Monday, October 27, 2008

Frost Warning

The contradiction in Frost's "The Road Not Taken" disturbs me--maybe too much. The speaker spends a good amount of time--my time, as reader--establishing that both paths "equally lay" & were "about the same." I'm familiar with the poet's subtle irony, autobiographical references, literary allusions yadda yadda yadda--but these hardly justify the colossal gaffe.

Those who defend the poem on the aforementioned grounds no doubt belong to the same group who find the poem comical. Comical? I've never heard one person as much as snicker unless I read it in my dumb guy voice. Now that's funny!

Know another thing that bothers me? Frost once claimed that he intended his poetry to be interpreted only literally. Not only literally, but also . . . but only literally!

If true, then what about the last stanza of the poem? Is the speaker so boring that he'll tell "ages hence" the tale of his choosing one path over the other while taking his constitutional? Gee, um--great story, Gramps.

It reminds me of years ago when my dad, after a few too many, interrupted my studying for midterms so he could tell me in excruciating detail about his experience of buying a hat. The story--or the hat, for that matter--didn't have a point, but that didn't stop him from retelling it. Repeatedly.

The poem's ending really irks me. How does the choice of one leafy path over another make "all the difference"? Obviously, the poem means to transcend a walk in the woods; without delving into nuances, simply put, the poem is about life choices.

I've written the following as a 5th & final stanza that corrects the contradiction & shores up Frost's claim of being exclusively literal:

For down one path, with silken hair,
There walked the one whom I would wed.
But down the other, a grizzly, bar-
Ing fangs & claws, sprang out of nowhere
And killed twelve nuns, so the news said.

This new stanza resolves the contradiction: 12 people traveled the first path while one person took the road "less traveled by." I needn't explain how it supports the assertion that the choice of roads "made all the difference." That seems painfully clear. Moreover, the new stanza doesn't detract from the thought that one needs to follow his/her own path in life. If anything, it reinforces the idea by showing decisions have consequences.

(Note to educators: Please feel free to use this helpful additional stanza in class.)

1 comment:

Riley said...

Okay, this is brilliant. I don't throw that word around lightly either because someone could get hurt. Ever been hit in the eye with a stray brilliant? Not pretty, my friend.

I would like to see you expand on this idea and do a whole series of finishing stanzas of poems that need to be completed. I would imagine William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens would be very ripe for this kind of work.

It totally hits your sweet spot. It's funny, but also adds a thoughtful, subtle re-reading of the original. This is vintage Matt Morris which we all know is much better than the newly reformulated Matt Morris.