Friday, April 24, 2009

Some Frost for Friday Morning

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.

So begins The Road Not Taken (1915) a famous poem by Robert Frost, often interpreted as a poem about individualism. (and often given a different title in people's memories.) The poem continues.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

The narrator takes the route that ‘wanted wear’.

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

Wait! Is the narrator suggesting that both roads wanted wear equally?

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Yes, it appears so. No step had trodden black either road. Neither road had been traveled.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

But, still, only one road could be taken.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:

The narrator looks into the future and predicts how the event will be recalled.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

However, is this the truth, or just how the narrator-grandparent will recall the events, so to speak? It appears Frost may be talking, perhaps cynically, about the control we have in describing our own past the way we want to describe it. As long as there is no evidence to the contrary.

An uncle tells a story of asking my great grandmother, Bertha Cruvant, late in her life, if she was pretty when she was young. My great grandmother responded, “Yes, Yes I was. Extremely pretty. And who is there left who will say otherwise?”

A smart woman, but photographs discovered have backed her up (at least in my own mind). She was pretty. But still, she knew her response to my uncle was hers to make, and she chose the response she wanted.

Back to the poem – it can be interpreted in several ways. Even if we agree both roads are untraveled when the narrator reaches the fork – that means Frost’s narrator is taking a road ‘less traveled’ regardless of choice. Suggesting not the viewpoint of a cynic, but that of a trailblazer. Many people when they approach options untried, will turn around and head back. Maybe that’s why both routes had untread leaves. Frost’s narrator made a different choice. There was another option equally new, but the narrator still didn’t do what most people did. The individualistic interpretation of the poem is definitely still valid.

However, to my mind, the final stanza is a prediction, and not an absolute vision into the future. Furthermore - Frost’s narrator, in the here and now of the poem, never declaratively states he (or she) took the (or a) road less traveled; all we have is the evidence elsewhere in the poem to piece together the past, and whether the truth will be told in the future, or not. Which leads to different readers interpreting the truth differently.

I see no connection between this poem and family history research whatsoever, so I have no idea why I am posting this to my blog. Sorry for the poetic intrusion. (smile)

30 minute college lecture on the meaning behind Frost's poem:

LA Times Opinion article which won't take 30 minutes to read.

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