In the canon of my memory, “The Road Not Taken” crossed my path when I was in junior high. I remember creating a colored-pencil drawing of that “yellow wood.” It might even be hidden in the “undergrowth” of my personal memorabilia in my basement. This time in my life was when I traveled a road I did not enjoy. Yet, this same path led me to my own poetic journey. This first poem I wrote, “Homeward Bound” (which remains unpublished and is stored in my Trapper Keeper from that era), depicted a hopeful return to my home-state of Minnesota. (As life turned out, my family did move from Missouri back to Minnesota the following year.) “The Road Not Taken” spoke more to the roads I had taken and the one I was on, which is perhaps indicative of the teenage mindset. But, the more I read the poem and studied into adulthood, the more I realized what Frost meant. Or, at least, I think I do.
“a fork in the woodland transcends the specific.”from Robert Frost’s biography, referring to “The Road Not Taken, on www.poetryfoundation.org
Perhaps the most enlightening moment I had with this poem is when I taught it during a home education co-op. Although I modified the course for grades kindergarten through ninth grade, I think this realization happened when I was instructing the oldest group. A few were the same age that I was when I discovered this poem. I was asking the students questions about the poem, and as we got to the last line I asked, “Which of these roads did Frost take?” Long, pondering pause. One of the students answered, “Neither one.” The answer is blatantly obvious by the title, and yet, as a writer, reader, and teacher, I asked myself, “But, which road did he take?”
“The middle of the road is where the white line is—and that’s the worst place to drive.”Robert Frost
I thought it had to do with a choice Frost made, but it wasn’t until studying his life and work in preparation for these posts that I came upon a possible answer. Frost doesn’t fit into a definitive poetic school of thought or era. He straddles the line between the nineteenth-century traditional forms of rhyme and meter and the emerging innovation of twentieth-century poetry pioneered by the Imagists and continued by those who embraced free verse. Perhaps this is why he is considered one of our most American poets. He followed the rules, but he bent them. He wrote poetry as a boy would swing from birches. It is how he traveled worn paths and cut away life’s bracken to inevitably create a new one.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.from “Birches”
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
The “road less traveled by” is elusive. Perhaps, it is so personal as to be universal. It is the road we take when we are going our own way. That doesn’t mean we are going the wrong way. It means we are going a different way from what is expected of us. For me, home educating my children was taking one of those less-traveled by roads. Writing poetry is a less-traveled by road.
“To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.”Robert Frost
For instance, I was discussing my author plan with my husband last week, and he laughed when he got to my list of “no’s” because one of them is that I will not write fantasy, sci-fi, or paranormal books. He keeps insisting that I write a book about space. I wrote a poem about space instead. At one point, he asked me if I had researched what people want to read. I do have a notion about this, but I answered, “People rarely think they need poetry.”
A poem is “…never a put-up job. …It begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a loneliness. It is never a thought to begin with. It is at its best when it is a tantalizing vagueness.”Robert Frost
I am grateful that “The Road Not Taken” revealed to me how much I needed poetry. I realized during those years how much I wanted to write poetry, how much it flowed out of me at least two times a day until those loose-leaf, pencil-scrawled pages filled up that Trapper Keeper. Perhaps the writing, reading, and teaching of poetry is as much about going along to the pasture as it is taking time to stop by the woods while knowing there are still many miles to go.
“Thus, in search for the meaning in the modern world, Frost focuses on those moments when the seen and the unseen, the tangible and the spiritual intersect.”www.poetryfoundation.org
Categories: poetry month
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