Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Robert Frost”

Poem of the Month: of Roads, Readers, and such

A recent post discussed how David Orr points out how America has misread Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” which I now have stuck in my brain as being titled “Two Roads.” Another discussion could be voting for which should be the real title.

As I add to my Poem of the Day PPT for my students, I came across a Carl Sandburg poem that resonated with Frost’s poem about experience. This led to an article about revisiting poems that have created the cringe factor due to overuse since being introduced to them in elementary school and this led to another poem about connecting with readers. I enjoy this particular poem’s title since it harkens to Bronte’s use of addressing her audience as “Dear Reader,” something we as writers unconsciously do as we include others as we write.

Enjoy this excerpt and follow the link for the entire poem

Dear Reader by Amy Gerstler

Through what precinct of life’s forest are you hiking at this
Are you kicking up leaf litter or stabbed by brambles?
Of what stuff are you made? Gossamer or chain mail?
Are you, as reputed, marvelously empty? Or invisibly ever-
even as this missive is typed? Have you been to Easter Island?
Then I’m jealous. Do you use a tongue depressor as bookmark?

I wonder if Charlotte would have used a tongue depressor as a bookmark?


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?

NPM: #21–wind of change

There is that time of year when the snows have lingered much too long and spring is ready to arrive, yet winter stubbornly refuses its hold. Then comes that zephyr breeze, the Chinook, that warming wind that hints the good times of summer are ever nearer. The warm wind teases the remaining snowdrifts to melt and feed the hiding narcissus. Robert Frost knew exactly that moment when the warm winds bring the change oh so needed.

To the Thawing Wind

Robert Frost, 18741963

Come with rain, O loud Southwester!
Bring the singer, bring the nester;
Give the buried flower a dream;
Make the settled snowbank steam;
Find the brown beneath the white;
But whate’er you do tonight,
Bathe my window, make it flow,
Melt it as the ice will go;
Melt the glass and leave the sticks
Like a hermit’s crucifix;
Burst into my narrow stall;
Swing the picture on the wall;
Run the rattling pages o’er;
Scatter poems on the floor;
Turn the poet out of door.

American Rhyme and Reason

Walt Whitman's use of free verse became apprec...

Walt Whitman’s use of free verse became appreciated by composers seeking a more fluid approach to setting text. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In researching  material for upcoming National Poetry Month posts I came across an article which got me thinking on a couple of different levels.

First of all, how is it possible to narrow the immense possibilities to ten?

Secondly, the article is written from a British standpoint–is that observation, compliment, or review?

After perusing the list I find myself nodding to a couple of the choices, being perplexed at a one or two, and adding the others to my “must read.”

What are your votes and opinions?  Would you name these as “The 10 best American poems”? (click on “article” and read the reason and rhyme of each mentioned)

1.  “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

2.  “The Idea of Order at Key West” by Wallace Stevens

3.  “Because I could not stop for death” by Emily Dickinson

4. “Directive” by Robert Frost

5. “Middle Passage” by Robert Hayden

6. “The Dry Salvages” by T.S. Eliot

7. “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

8. “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Ann Bradstreet

9. “Memories of West Street and Lepke” by Robert Lowell

10.  “And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name” by John Ashberry

Frost Covered Spring

Robert Frost. My first meaningful encounter with poetry occurred in fifth grade when Mr. C (still my favorite teacher) had us memorize “Stopping By Woods” and then we chalked our impressions of the poem onto dark blue construction paper. These were then pinned all around the classroom as the border above the chalkboard. As I teach this poem to my students I learn more and more from it. Frost does that with his poetry. It appears so deceptively simple at first and then there is a realization of its depth. It can be almost embarrassing at times once the analytical epiphany hits.

But I can’t imagine Frost laughing at my denseness–no, he would probably only chuckle. I imagine he might even be amused at the fuss we make analyzing his commentaries on birches, walls, and the snowy woods.

Frost is one of my faves and thought it very appropriate to feature him first among the many poets I hope to spotlight this month.

Here are a smattering of favorite poems:
“Mending Walls”
“Acquainted With The Night”
“The Road Not Taken”
“Fire and Ice”
“Nothing Gold Can Stay”

What are your favorite Frost verses? For some reason whenever spring arrives I tend to think of Robert Frost. Maybe this is fitting–a bit of Frost helps us appreciate the warmth of spring. I think he realized that as well.

Happy Poetry Month!


Pondering Poetry

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a...

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a year before his death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Poetry.  I sometimes hate to admit I love it.  It is misunderstood, mishandled, and would be missed should it ever be absent from our midst. As I teach AP I delve ever deeper in poetry and realize with some asperity I know nothing and have so much to learn.  Learning from the masters is a place to start.  May you also find solace and inspiration in these quotes found.

Poetry is serious business; literature is the apparatus through which the world tries to keep intact its important ideas and feelings.–Mary Oliver

I would define, in brief, the Poetry of words as the Rhythmical Creation of Beauty.
Its sole arbiter is Taste.
Edgar Allan Poe

A short poem need not be small.–Marvin Bell

A poem…begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a home-sickness, a love-sickness…It finds the thought and the thought finds the words.–Robert Frost

Robert Frost NYWTS.jpg



Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.–T.S. Eliot

For a man to become a poet…
he must be in love or miserable.
George Gordon, Lord Byron

I think like a poet, and behave like a poet.
Occasionally I need to sit in the corner for bad behavior.–Gary Soto

There is nothing wrong with a poetry that is entertaining and easy to understand.
Charles Bukowski

Poems reveal secrets when they are analyzed.
The poet’s pleasure in finding ingenious ways to enclose her secrets should be matched by the reader’s pleasure in unlocking and revealing secrets.
Diane Wakoski

#9: Poems to Know and Grow On

It’s been too long since I paid attention to my Musings of a Voracious Reader list.  Tidying up my files I discovered entry #9: Poems to Know and Grow On and it seems quite appropriate as a post-Valentine’s Day post, since poetry is the food of love (right next to chocolate).

As I teach poetry, especially as I prepare my AP students for their exams in May, I am reading more and more poets and poetry.  This is a good thing.  In fact, I am now taking on what I have deemed as the “Emily Project” which is discovering Emily Dickinson.  Understanding her would be another project in itself.

As I teach, read, and study poems I have gathered a few along the way.  I dearly wish I had a better knack for memorization because I would like to pull out a poem for any occasion and dazzle, delight, and demonstrate the power of poetry to any willing listener. I love it when that moment arrives in a movie when one character starts a poem and another finishes it.  Remember Willoughby and Marianne from Sense and Sensibility? *sigh*

This is simply a sprinkling of poems I have deemed worth knowing and to grow on:

1. My First Memory (of Librarians) by Nikki Giovanni–a Book Booster’s banner poem of delight

2. Harlem (A Dream Deferred) by Langston Hughes–his imagery is enviable

3.Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins–enjoy poetry, don’t tie it to a chair and beat a confession out of it (love this)

4. Hope Is A Thing With Feathers by Emily Dickinson–hope wings its way into our hearts

5. The Road Not Takenby Robert Frost–almost clichéd by its overuse, it’s still a powerful statement about making choices

6. The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll–delightfully fun for any age

7. This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams–after I discovered this was actually a note to his wife I embraced the poem even more

8. The Tyger by William Blake–imagine seeing a tiger for the first time; how can something so exquisitely beautiful be also so incredibly deadly?

9. One Art by Elizabeth Bishop–the more I read Bishop the more I realize what talent she has for capturing life’s moments

10.I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman–“a sweaty-toothed madmen” claimed Todd from Dead Poets Society, when asked what he thought of Uncle Walt; Whitman is clearly underrated (check out the Poem Flow when you hit the link or better yet check out this YouTube)

11. Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare–the Bard employs his wit whilst he poketh funneth at the syrupy nature of sonnets

12. We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks–no matter the era, youth’s self-destruction prevails

13. Fog by Carl Sandburg–its simplicity speaks volumes

14. The Daffodils by William Wordsworth–my heart gladdens of spring’s promise as the daffodils lift their golden heads above winter’s chilly grasp

And there are  fourteen poems, a drop of verses in the deep well of that which stirs the soul, as a nod to Valentine’s Day and the tradition of sweet rhymes, chocolate, and roses.

One last poem to know and grow on, not necessarily my favorite, but definitely memorable.  True love is memorable, as Poe so deftly renders in this tribute to his lost love. This one usually makes my ninth grade students pause, which is one reason I refer to it.

Annabel Lee

by Edgar Allan Poe
It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
   In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love--
   I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
   Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
   My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
   And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
   In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
   Went envying her and me--
Yes!--that was the reason (as all men know,
   In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
   Of those who were older than we--
   Of many far wiser than we--
And neither the angels in heaven above,
   Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling--my darling--my life and my bride,
   In her sepulchre there by the sea,
   In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Virginia Poe watercolor painted after her deat...

Virginia Poe watercolor painted after her death in 1847. From Category:Edgar Allan Poe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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