Did I say time constraints? Sorry - I meant severe date constraints, of course - given the date, I couldn't not post that <g>. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blither^Wpoetry...
(Poem #51) The Road Not Taken
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.
Roads have long fascinated mankind, whether as metaphors for life, change, journeys, partings, adventure, etc., or simply as roads, with all their implications of 'here' and 'not here', and the fact that the two may not be as separate as one thought. This is probably why they, and all their attendant images, have permeated art, literature (especially sf&f) and song. They have also inspired some of my favourite poems, including Tolkien's "The Road Goes Ever On" [minstrels poem #4, and do read the quoted passage of text after it] and this one. As for the poem itself, there are doubtless a multitude of meanings hidden below the surface - the main one, of course, refers to Frost's own life, and the decisions he made therein (see biography). Personally I feel that the however many layers of meaning and allusion a poem contains, it is the literal, surface reading that determines much of its merit (and nearly all of its popularity). This poem certainly passes the test - it is nicely lyrical, and the last verse is one of Frost's most quoted. Biographical Notes: b. March 26, 1874, San Francisco, Calif., U.S. d. Jan. 29, 1963, Boston, Mass. in full ROBERT LEE FROST American poet who was much admired for his depictions of the rural life of New England, his command of American colloquial speech, and his realistic verse portraying ordinary people in everyday situations. Meanwhile, Robert continued to labour on the poetic career he had begun in a small way during high school; he first achieved professional publication in 1894 when The Independent, a weekly literary journal, printed his poem "My Butterfly: An Elegy." Impatient with academic routine, Frost left Dartmouth after less than a year. He and Elinor married in 1895 but found life difficult, and the young poet supported them by teaching school and farming, neither with notable success. [...] Frost became an enthusiastic botanist and acquired his poetic persona of a New England rural sage during the years he and his family spent at Derry. All this while he was writing poems, but publishing outlets showed little interest in them. By 1911 he was fighting against discouragement. Poetry had always been considered a young person's game, but Frost, who was nearly 40 years old, had not published a single book of poems and had seen just a handful appear in magazines. In 1911 ownership of the Derry farm passed to Frost. A momentous decision was made: to sell the farm and use the proceeds to make a radical new start in London, where publishers were perceived to be more receptive to new talent. Accordingly, in August 1912 the Frost family sailed across the Atlantic to England. Frost carried with him sheaves of verses he had written but not gotten into print. English publishers in London did indeed prove more receptive to innovative verse, and, through his own vigorous efforts and those of the expatriate American poet Ezra Pound, Frost within a year had published A Boy's Will (1913). From this first book, such poems as "Storm Fear," "Mowing," and "The Tuft of Flowers" have remained standard anthology pieces. In London, Frost's name was frequently mentioned by those who followed the course of modern literature, and soon American visitors were returning home with news of this unknown poet who was causing a sensation abroad. The Boston poet Amy Lowell traveled to England in 1914, and in the bookstores there she encountered Frost's work. Taking his books home to America, Lowell then began a campaign to locate an American publisher for them, meanwhile writing her own laudatory review of North of Boston. Without his being fully aware of it, Frost was on his way to fame. [...] Frost soon found himself besieged by magazines seeking to publish his poems. Never before had an American poet achieved such rapid fame after such a disheartening delay. From this moment his career rose on an ascending curve. -- EB [Frost was also the first, and afaik only, person to win the Pulitzer four times - m.] Criticism: Frost was the most widely admired and highly honoured American poet of the 20th century. Amy Lowell thought he had overstressed the dark aspects of New England life, but Frost's later flood of more uniformly optimistic verses made that view seem antiquated. Louis Untermeyer's judgment that the dramatic poems in North of Boston were the most authentic and powerful of their kind ever produced by an American has only been confirmed by later opinions. Gradually, Frost's name ceased to be linked solely with New England, and he gained broad acceptance as a national poet. It is true that certain criticisms of Frost have never been wholly refuted, one being that he was overly interested in the past, another that he was too little concerned with the present and future of American society. Those who criticize Frost's detachment from the "modern" emphasize the undeniable absence in his poems of meaningful references to the modern realities of industrialization, urbanization, and the concentration of wealth, or to such familiar items as radios, motion pictures, automobiles, factories, or skyscrapers. The poet has been viewed as a singer of sweet nostalgia and a social and political conservative who was content to sigh for the good things of the past. Such views have failed to gain general acceptance, however, in the face of the universality of Frost's themes, the emotional authenticity of his voice, and the austere technical brilliance of his verse. Frost was often able to endow his rural imagery with a larger symbolic or metaphysical significance, and his best poems transcend the immediate realities of their subject matter to illuminate the unique blend of tragic endurance, stoicism, and tenacious affirmation that marked his outlook on life. Over his long career Frost succeeded in lodging more than a few poems where, as he put it, they would be "hard to get rid of," and he can be said to have lodged himself just as solidly in the affections of his fellow Americans. For thousands he remains the only recent poet worth reading and the only one who matters. -- EB [And a couple of rather long pieces on Frost's use of language, included because they shed a revealing light on this and most of his poems.] When he was (supposedly) twenty, Frost first realized that real artistic speech was only to be copied from life. He never claimed to be the first poet to arrive at this understanding, but found that "where English poetry was greatest it was by virtue of this same method in the poet" and "he illustrated it in Shakespeare, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Emerson" (Lathem and Thompson 259). Frost explained his method as follows: What we do get in life and miss so often in literature is the sentence sounds that underlie the words. Words themselves do not convey meaning, and to [. . . prove] this, . . . let us take the example of two people who are talking on the other side of a closed door, whose voices can be heard but whose words cannot be distinguished. Even though the words do not carry, the sound of them does, and the listener can catch the meaning of the conversation. . . . [T]o me a sentence is not interesting merely in conveying a meaning of words. It must do something more; it must convey a meaning by sound. (Lathem and Thompson 261) What Frost strove to achieve was what he called "sound posturing," or "getting the sound of sense" (Lathem and Thompson 259). As for his language, Marie Borroff argues in her essay, "Robert Frost's New Testament: The Uses of Simplicity," that Frost manages to use "simple" words in order to achieve "high style." Borroff analyzes certain of his early poems and discovers a statistically low content of both Romance and Latinate words, and a high content of words of native derivation--not to mention a preponderance of one- and two-syllable words. The effect of this is to lend Frost's poetry an apparently "simple" and informal speech. But Borroff maintains that writers and speakers adopt different modes of discourse for different purposes, and that diction and vocabulary are selected as appropriate for a particular occasion, from the "distinctly formal" to the "distinctly colloquial" (69). Between the two extremes, however, lies "the 'common' level to which most words belong.. Such words are 'common' to literary and colloquial use alike. . . . They are chameleon-like, standing out neither as conspicuously folksy or talky in literary contexts nor as conspicuously pretentious in colloquial contexts" (69). Such words take on a particular "air" of formality, or of informality, in a particular context. "[A] number of Frost's best-known early lyrics are made of a language from which distinctively formal words are largely excluded. But it is equally true and important . . . that the language of these poems is lacking in words and expressions of distinctively colloquial quality" (70). In addition, Borroff notes that in its Biblical allusiveness, Frost's language acquires a "high formality" that can be attributed to the dignity of tone which is imputed to religious subject matter in our cultural tradition (73). Frost's language, therefore, cannot be adequately described as "simple" or as merely "common." Rather, "it dips occasionally to the distinctively colloquial level of everyday talk, as in the remark 'Spring is the mischief in me" . . . . It is embellished with an occasional poetic or biblical archaism of native derivation (o'er night and henceforth in "The Tuft of Flowers"), or archaic construction ("knew not" in "Mowing") or inversion of word order ("something there is" in "Mending Wall") (Borroff 72). -- Susan Siferd, <[broken link] http://www.wmich.edu/english/tchg/640/papers/Siferd.Frost.dev.html> The sign that he is at home is that his language is plain; it is the human vernacular, as simple on the surface as monosyllables can make it. Strangely enough this is what makes some readers say he is hard--he is always referring to things he does not name, at any rate in the long words they suppose proper. He seems to be saying less than he does; it is only when we read close and listen well, and think between the sentences, that we become aware of what his poems are about. What they are about is the important thing--more important, we are tempted to think, than the words themselves, though it was the words that brought the subject on. The subject is the world: a huge and ruthless place which men will never quite understand, any more than they will understand themselves; and yet it is the same old place that men have always been trying to understand, and to this extent it is as familiar as an old boot or an old back door, lovable for what it is in spite of the fact that it does not speak up and identify itself in the idiom of abstraction. Frost is a philosopher, but his ideas are behind his poems, not in them--buried well, for us to guess at if we please. -- Mark van Doren, in The Atlantic Monthly <http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/poetry/frost/vand.htm> m.