“A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”
How wondrously mysterious the creative moment is! This truth leaped out at me at a spare but rich exhibit on Robert Frost. One of events it described was the way in which Frost came to write one of his most beloved poems, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening — which ends with the now-famous words: “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.”
Here’s how this poem came into being: Frost had just completed an unusually intense writing session; in a fever of creative energy, he had spent from evening until dawn completing a long, complex work. Feeling well satisfied with the results, he went outside to watch the day break — and as he did, an entirely new poem suddenly formed itself within his mind. Frost turned around and almost unaware of what he was doing, went back inside and with “one stroke of the pen,” wrote Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
Here’s the most amazing thing about this story: When Frost wrote this poem, it was actually July! The snow falling in dark woods that he captured so vividly wasn’t what he was actually seeing in the moment with his eyes, but an image, remembered or imagined that he envisioned virtually whole. Today, the long poem composed just before Frost penned his 16-line masterpiece is not nearly as well known. Perhaps he needed to write the larger work in order to unearth the gem within. Or perhaps that gem was simply a gift from the universe in return for all the labor he had just invested from dusk to dawn.
Who can say from where such beauty arises? All we can do is remember that it is these moments that make all our hard work, all our struggle, worthwhile.