Words from the Soule: It is what it is


In 1957, Gilmore Hilton’s grandfather took the 20-minute ride from Simplex Pond to Orono to hear Princeton Professor Eudora Anais Byron lecture on “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.” The state’s university was particularly excited because the author Robert Frost himself was there onstage with the scholar.

Gilmore recalled his Grampy’s account of the affair:

“Professor Byron had all the mannerism of a scholar who never knew manual labor. She flitted to the podium with all the grace and charm of a hummingbird. She thanked the university, acknowledged the poet, recognized the audience and began her hour-long talk.

“She mentioned that the poem was ‘teeming with symbolism. The woods are a life-after-death domain and atttractive to the person with the horse. The equince is a conscience; the owner of the woods is a distant deity – perhaps God. The miles are years; the sleep is death; the promises are obligations.’

“The speaker continued, ‘An obvious death wish is in the final staza. Will the equestrian take his own life? No. He has too much to live for.’

“She went on and on to the point of ad nauseam.

“After a polite but brief applause, she turned to the Bard and said, ‘Would you like to add some wisdom?’

“The Pulitzer Prize winner walked at a leisurely pace to front-center, offered a slight grin and began. ‘What a marvelous presentation. I learned so much about what others think of this piece of literature. I hate to steal your thunder, but the poem is about a man who stops his horse by a woods on a snowy evening – nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes what seems is not what is.’ The poet returned to his chair as the crowd erupted with thunderous applause.

“Somewhat miffed, the Princeton Prof quickly left but not before she grabbed her hefty honorarium.”

Morton Soule teaches Latin at Cape Elizabeth High School. He can be reached at mortsoule@gmail.com.