Recalling Robert Frost on the Harvard Bridge
I walked across the Harvard Bridge today, and stopped halfway to gape at the frozen-over Charles river. I’m from the West Coast; before today, I had never even considered that a river could freeze over. But there it was, right below me, a chalky and flat and improbable plane stretched tight between two riverbanks. Pedestrians bustled past me as I stared and stared. Then a cyclist rang her bell and I blinked back to reality, and shuffled on towards my destination.
We all have these moments of rapture-release, I think. On the bridge, as I continued on my way, I was reminded of a famous poem of Robert Frost’s, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The last lines of the poem are often quoted by overworked graduate students — “And miles to go before I sleep” — but I have always been more interested in the little horse in the second and third stanzas: he “gives his harness bells a shake / to ask if there is some mistake.” I think it is those bells that bring the speaker back to his senses and remind him of his earthly obligations, of “promises to keep,” just as the cyclist’s bells shook me awake today.
Frost captures our instinct to check in on each other, to keep each other grounded, to protect each other from the mesmerizing world around us. The world comes with guardrails, he says — so it’s okay, go on, be amazed.