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STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING- ROBERT FROST
When I was at school many years ago I was somewhat of a dreamer. I was either thinking about wild places miles away from classrooms, where oceans roared and rivers cascaded, or else I had my eyes in books also for escapism. I was academic, but also had this spirit that sought to be free and to experience life away from built up areas where I could be with nature. Two of my children have inherited this character trait and the other two have elements of it, and fortunately I found the same traits in my husband so have a partner who shares these dreams.
One of the books that I absolutely loved at school when I was doing A level English was the poetry of Robert Frost. He was a twentieth century American poet who wrote in depth about life in New England, and he instilled in me such deep memories as a teenager. Many of his poems reflect the harsh rural way of life that prevailed at the time. He covers deep subjects including still birth, but many of his poems are celebrations of nature. Many are complicated and require in depth analysis to understand their meaning, so I was delighted when my son Robert sent a book to me for my recent birthday which I didn't know existed. Stooping By Woods On A Snowy Evening is a book that has been produced for children, and features one of his best known poems of the same name. It is illustrated by Susan Jeffers who is an award winning artist. The reason that my son discovered this book is that he is training to be an elementary school teacher in the US. As part of his course he has to choose books to study which have meaning, and which can be used to teach important subjects to children, and to inspire them to think about life on a deeper level. I remember our poetry sessions all those years ago in which every word was analysed and picked apart, and certainly we did that with this poem as it was never intended to be for children. However I used to like to think of it on a simple level, just celebrating nature and the way it invites us to stop in awe.
I have to say that when this book arrived I had tears in my eyes because it took me right back to my youth and to the dark classroom I was in at the time. November bleakness, battleship grey views, grey pencils and impending examinations fill my memories, but are laced with thoughts of crisp white snow, tinkling horse bells and a place to just "BE "
This wonderful book is a celebration of life and beauty, and an invitation to sometimes stop on your journey and to appreciate something which has a childlike innocence. Each page is filled with the most inspirational images of a journey made with horse and sleigh. A solitary man and his horse plough their way through gaps in giant snow dusted trees that stretch endlessly towards the skyline. He traverses them on his way to his destination- a village on the other side of the wood. Somewhere in the midst of this journey the man stops in awe and stares at the picture that lies before him. He climbs down from his sleigh as the horse looks on and the horse asks -
"He gives the harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake"
The figure of the elderly man all toggled up in a thick wintry coat in tartan, his green scarf waving gently in the wind, looking on at the white trees as they cocoon him in solitude as the snow gently falls is magical.
Then the man climbs back up onto his cart and continues on to his final destination
"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"
This book is an absolute treasure as it celebrates the joy of life and the importance of the appreciation of simple pleasures. This was something I hoped I had instilled in my children as they grew up and left home - that sometimes there is such joy in watching life rather than always "doing"
The book appeals to both adults and children and can be enjoyed on different levels. The character in the illustration is bearded and elderly, and his cart is a sleigh which evokes the feeling of midwinter and Christmas. His beard is thick and sits on top of his scarf shielding the icy cool wintry winds. There are superb illustrations of forest wildlife on many of the pages.
I think this book would be perfect for any child. The pictures are so beautiful that they can be enjoyed long before a child can learn to read or to think about the story. Many of the children my son teaches have never seen snow as they live in the warm climate of Arizona, so for them it is even more magical I am sure.
I think this book succeeds because it marries together the wonderful poetry with the delightful illustrations - one supports the other to create so much atmosphere. You can almost hear the tinkling of the horse bells as the snow softly falls.
You won't find this book in high street stores as it has to be purchased from the US, but it is inexpensive and I purchased a copy for one of my daughters recently from Amazon. Their copies are over £15, but it you look at the other options on the page you can obtain new copies for around £5 plus posting and these are hard back and are internationally shipped.
This joins my pile of childhood keepsake books that I will one day turn to if I am blessed with grandchildren, but in the meantime this book is a precious reminder that life has simple pleasures to be enjoyed. I could sit and look at the illustrations all day long for they are like snowstorms, as the snow settles you see something new in every page. Highly recommended to introduce young children to the joys of poetry.