Friday, December 31, 2010

"The Old Year's Gone Away To Nothingness And Night": John Clare

As the New Year arrives we should spare a thought for the Old Year.  Yes, T. S. Eliot has suggested that "Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future/And time future contained in time past." ("Burnt Norton" in Four Quartets.)  However, I fear that such a mystic state of affairs is not accessible to most of us.  Instead, I think that John Clare (1793-1864) has it right:  we should bid the Old Year a fond fare thee well. 

               The Old Year

The Old Year's gone away
   To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
   Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
   In either shade or sun:
The last year he'd a neighbour's face,
   In this he's known by none.

All nothing everywhere:
   Mists we on mornings see
Have more of substance when they're here
   And more of form than he.
He was a friend by every fire,
   In every cot and hall --
A guest to every heart's desire,
   And now he's nought at all.

Old papers thrown away,
   Old garments cast aside,
The talk of yesterday,
   Are things identified;
But time once torn away
   No voices can recall:
The eve of New Year's Day
   Left the Old Year lost to all.

John Clare, Poems, Chiefly from Manuscript (edited by Edmund Blunden and Alan Porter) (1920).

                              Eric Ravilious, "Downs in Winter" (1934)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Life Explained, Part Ten: "All We Make Is Enough Barely To Seem A Bee's Din, A Beetle-Scheme"

I first encountered Geoffrey Scott (1884-1929) as the editor of the Boswell journals that were discovered in the 1920s at Malahide Castle in Ireland.  Unfortunately, he died unexpectedly at an early age before completing the project. I later discovered that Scott had also written poetry.  Here is a poem of Scott's that offers a quiet view of what to expect from Life.

     All Our Joy Is Enough

All we make is enough
Barely to seem
A bee's din,
A beetle-scheme --
Sleepy stuff
For God to dream:

All our joy is enough
At most to fill
A thimble cup
A little wind puff
Can shake, can spill:
Fill it up;
Be still.

All we know is enough;
Though written wide,
Small spider yet
With tangled stride
Will soon be off
The page's side:

Modern Poetry 1922-1934: An Anthology (1934).

                         Graham Sutherland, "Oast House" (1932)

Monday, December 27, 2010

"The Sky For Roof, Mountains For Walls"

I have fond memories of visiting the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey and Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire.  The weather was fine on the occasions that I visited -- the combination of a deep green sward of grass, grey walls, and the blue sky was beautiful.  I had (and have) no deep thoughts about the visits -- nothing, for instance, about the remorselessness of time, the vanity of human wishes, the storied ecclesiastical history of England.  What was (and is, in memory) remarkable was strolling on wide, soft floors of grass, surrounded by tall grey walls without a roof, doorways without doors, arched empty windows opening onto fields and trees.  And, over and around it all, the huge sky.

                    The Ruined Chapel

From meadows with the sheep so shorn
They, not their lambs, seem newly born,
Through the graveyard I pass,
Where only blue plume-thistle waves
And headstones lie so deep in grass
They follow dead men to their graves,
And as I enter by no door
This chapel where the slow moss crawls
I wonder that so small a floor
Can have the sky for roof, mountains for walls.

Andrew Young, Collected Poems ( 1960).  The final two lines are lovely, of course.  But "headstones lie so deep in grass/They follow dead men to their graves" is very fine as well.

                                                 Rievaulx Abbey

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"Yuletide In A Younger World"

Thomas Hardy was not always the cheeriest of characters.  (How's that for an understatement?)  However, he did seem to have a bit of (just a bit of) a soft spot in his heart for Christmas.  Still, ghosts and beggars do make appearances in some of his Christmas poems.  The following poem was written by Hardy when he was in his eighties -- it has no frightful ghosts, just fondly-remembered wraiths from Christmases past.

              Yuletide in a Younger World

   We believed in highdays then,
      And could glimpse at night
         On Christmas Eve
Imminent oncomings of radiant revel --
      Doings of delight: --
      Now we have no such sight.

   We had eyes for phantoms then,
      And at bridge or stile
         On Christmas Eve
Clear beheld those countless ones who had crossed it
      Cross again in file: --
      Such has ceased longwhile!

   We liked divination then,
      And, as they homeward wound
         On Christmas Eve,
We could read men's dreams within them spinning
      Even as wheels spin round: --
      Now we are blinker-bound.

   We heard still small voices then,
      And, in the dim serene
         Of Christmas Eve,
Caught the far-time tones of fire-filled prophets
      Long on earth unseen. . . .
      -- Can such ever have been?

Thomas Hardy, Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (1928).

                                       Robin Tanner, "Christmas" (1929)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Larkin Snow Poem: "Your Life Walking Into Mine"

One perhaps does not expect a snow poem by Philip Larkin to be a metaphysical meditation along the lines of Robert Frost's "Desert Places" or Wallace Stevens's "The Snow Man."  This is certainly not a criticism of Larkin (who can be, at times, as metaphysical as they come):  it simply means that his meditations tend to stay closer to home -- they usually have something to do with getting through the day.  Which is no small thing.

Larkin wrote the following poem on February 1, 1976.  It is untitled.

Morning at last: there in the snow
Your small blunt footprints come and go.
Night has left no more to show,

Not the candle, half-drunk wine,
Or touching joy; only this sign
Of your life walking into mine.

But when they vanish with the rain
What morning woke to will remain,
Whether as happiness or pain.

Philip Larkin, Collected Poems (Faber and Faber 1988).

                                 Harald Sohlberg, "Storgaten" (1904)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Nothing That Is Not There And The Nothing That Is"

In the third stanza of "Desert Places," Robert Frost writes:

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less --
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

Not surprisingly, these lines often prompt comparisons with Wallace Stevens's "The Snow Man" -- and not merely on account of the snow.

I still find it hard to credit, but I first encountered "The Snow Man" in a high school literature textbook when I was 14 or 15 years old.  (The fact that it was even in the textbook amazes me:  did the editors have a misguided notion of the capabilities of American youth?  Or, in those faraway days, did they harbor grandiose hopes for the future of literature in this fair land?)  For some unaccountable reason, I recall that the poem was accompanied by an illustration of a jaunty snow man with the usual stove-pipe hat, wool scarf, coal lumps for eyes, and a carrot for a nose.  Of course, I had no idea what the poem was about.

                    The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (1923).

             Jan Beerstraaten, "The Castle of Muiden in Winter" (1658)

What does it mean?  Here is what Stevens said:  "I shall explain The Snow Man as an example of the necessity of identifying oneself with reality in order to understand it and enjoy it."  Letter from Wallace Stevens to Hi Simons, April 18, 1944, Letters of Wallace Stevens (1966), page 464.  I take this statement with a grain of salt.  After all, Stevens also said:  "I have the greatest dislike for explanations.  As soon as people are perfectly sure of a poem they are just as likely as not to have no further interest in it; it loses whatever potency it had."  Letter from Wallace Stevens to Ronald Lane Latimer, November 15, 1935, Letters of Wallace Stevens, page 294.

Maybe it is best to approach the poem from another angle entirely.  Here is something that Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote some time before Stevens wrote "The Snow Man":

The sense of the world must lie outside the world.  In the world everything is as it is, and everything happens as it does happen:  in it no value exists -- and if it did exist, it would have no value.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Proposition 6.41 (1921) (translated by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness; emphasis in original).  Or perhaps it boils down to the final Proposition of the Tractatus:  "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."  Or, translated differently:  "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Life Explained, Part Nine: "Entirely"

The poetry of Louis MacNeice can be very witty.  But something serious is usually lurking nearby.  Here, for instance, is an Explanation of Life that is witty, but . . .   


If we could get the hang of it entirely
   It would take too long;
All we know is the splash of words in passing
   And falling twigs of song,
And when we try to eavesdrop on the great
   Presences it is rarely
That by a stroke of luck we can appropriate
   Even a phrase entirely.

If we could find our happiness entirely
   In somebody else's arms
We should not fear the spears of the spring nor the city's
   Yammering fire alarms
But, as it is, the spears each year go through
   Our flesh and almost hourly
Bell or siren banishes the blue
   Eyes of Love entirely.

And if the world were black or white entirely
   And all the charts were plain
Instead of a mad weir of tigerish waters,
   A prism of delight and pain,
We might be surer where we wished to go
   Or again we might be merely
Bored but in brute reality there is no
   Road that is right entirely.

Louis MacNeice, Plant and Phantom (1941).

                       Samuel Palmer, "The Magic Apple Tree" (1830)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Two Chinese Snow Poems

Although I am mindful of the inevitable dangers of translation, I enjoy reading Chinese poetry -- in particular, the great poets of the T'ang Dynasty (618-907): Wang Wei, Po Chu-i, Tu Fu, and Li Po.  In recognition of the season, I offer two snow poems.  The translations are by Burton Watson, who, along with Arthur Waley, provided me with an introduction to Chinese verse.

The first poem is by Po Chu-i (772-846):

                         Night Snow

I wondered why the covers felt so cold,
and then I saw how bright my window was.
Night far gone, I know the snow must be deep --
from time to time I hear the bamboos cracking.

                                 Pekka Halonen, "Talvimaisema" (1917)

The second poem is by Liu Tsung-Yuan (773-819):

                              River Snow

From a thousand hills, bird flights have vanished;
on ten thousand paths, human traces wiped out:
lone boat, an old man in straw cape and hat,
fishing alone in the cold river snow.

                             Pekka Halonen, "Winter Landscape" (1919)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Late MacNeice: "Outdoors The Wind. Indoors The Locked Heart And The Lost Key."

Louis MacNeice has often been thought of as a Thirties (and Forties) poet and/or as one of the satellites circling Auden.  However, in recent years it has been recognized that he stands on his own, and that the generational pigeon-holing is too simplistic.  Still, a tendency remains to focus on the poems that he wrote during the Thirties and Forties -- poems such as "Wolves," "Snow," "The Sunlight on the Garden," and Autumn Journal.  Although these poems (and many others from his earlier years) are indeed wonderful, I believe that MacNeice wrote a number of his finest poems later in his life.

After 1948 (when Holes in the Sky was published), MacNeice went through a dry spell that lasted nearly 10 years.  He did publish Ten Burnt Offerings (1952) and Autumn Sequel (1954) during this time, but these lengthy poems were not of the same quality as that which had come before.  However, things changed in 1957 -- the year in which MacNeice turned 50 and the year in which Visitations was published.  In that volume, and in the two further books that were published prior to his too-early death in 1963 (Solstices in 1961 and The Burning Perch in 1963), MacNeice was again at his best.

                         House on a Cliff

Indoors the tang of a tiny oil lamp.  Outdoors
The winking signal on the waste of sea.
Indoors the sound of the wind.  Outdoors the wind.
Indoors the locked heart and the lost key.

Outdoors the chill, the void, the siren.  Indoors
The strong man pained to find his red blood cools,
While the blind clock grows louder, faster.  Outdoors
The silent moon, the garrulous tides she rules.

Indoors ancestral curse-cum-blessing.  Outdoors
The empty bowl of heaven, the empty deep.
Indoors a purposeful man who talks at cross
Purposes, to himself, in a broken sleep.

Louis MacNeice, Visitations (1957).

                                  Stanley Spencer, "Fire Alight" (1936)

                              Figure of Eight

In the top and front of a bus, eager to meet his fate,
He pressed with foot and mind to gather speed,
Then, when the lights were changing, jumped and hurried,
Though dead on time, to the meeting place agreed,
But there was no one there.  He chose to wait.
No one came.  He need not perhaps have worried.

Whereas today in the rear and gloom of a train,
Loath, loath to meet his fate, he cowers and prays
For some last-minute hitch, some unheard-of abdication,
But, winding up the black thread of his days,
The wheels roll on and make it all too plain
Who will be there to meet him at the station.

Louis MacNeice, Visitations (1957).  The repetition in "Loath, loath to meet his fate" is very nice, I think.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"The World, Whose Aspect Is Nowhere Strange, But Is Nowhere Home"

I am in the midst of a bout of nostalgia brought on by Christmas music, a viewing of the movie "White Christmas" (with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye), and the news of a blizzard in my Minnesota birthplace.  Thus, for instance, a line from the song "River" by Joni Mitchell keeps popping into my head:  "I wish I had a river I could skate away on."  (Despite the fact that I have never skated on a river.)

The following poem by Clifford Dyment (1914-1971) came to mind as well -- even though, as an American, the recitation of English and European cars escapes me.  Nonetheless, I am in complete sympathy with the final two lines of the poem.

As a boy with a richness of needs I wandered
In car parks and streets, epicure of Lagondas,
Minervas, Invictas, and Hispano Suizas;
And I sampled as roughage and amusing sauce
Little Rovers and Rileys, and the occasional funny
Trojan with chain drive, and the Morris Cowleys
With their modest bonnets, sedate Fiat
Of the nineteen-twenties, and the Alvis, middle-brow
Between the raffish sports car and the family bus.
I was tempted by aircraft, too, sniffing
Over The Aeroplane and Flight -- those kites,
They seem today, knocked up in a backyard
By young and oily artists who painted with rivets:
Westland Wapiti, Bristol Bulldog, and the great
De Havilland Hercules, invading the desert
And pulsing within its sleep like a troubling nerve;
And surely, I think, as I remember those feasts,
They were days of excitement and lavish surprise?
Where is the tantalizing richness and hazard
Of assertive styling, of crazy rigs,
Now that a car is unremarkably one of a million,
And an aeroplane is a tubular schedule?  I wander
Still in the car parks, but now uneasily,
Thinking that engineering is a sort of evolution --
Out of the fittest come the many merely fit;
And I wonder if I am wrong, or the world, whose aspect
Is nowhere strange, but is nowhere home.

Clifford Dyment, Collected Poems (1970).  (The poem is untitled.  It was written in the mid-1950s.)

                                     Pekka Halonen, "Ensilumi" (1931) 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"The Drowsy Motion Of The River R"

As we have seen in "The River of Rivers in Connecticut," Wallace Stevens speaks of the World as a river -- "an unnamed flowing."  Of course, this idea is certainly not one that is unique to Stevens.  But, for Stevens, the flowing of the World means nothing unless the Imagination is applied to it.  Thus, Life consists of two motions:  the motion of the World and the motion of the Imagination.  Perhaps this is expressed best in the title of one of Stevens's late poems:  "Reality Is an Activity of the Most August Imagination."

Whew!  How's that for some high-falutin' talk?  I don't know what got into me.  Enough palaver.  The only thing that matters is the poetry.  To wit:

                         An Old Man Asleep

The two worlds are asleep, are sleeping, now.
A dumb sense possesses them in a kind of solemnity.

The self and the earth -- your thoughts, your feelings,
Your beliefs and disbeliefs, your whole peculiar plot;

The redness of your reddish chestnut trees,
The river motion, the drowsy motion of the river R.

Wallace Stevens, The Rock (1954).

                         Eero Jarnefelt, "Pond Water Crowfoot" (1895)

And, on the subject of motion, consider this:

   The Place of the Solitaires

Let the place of the solitaires
Be a place of perpetual undulation.

Whether it be in mid-sea
On the dark, green water-wheel,
Or on the beaches,
There must be no cessation
Of motion, or of the noise of motion,
The renewal of noise
And manifold continuation;
And, most, of the motion of thought
And its restless iteration,

In the place of the solitaires,
Which is to be a place of perpetual undulation.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (1923).

                                John Constable, "Cloud Study" (1822)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"The Fallow Deer At The Lonely House"

The fallow deer in Edward Thomas's "Out in the Dark" bring to mind a poem by Thomas Hardy.  Hardy was familiar with Thomas's poetry:  as I mentioned in a previous post, Edmund Blunden's biographer states that "on Hardy's death in 1928 his widow presented Edmund with Hardy's treasured copy of Edward Thomas's Poems as a memento of [Blunden's] visits [to Hardy]."  Barry Webb, Edmund Blunden: A Biography (1990), page 135.  In The Annotated Collected Poems, Edna Longley suggests that "Out in the Dark" "probably influenced Hardy's 'The Fallow Deer at the Lonely House.'"

   The Fallow Deer at the Lonely House

One without looks in to-night
   Through the curtain-chink
From the sheet of glistening white;
One without looks in to-night
   As we sit and think
   By the fender-brink.

We do not discern those eyes
   Watching in the snow;
Lit by lamps of rosy dyes
We do not discern those eyes
   Wondering, aglow,
   Fourfooted, tiptoe.

Thomas Hardy, Winter Words (1928).

                               John Nash, "Wild Garden, Winter" (1959)

Fallow deer also make an appearance in a poem by John Drinkwater (1882-1937), who was a contemporary of Thomas and Hardy.


Shy in their herding dwell the fallow deer.
They are spirits of wild sense.  Nobody near
Comes upon their pastures.  There a life they live,
Of sufficient beauty, phantom, fugitive,
Treading as in jungles free leopards do,
Printless as evelight, instant as dew.
The great kine are patient, and home-coming sheep
Know our bidding.  The fallow deer keep
Delicate and far their counsels wild,
Never to be folded reconciled
To the spoiling hand as the poor flocks are;
Lightfoot, and swift, and unfamiliar,
These you may not hinder, unconfined
Beautiful flocks of the mind.

John Drinkwater, Loyalties (1919).

                     Spencer Frederick Gore, "Richmond Park" (c. 1914)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Out In The Dark Over The Snow": Edward Thomas And Robert Frost

Robert Frost's "Desert Places" and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" put me in mind of a poem by Edward Thomas.  Thomas's poem in turn reminds me of the affinity between Thomas and Frost.  For both of them, the darkness (of a forest or of night or of interstellar space) is frightening as well as alluring:  "The woods are lovely, dark and deep" (Frost); "Dark is the forest and deep, and overhead/Hang stars like seeds of light/In vain" (Thomas); "They cannot scare me with their empty spaces/Between stars" (Frost).  (And consider also Frost's "Acquainted with the Night" and "An Old Man's Winter Night".)

Thomas wrote the first draft of the following poem on Christmas Eve of 1916 while he was on leave with his family at High Beech in Essex.

               Out in the Dark

Out in the dark over the snow
The fallow fawns invisible go
With the fallow doe;
And the winds blow
Fast as the stars are slow.

Stealthily the dark haunts round
And, when a lamp goes, without sound
At a swifter bound
Than the swiftest hound,
Arrives, and all else is drowned;

And star and I and wind and deer
Are in the dark together, -- near,
Yet far, -- and fear
Drums on my ear
In that sage company drear.

How weak and little is the light,
All the universe of sight,
Love and delight,
Before the might,
If you love it not, of night.

                    Eugene Jansson, "Riddarfjarden, Stockholm" (1898)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Life Explained, Part Eight: "Happiness Makes Up In Height For What It Lacks In Length"

Thus far in my "Life Explained" series, I confess that the news has not been all good.  For instance, Christina Rossetti has asked:  "Does the Road Wind Up-Hill All the Way?"  And Philip Larkin has observed (no surprise here) that "Continuing to live -- that is, repeat/A habit formed to get necessaries--/Is nearly always losing, or going without./It varies."  Perhaps it is time for some good news.  And who better to provide that news than a sometimes cranky farmer from New England?

One should never underestimate Robert Frost.  Beyond the old chestnuts, hidden gems await us.  Frost can be irritating, but he is nothing if not crafty.  A phrase to bear in mind when reading his poetry:  "Gone into if not explained."

     Happiness Makes Up in Height
        for What It Lacks in Length

Oh, stormy stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud,
And the sun's brilliant ball
Was not in part or all
Obscured from mortal view --
Were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
Of so much warmth and light.
If my mistrust is right
It may be altogether
From one day's perfect weather,
When starting clear at dawn,
The day swept clearly on
To finish clear at eve.
I verily believe
My fair impression may
Be all from that one day
No shadow crossed but ours
As through its blazing flowers
We went from house to wood
For change of solitude.

Robert Frost, A Witness Tree (1942).

Lest we be deceived into thinking that Frost is offering us a simple feel-good, self-help nostrum, we are well-advised not to forget line 12:  "If my mistrust is right."  This is one of those characteristic Frostian utterances that give something and then take something away (or, take something away and then give something back).  (Edward Thomas is also quite good at this.  One can see why he and Frost got along together so well.)

Oh, and we are also well-advised not to forget "change of solitude" in the final line.  Again, as Frost said:  "Gone into if not explained."

                                   Edvard Munch, "The Storm" (1893)

Friday, December 3, 2010

"All Night I Sat Reading A Book"

As autumn moves to a close, another visit to Wallace Stevens is in order.  But first, a brief interlude with Robert Frost.  Stevens and Frost were acquaintances -- they met in Key West in the 1930s during one of Stevens's winter vacations in Florida.  Their relationship was not a close one, but the very thought of those two prickly characters spending time together is amusing.

After a meeting with Frost in October of 1942, Stevens wrote to Frost:

"My wife and I both enjoyed seeing you again today, and both of us hope that some time when you are in Hartford, or thereabouts, you will come out to see us at home:  spring, summer or autumn, but not winter.  We can only show you seed catalogues in winter.  How nice it would be to sit in the garden and imagine that we were living in a world in which everything was as it ought to be."

Holly Stevens (editor), Letters of Wallace Stevens (1966), pages 422-423.  What a lovely final sentence!  It sounds as if it could slip right into a poem.  I wonder what Frost thought of it.

                    The Reader

All night I sat reading a book,
Sat reading as if in a book
Of sombre pages.

It was autumn and falling stars
Covered the shrivelled forms
Crouched in the moonlight.

No lamp was burning as I read,
A voice was mumbling, "Everything
Falls back to coldness,

Even the musky muscadines,
The melons, the vermilion pears
Of the leafless garden."

The sombre pages bore no print
Except the trace of burning stars
In the frosty heaven.

Wallace Stevens, Ideas of Order (1936).

As is often the case, I don't know exactly what Stevens is getting at.  But, whatever it is, it sounds beautiful.  Perhaps a clue may be found in something that Stevens wrote in a letter in 1949:

"Often when I am writing poetry I have in mind an image of reading a page of a large book:  I mean the large page of a book.  What I read is what I like."

Letters of Wallace Stevens, letter to Barbara Church (July 27, 1949).

      Laurits Andersen Ring, "A Road Near Vinderod, Zealand" (1898) 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"The Woods Are Lovely, Dark And Deep"

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "The Road Not Taken" are probably Robert Frost's "best known" and "best loved" poems.  They are so familiar that it is difficult to read them with freshness.  Although, for Americans of a certain age (I will not presume to speak for any American born after Dwight D. Eisenhower's first term in office), it may not even be necessary to read them since they have been embedded in our memory from an early age.  In any event, they are worth revisiting.

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.

                               Akseli Gallen-Kallela, "Winter" (1903)

As a start to considering the artistry behind the poem, I find the following comment by Jay Parini  to be very helpful:  "The aphoristic quality of this little poem, which seems so natural that one cannot imagine its having been invented, is such that one can hardly not memorize it."  Jay Parini, Robert Frost: A Life (1999), page 213 (emphasis in original).

And consider a point of punctuation.  After Frost's death, Edward Connery Lathem "edited" a new edition of Frost's collected poems.  As part of his "editing," Lathem decided to "correct" the punctuation of a number of the poems.  One of his "corrections" was to change the first line of the final stanza from "The woods are lovely, dark and deep" to "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep."  In his excellent study of Frost's poetry, Richard Poirier has this to say about Lathem's change:

In fact, the woods are not, as the Lathem edition would have it (with its obtuse emendation of a comma after the second adjective in line 13), merely "lovely, dark, and deep."  Rather, as Frost in all the editions he supervised intended, they are "lovely, [i.e.] dark and deep"; the loveliness thereby partakes of the depth and darkness which make the woods so ominous.

Richard Poirier, Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing (1977), page 181.

William Pritchard, who has written a fine study of Frost's poetry (Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered), echoes Poirier's criticism of Lathem's change to the line:

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep," now has an added comma after "dark."  It is as if a prim schoolmaster were at work, showing his concern for Robert's getting the correct punctuation into the business or friendly letter so that his English will be Good and Understood By All, rather than "Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,/So can't get saved."

William Pritchard, "Frost Revised," Playing It By Ear: Literary Essays and Reviews (1994), page 26.  Fortunately, the original version ("dark and deep") has been restored in the Library of America edition of Frost's poetry and prose edited by Richard Poirier and Mark Richardson. 

                          Peder  Monsted, "Ponte Campovasto" (1914)