— But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? — What did you look forward to? — To any thing, every thing — to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perserverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured ... — from Emma, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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November 22, 2015

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;

The 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
Someday 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.

This book — a close, unexpected reading of a poem we know so well, except that we don't — appealed to me the second I heard about it, and if I hadn't had to wait so long for it at the library, I think I would rather have read it at a less busy time.  But no matter, because even knowing how book leads on to book, I want to  read it, and think about it, again. :)  (But of course, me being me, there's a biography of Frost that I want to read first... :)

The essence of the book is that this a poem that we know, and many of us love, and misquote, but it's also one that we fundamentally misunderstand, Our reading of it might change as things are pointed out to us:  that these are roads (not paths or trails), the question of which is the road not taken (the one the speaker chooses, or the one that he doesn't), the problem of whether you can be the same person {be one traveler} after you have made a choice {any choice}, the questionable nature of choosing between two things that are 'really about the same,' the false conviction that we can know how we will feel about something, ages and ages hence, and the open question of what the difference is that has been made.

But there's also the story of Frost's friendship with an English poet, and his reputation as a 'monster,' and philosophy, and psychology, and selling jam, the sense of there being a national character,different in different countries,, and how we create, or possibly uncover, our sense of self... packed in 177 pages, all from 20 lines of a hundred-year-old poem. It's very rich and little dizzying, but very readable and so intriguing,

We can't accurately tell the stories of our own choices, Frost might say, but they are nonetheless ours, and there is something pleasing — or at any rate fascinating — in the way we fall short of understanding them consciously, and in the hope that we might somehow not fall short. In our reaching and failing we create a life, a story, an art.

3 comments:

Frances said...

Jealous! I have eyed this one too. Always been fascinated although not necessarily attracted to Frost's dark side.

JoAnn said...

The online library catalog tells me I can just walk in and pluck this off the shelf today... will let you know if that is actually the case.

Terra said...

Fascinating premise for a book about this iconic poem.

Thank you for visiting!

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