Inhabited Memory

First FrostStopping by woods

In 1967, this “pocket anthology” of Robert Frost‘s poems cost 75 cents. But I didn’t pay a cent for it. I received the volume as a gift for my 11th birthday that December. The small book has survived nearly 40 years of purges of my “personal library,” and it still opens to page 194, on which appears the first of Frost’s poems that I memorized: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

It would seem that my dependence on a material object–the book–to access that poem should have ended the moment I committed the poem to memory. But not quite. That’s because the illustration (by John O’Hara Cosgrave II) printed below the poem is an integral part of my memory of the poem. Yes, it’s quite unremarkable and, after years of evolution in my pondering the poem, it may even be a bit kitschy. The illustration seems to convey little if anything of the complex and tense visual that Frost wrote. Only the large size of the woods relative to the observer seem appropriate in the illustration, and the soothing circular arc.

But, as it happens, the illustration is part of the reason I began to read the book on page 194 in the first place. It caught my eye because it looked like something one would see on a holiday card and, to an 11 year old, holidays meant no school. (The other part of the reason I started on page 194 was the word “snow” in the title; to an 11 year old, snow also meant no school.)

So that’s how the combination of graphic and symbolic text came to inhabit my memory of “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening.”

The back cover of the 75 cent book promises “numberless hours of pleasure and joy.” At the very least.

About 25 other inhabited memories of Frost’s poem turn up on a YouTube search — I hope you will enjoy them.

~ by matt on 26 July 2007.

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