Facing Mortality

There are times in business, as in life, where we agree to something that we almost immediately regret. For the most part I have gotten my work schedule to be one that works for me. I have a team member that takes most of my night and weekend visits and when I do an evening visit I can typically get it done in a way that has me home no later than 8:00 PM.

When I agreed to visit a new clients dogs at 9:00 PM I saw it being a much different experience. My math had been off. That was the biggest issue. That and I didn’t anticipate that the first week of February would be a popular one for travel. I also didn’t account for the awful chest cold I would obtain. So it was at 8:40 last evening I was standing at the door about to leave, feeling bone tired, and muscle fatigued. Then the old familiar line of Robert Frost came to me, “And miles to go before I sleep.”

As I drove to the client’s house I was thinking of Robert Frost and his poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I have always had an affinity for Frost. I think that comes from him being so wildly misunderstood. His poems are given a place alongside Longfellow when they should be viewed alongside his contemporaries Eliot, Pound, and Williams instead. People tend to get lost in the folksiness and ignore that Frost’s poems have the same message about regret, isolation, loneliness, and death as his fellow modernists.

Unlike other modernists Frost maintained form. He famously said that poetry without form is like tennis without nets. This tells us two things. First, Frost would have hated racquetball, and second his adherence to form was in response to a world he saw falling apart. Remember the modernist period is that between the two World Wars. World War I came and went. The world witnessed horrors thought unthinkable, survived, and then had to come to terms with that survival. While Eliot and Williams abandoned poetic forms Frost maintained them. Faced with a world in chaos and existential dread Frost demanded order.

Despite his order, rhyme scheme, and folksy New England settings Frost still focused on the existential questions with the same vigor as the other modernists. Look at the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. It is a poem about death and mortality. It begins with the narrator stopping in the woods to watch the snow fall. He knows whose woods they are but that person lives in the village and wouldn’t mind his stopping. The narrator’s horse is confused as he doesn’t understand the human desire to admire aesthetic beauty and wonders why one would stop in a place with no hay or grass to munch on.

The poem continues by alluding to the fact that it is the winter solstice, the darkest and longest night of the year, on which the narrator stopped. His horse chides him thinking his stopping must be a mistake and the poem wraps up in the final stanza with the narrator admiring how dark and deep the woods are but he has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps.

It is that last part that I often repeat to myself when I am feeling particularly tired and weary. As I was last night when I was heading out the door at a time when I would rather already be asleep. In life we come across many dark woods in the blackest nights, but we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep. This was the essential question of the modernist period. We survived the darkest night, stared into the deepest depths of deaths woods, and choose to continue on as a species. To march forward and survive.

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