as I assume you have by following this blog or visiting the Go Dog Go Cafe, together, we will help out many people who are struggling with something that may remain deeply hidden behind a mask, a vernier, or their written words.

The first stanza of The Road Taken in its essence is my offering of hope born of this Faith I have unraveled and with its allusion to Frost’s poem, thus also its dramatic conclusion:

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.

Thank you Sharon McManus for introducing me to this poem, to this poet, to this road I have now, at last, taken.

Listen to Robert Frost recite this poem as well as the Drumlin Woodchuck:

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.

Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost. Reprinted with the permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

7 Responses to “March Gratitude 3/11/20 “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost or the One Where I Thank My Fourth Grade Teacher and Explain How I Found My Spiritual Strength.”

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