Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “choices”

A Frosty Choice


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

And I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Ah, Frost’s famous lines that celebrate and embrace individualism. The encouragement to go against the grain, to strive beyond mediocrity, to go where few have bothered to travel. It’s the stuff of graduation speeches, self-help tomes, greeting cards, posters, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and it even helps to sell cars.
According to David Orr in his literary/biography/analysis, The Road Not Taken, we have got it all wrong. The subtitle clues us in: Finding America in the Poem Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong. 

Surprise Reading*

In Orr’s introduction he asserts and emphasizes that the roads are equally traveled, that the two roads are interchangeable. The speaker admits the other road “just as fair” and “the passing there/Had worn them really about the same…” The speaker further notes: “And both that morning equally lay/In leaves no step had trodden black.”

To me it’s all saying: “Hey, which way should I go? I have no idea. They look both the same.”

David Orr would tell us this is perhaps right, then again maybe not. After all, poetry is a matter of perspective. He states that the poem “is a literary oddity and a philosophical puzzle, but more than anything else it’s a way of framing the paradoxical and massively influential culture in which it both begins and ends.”

Maybe Orr is the only one who does get it right because after reading his illuminating, worthwhile, and fascinating treatise on Frost’s poem, I still think it’s all about making choices and living out the decisions we’ve made–no regrets.

Then again, Frost might be having the last laugh. Apparently the poem is his gentle poke at how his good friend, Edward Thomas, a British poet, had considerable difficulties selecting which way to go when he and Frost would ramble around the English countryside together. Thomas would lament how the other direction had just as many lovely sights to see. In other words, they were both good choices, yet Thomas always felt a bit of regret for not having gone the other way. It seems Frost’s poem gently chides his friend to be happy with the choice made, to be satisfied.

Frost’s poem is perhaps not so much a celebration of marching boldly through the tangled bracken of life, tripping over logs of distraction and despair, rather it’s a quiet reflection of accepting the road that is taken, and not lamenting over the one that was not taken.

Overall, for such a slim volume (weighing in less than 200 pages), it is filled with solid bits of reflective insights:

  • Frost originally titled the poem “Two Roads”–that changes things, a bit.
  • He specifically used roads, not paths and emphatically noted the difference upon hearing someone begin a recitation replacing “paths” for “roads.”
  • This is very much an American poem, written by an American poet extolling the ponderation of choice, something Americans have historically and culturally embraced, yet the poem is based upon a time when Frost resided in England.
  • Frost admitted that he did not always consciously make  decisions: “I never know what is going to happen next because I don’t dare to let myself formulate a foolish hope.”
  • I learned about “confabulation”–the concept about artful lying (my interpretation).
  • The big question Orr asks is this: if we don’t know why we made the decision, is the choice made a meaningful one?
  • Frost liked being a bit of a mystery to his public and biographers, which is reflected in his poetry.
  • The poem might also have its foundation upon an actual incident where Frost was walking upon a road and met a man coming in the other diection. Frost felt this man to be his mirror image and should they converge and intersect he would grow stronger in his last part of his journey home.
  • The poem, its twenty or so lines, is considered one of the most popular pieces of literature written by an American–Google search stats tells us so.

It’s said that while William Wordsworth desired his poetry to be of a man speaking to men, wanting to speak lyrically from experience, from the heart, Robert Frost, asserts Orr, wanted to speak with men. Frost included the reader in his metered musings by having a conversation with us. I think Frost wanted to assert a warmth in poems by including us into his writing, which he achieved with his casual conversational tone and second person pronoun usage. His writings remain popular because they are so relatable. He includes us, wanting us to share in his experience.

If allowed, I would like to celebrate and propose this thought: combine two of Fost’s popular poems. Take  the individualism “The Road Not Taken” inspires and the idea of sharing the decision of choice with the reader, and add in the joy of  discovery found in “The Pasture,” so that the universality of realizing we are all on a journey together is made more readily apparent.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

And I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference–you come, too.

 

*BtW: am I the only one who realizes YouTube videos can’t be uploaded unless I upgrade my plan?  Huh? When did that happen?

Summer Reads in the Making


Although school ended June 5th, I signed up for a workshop which prepares me for fall and pays me to be there, so I’m sticking it out until June 12. To celebrate my upcoming release into the almost endless days of summer, which for me involves LOTS of reading, I am finally sitting down to decide on my destinational course of action. I take my Reading Rainbow directive seriously “I can go anywhere. It’s in a book. Take a look…”

My room in its vacated student mode. I’m surprised the desks weren’t more in a tangle from students bolting out the door to summer’s beckoning…  
Here are some possibilities:

King Lear: I’ve watched at least two different dramatizations which were powerfully presented, one with Ian Holm. I even began reading Jane Smiley’s Thousand Acres, a modern retelling (didn’t get too far due to her plot restructuring). I’m drawn to this play, being fascinated by Shakespeare’s penchant for family dynamics and the fact he has three women instead of the usual one or two. It’s weird to realize that in Shakespeare’s day male actors having to project the wounds of a daughter, of trying to capture of how a woman would react to a father’s rejection is fascinating because women had to be portrayed by men. Then again, we also have men portraying women–did anyone really believe Dustin Hoffman was a woman? My choice of Lear is one of considerable contemplation. Basically I’m trying to determine if I can switch to Lear from Hamlet in my AP curriculm. Going from a son’s agony to a daughter’s makes for interesting analysis. Maybe I’ll do a comparison. Here I go again–working on my supposed two months off…

Of course Harper Lee’s Watchman is at the top of the list. I will request it at the library and figure my turn will come along in time for Christmas Break reading.

I plan to browse for some middle reads, revisit some friends from childhood such as Homer Price or Henry and Ribsy. I am open to suggestions for newer middle reads, especially series. I started reading Al Capone Does My a Shirts. It has promise to continue. A kid who lived on Alcatraz?

And I am game for trying out BIG name authors whom I have yet to make an acquaintance. Maybe Clive Cussler, or Janet Evanonich. I’m taking suggestions for commercially successful authors because I need to get out of my nineteenth century rut of classics reading. I think its healthy to read a book by someone who’s presently living.

Then there is my TBR. Time to blow dust off the list and begin whittling down the titles. 

And what will you be reading this summer?

Anyone try these out yet?

Boston Girl/Anita Diamant
The Remorseful Day/Dexter
Book Seller/Mark Pyor
The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction/James Thorn
Tipping Point/Gallagher
Bird by Bird / Anne Lamott
Loving/Living–Henry 
Hidden Talents-David Lubar
Love, Nina/Nina Stibbe
Juliet’s Nurse/Lois Leveen

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