Wednesday Words 11.4.15

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The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost, 18741963

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I’ve long loved this poem, but not for the reasons most people love this poem. I now also love this commentary which explains why/how most of us get this poem wrong. 
Photo Credit: Rusty Russ via Compfight cc
Poem Credit and copyright information:  https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/road-not-taken

15 thoughts on “Wednesday Words 11.4.15

  1. Marian says:

    I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t have an English degree. In other words, while I do know this poem (because as the essay you linked to attests, *everyone* knows this poem), it’s become clear to me that I’ve never read it very carefully. Whenever I’ve heard the most oft-mentioned lines of the poem: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference”……. I’ve always felt a pang of self-remorse, and self-recrimination. I did not take the road less travelled, I would berate myself. I did what was expected of me. I failed miserably at it (in my mind, if not in actual fact), and then, when given the chance to correct things, I once again did what was expected of me.

    Reading this poem carefully this morning, as well as the essay you linked to, which explains what the poet is REALLY saying, is a huge eye opener for me. To know that Frost was actually saying that we are all spinning our past choices so as to put ourselves at peace with what our lives have become? My gosh, this means I’m not alone, this means I’m no different than anyone else! And it’s not just an epiphany I’m getting this morning, by way of this post; it’s also reinforcing a really vital life lesson: the absolute importance of reading carefully, of listening carefully. Clearly, assumption and supposition and *knowing* something when you really DON’T know something, can cause a lot of heartache. Thank you for this post, Rita.
    Marian recently posted…Using the Freezer to Minimize Food WasteMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      The English teacher who still lives in me loved reading this comment today. Frost has long been one of my favorite poets. He’s not a fashionable choice; I think it’s a marketing/perception problem more than anything. I don’t think he’s a simple or homespun kind of guy at all. I think he had a real edge to him, and that he wrestled with plenty with all kinds of things. His “Out, Out–” is one that still chills me: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/238122

      As for roads less traveled, I’ve long hated the ways in which this poem is used to celebrate some mythology of non-conformity that too many of us use to beat ourselves up. In this poem Frost never says what “the difference” is. Perhaps the road less traveled is the path to destruction. After all, he is “telling this with a sigh,” is he not?

          • Marian says:

            Yes! I have to tell you that upon reading the title, my mind went immediately to Macbeth, albeit to the WRONG (and misremembered) quote — “Out, (out) damn’d spot” (which is certainly a stretch to fit the poem, whereas the “out, out brief candle” does fit it precisely). (Hmmm…I think if you continue these “Wednesday Words” you’ll turn me into an amateur English lit major 😉 .
            Marian recently posted…Using the Freezer to Minimize Food WasteMy Profile

          • Rita says:

            Wish we could have an in-person book club. Would love to sit and drink tea and talk poetry with you. 🙂

          • May says:

            Have always loved this poem. One of the things I enjoy about poetry (right or wrong from an English major’s perspective, I am not sure) is that it is open to interpretation by the reader. How it speaks to one of us, may not be the way it speaks to another. Short of personally asking the author what he or she truly meant, isn’t interpretation the best we can do with any poem?
            As to a book club where we could sit and drink tea and talk about the words…I love these Wednesday Words posts, Rita, and I was wondering about the potential of a link-up where others could attempt similar posts to share. A virtual tea sipping book club! I would be a charter member of your club for sure!
            May recently posted…TToT:Christmas EditionMy Profile

  2. Beth says:

    There is a beautiful suite of songs written by Randall Thompson that sets this poem, as well as several other of Frost’s, to music for choir. Several of the orchestras I’m in perform them often at Christmastime with high school choirs. They’re some of my favorite recurring holiday pieces.

    • Rita says:

      I’m guessing that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” must be one of the poems? How could you not do that one at Christmas? Thank you for sharing this–

  3. Marcie Bovetz says:

    Rita, It’s Marcie from a long-ago chapter in your life. (Not the Wrong chapter, but not the Wright chapter, either.) I googled your name to see what you might be teaching or writing now, and I’m glad I found your blog. I loved your essay on Siberia. And I love that you are now a librarian.
    I sang two songs from the Randall Thompson Frostiana series mentioned here when I was in high school: “The Road Not Taken” and “Choose Something Like a Star.” I still remember the music 45 years later.
    I hope we can catch up sometime.. Email me if you can.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, what an amazing surprise on this morning when the dogs (who have NOT adjusted to the time change) woke me up far too early and I’ve been feeling nothing but too tired and grumpy! Yes, I will email you later today. I was thinking of you just the other day. I was thinking of Powell’s, and that always makes me think of you.

  4. Gretchen says:

    I’ve already drilled it into all of my kids’ heads (well, except Abe) that “The Road Not Taken” isn’t a self congratulatory ode to non-conformity. Although I think my own reading is a bit different than the standard alternative; there’s genuine regret in there that you only get to live once and make one set of decisions, too, isn’t there? The roads AREN’T the same; there’s just no way of knowing what’s down both of them. So you feign confidence that you made the right decision in retrospect, because what’s the alternative? But, yeah, I’ve always wondered how anyone could actually READ the poem and still come away from it viewing it as a t-shirt slogan. I thought I was too good for Robert Frost when I was in high school and college, but I’ve definitely grown to appreciate him as I’ve gotten older.
    Gretchen recently posted…A Mail Carrier, some guys from Zelda, and Thanksgiving Dinner Walked into a Bar….My Profile

    • Rita says:

      I really like this take on the poem. Yeah, you can’t know and you can’t travel both paths and there’s something about that that makes me sigh, too. I don’t even know if he’s feigning confidence that it was the right decision. The decision does make all the difference, yes. But like you say, we can’t really know if the other road would have been better. I remember being at a crossroad early in my career. I had just gotten my first teaching job, and the owner of the publishing company asked me if he couldn’t convince me to stay. I’ve often wondered where my life would have gone if I’d stayed. No way to know, other than it would have been much different.

      • Gretchen says:

        You know, I almost didn’t put the part about feigning confidence, because I’m not sure about that, either. But, yeah, the TITLE of the poem is The Road Not Taken….I definitely think it’s a mistake to read it as if there’s nothing to be said about that road–either that it’s just that lame road all the cheerleaders and football players you went to high school with went down or that it’s exactly the same as the other road. I mean, that’s not how roads work–there are two roads because they go different places. Now I feel like I need to go read the article you posted again…maybe I’m protesting too much :).

        • Rita says:

          I don’t think so, at all. See, this is what I might like most about Frost. Everyone writes his stuff off as simple, but it’s really not. I like that Frost doesn’t really draw any conclusion other than: The road I chose mattered. Doesn’t tell us good or bad, just that it matters. It will always matter, won’t it?

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