Saturday, June 28, 2008

My Next Undertaking

I've heard a bit about Shakespeare's Othello, and I'm intruiged. I've heard that it has so many different aspects to it that it can appeal to almost anyone (who can understand the language).
So we shall see. To read, or not to read?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Two Roads

It's time that I answer Alicia's challenge:
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.
The Road Not Taken, penned by Robert Frost, has proved an inspiriation to the succeeding generations since the time it was first published.
Now, I'm no expert on poetry, but I do believe that anyone has the right to their own insights and can interpret the poem into whatever they think it is saying.
Many people take this particular poem and pull something vastly wise and inspirational. And for that, I cannot blame them. And yet, I have to ask, are they reading it with their eyes closed? Dr. Suess taught us long ago that reading with our eyes closed is not nearly as effective as when we read with them wide open. Let me explicate what my open eyes found:
I memorized this poem for an assignment in my English 102 class (thank you Mrs. Schruer), an easy task since we'd performed it set to music in Symphonic Choir a few semesters before that.
People have tagged a meaning onto it so firmly, a meaning so deeply profound, full of age old wisdom, that anyone who dare to chisel at its meaning with a questioning aim is dismissed as a heretic and a fun-wrecker. And yet, here I go with my chisel. The publicly praised meaning, "take the road less travelled by the world, and it will make all the difference."
Scores of stories can be fitted to this moral, and rightly so when we live in a world of swift moral decay, but just because it's true doesn't mean that Frost was saying it.
And now, my insights:
The more I examine this poem, the more I see of a regretful tone, and hesitancy to choose rather than the tone of triumph and confidence.
First, the color in this poem adds to the tone of it. The wood is desribed as being "yellow", an indication of fall, age, and decay. The narrator also mentions the roads covered "in leaves no step had trodden black". Black, darkness, evil, the traveler was looking for which might be the darker path to help in his decision.
Next, notice the tone created by the wording: "sorry I could not travel both" "I doubted if I should ever come back" "I shall be telling this with a sigh" (an ambiguous phrase- a sigh of relief, despair, or weariness of a tired traveler?).
Our wood-faring traveler is hesitant to choose. He stood a long time, longing for forsight as to what lay ahead on each road. He is daunted by the fact that his decision is not quite clear- shrouded in mystery, hidden in leaves, indiscernable. And yet with all his careful comparison and observation, he concludes that the two roads were "really about the same". This idea is repeated in the next line: "And both that morning equally lay".
The triviality of the long-pondered decision is shown in the traveler's admission that the roads were pretty much "about the same".
So why does he say in the final stanza that taking "the road less-traveled... has made all the difference"? The phrase, "made all the difference" carries a positive indication in our speech today. But taking it at face value, we could ask, "Made all the difference, for BETTER or for WORSE?" Is it possible that he is forseeing himself agonizing over his choice? This would follow his hesitant attitude toward the choice to start with. How could he, with his admitted lack of discernment or foresight, possibly be thinking that his choice would prove a triumph in making all the difference for the better in his life? There is nothing in the poem to suggest that; it was our society that made that suggestion. In view of the traveler's thought that the choice between one forest path and another would make "all the difference" later, it's easy to see how he has a tendency to turn the trivial into something paramount. Keep this in mind as you consider Frost's own commentary on the poem:
"One stanza of The Road Not Taken was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England, was found three or four years later, and I couldn't bear not to finish it. I wasn't thinking about myself there, but about a friend who'd gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn't go the other. He was hard on himself that way."
So what was written as a sort of jab at a friend was taken by the world and blown so completely out of proportion that the real meaning at the heart of the poem now lays shrouded in yellow leaves. I think Frost must've enjoyed seeing what people derived from his work.
There is one phrase in Frost's comment that I find particularly useful when undertaking a study of any of his works: "I wasn't thinking about myself". I think it's natural to approach the poem thinking that the narrator is the poet speaking. It was Frost writing it, and so it is natural to conclude that what the narrator says is what Frost thinks. There is more clarity in keeping an objective neutrality in view of the narrator while navigating through the text.
It makes sense that the poem is not titled, "The Road Less-Traveled". It is called, "The Road Not Taken". Yet another regretful look back at the choice, agonizing (with a sigh?) that he didn't go the other way.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I Have a Dream read a classic American novel. Any suggestions?


Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Aunt Julie sent us this article this morning:

I don't know how I feel about it. I think the group should have been really punished for what they did -made to pay money, all that jazz. I find studying Frost a privilege and an enjoyment, and they're dishing him up as punishment. For those kids, maybe this punishment is worse than forking over cold hard cash. Little impudent imps.

This article shed some light on my feelings. Steve told me to challenge him with a poem, and I have yet to do it. And so here it is. Let's delve into the Road Less Traveled. I really want to take a second look at it. He says the woods are yellow, and I think he means something by that. I want to rip this poem apart and wring a new meaning out of it so I don't spend the rest of my life with a perpetual eye roll.

I hope you find it extremely diverting.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Did I read that right?

The yahoo link this evening caught my eye:
Robert Frost house vandals punished with "The Road Not Taken"
And here's the story:
From bad to verse: Vandals get classroom penance
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - Call it poetic justice: More than two dozen young people who broke into Robert Frost's former home for a beer party and trashed the place are being required to take classes in his poetry as part of their punishment.

Using "The Road Not Taken" and another poem as jumping-off points, Frost biographer Jay Parini hopes to show the vandals the error of their ways — and the redemptive power of poetry.
"I guess I was thinking that if these teens had a better understanding of who Robert Frost was and his contribution to our society, that they would be more respectful of other people's property in the future and would also learn something from the experience," said prosecutor John Quinn.
The vandalism occurred at the Homer Noble Farm in Ripton, where Frost spent more than 20 summers before his death in 1963. Now owned by Middlebury College, the unheated farmhouse on a dead-end road is used occasionally by the college and is open in the warmer months.
On Dec. 28, a 17-year-old former Middlebury College employee decided to hold a party and gave a friend $100 to buy beer. Word spread. Up to 50 people descended on the farm, the revelry turning destructive after a chair broke and someone threw it into the fireplace.

When it was over, windows, antique furniture and china had been broken, fire extinguishers discharged, and carpeting soiled with vomit and urine. Empty beer cans and drug paraphernalia were left behind. The damage was put at $10,600.

Twenty-eight people — all but two of them teenagers — were charged, mostly with trespassing.
About 25 ultimately entered pleas — or were accepted into a program that allows them to wipe their records clean — provided they underwent the Frost instruction. Some will also have to pay for some of the damage, and most were ordered to perform community service in addition to the classroom sessions. The man who bought the beer is the only one who went to jail; he got three days behind bars.

Parini, 60, a Middlebury College professor who has stayed at the house before, was eager to oblige when Quinn asked him to teach the classes. He donated his time for the two sessions.
On Wednesday, 11 turned out for the first, with Parini giving line-by-line interpretations of "The Road Not Taken" and "Out, Out-," seizing on parts with particular relevance to draw parallels to their case.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," he thundered, reciting the opening line of the first poem, which he called symbolic of the need to make choices in life.
"This is where Frost is relevant. This is the irony of this whole thing. You come to a path in the woods where you can say, `Shall I go to this party and get drunk out of my mind?'" he said. "Everything in life is choices."
Even the setting had parallels, he said: "Believe me, if you're a teenager, you're always in the damned woods. Literally, you're in the woods — probably too much you're in the woods. And metaphorically you're in the woods, in your life. Look at you here, in court diversion! If that isn't `in the woods,' what the hell is `in the woods'? You're in the woods!"
Dressed casually, one with his skateboard propped up against his desk, the young people listened to Parini and answered questions when he pressed. Then a court official asked them to describe how their arrests and the publicity affected them.
"I was worried about my family," said one boy, whose name was withheld because the so-called diversion program in which took part is confidential. "I'll be carrying on the family name and all that. And with this kind of thing tied to me, it doesn't look very good."
Another said: "After this, I'm thinking about staying out of trouble, because this is my last chance."
"My parents' business in town was affected," said a girl.
When the session ended, the vandals were offered snacks — apple cider, muffins, sliced fruit — but none partook. They went straight for the door, several declining comment as they walked out of the building. The next session is Tuesday.
"It's a lesson learned, that's for sure," said one of them, 22-year-old Ryan Kenyon, whose grandmother worked as hairdresser in the 1960s and knew Frost. "It did bring some insight. People do many things that they don't realize the consequences of. It shined a light, at least to me."