Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Two roads diverged into a snowy wood...

Robert Frost in 1941
Photo by Fred Palumbo
World Telegram Staff Photographer
(Image from Wikipedia)

... or so I remembered as a child, but children misremember, too.

Robert Frost is one of the few great poets whose poems can be read, understood, and liked by even a child. I recall at age 8 or 9 reading his somewhat overquoted poem, "The Road Not Taken":
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.
Even as a child, I sensed that the poem was about more than just some obscure, natural garden of forking paths, though I probably didn't conceive, nor even hint to myself, more abstractly of a "forking in time, not in space." But I was old enough to understand that a choice could not be recalled when a moment was gone, though that's a lesson that we learn with deepening regrets as the moments that held our choices recede into a past that we can merely recall but never change.

Though my childhood memory of that road diverging in that snowy wood was a misremembering, perhaps Frost as poet was gazing into the same forest in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening":
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Again, even as a child, I sensed that the woods conveyed more than just a winter scene, that some mysterious calling came from them, and though I misremembered, confusing this snowy wood with that other wood wherein a road diverged, I even to this day can't help thinking that there's some connection, that the wood and the woods are the same and that we stand, trees surrounding us, forever before a diverging road in a wood whose place and destination are the same, like an infinite labyrinth "whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere."

Though perhaps Frost didn't mean precisely this sort of Pascalian reflection.


At 10:26 AM, Blogger N.E. Brigand said...

I keep running into Frost today. At The New Republic Online, Christopher Benfey reviews The Notebooks of Robert Frost; and at, drogo drogo, a librarian, mentioned that he was asked today to find who holds the rights to Frost's poetry.

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love these two poems. I've always thought of them as being related as well. Of course, leaving to keep those promises is the road taken.

Whatever grade I'm teaching, I always make sure to share them with my kids.

Anyways, I really like this post.


At 12:13 PM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

My young 'un had to memorize poetry in elementary school. "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was one I remember best and we both enjoyed. Shortly after we learned the poem, it starred in a Hi and Lois cartoon.

At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A beautiful post, Jeffery, and a lovely historical-mystical touch at the end, there.

While I'm not familiar with many Frost poems, I do like the ones I've read. Curiously, an English teacher I once had said that many critics did not like Frost because he was "too easy." How sad. On another note, the second poem has been interpreted as a contemplation of suicide. Do you or does anyone know why Frost's son Carol committed suicide?

Anyway, thanks again for another wonderful post from this fine blog. I'm very glad that it is in the blogosphere, even if I can't quite share your enthusiasm for Milton!

At 2:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

N.E.B, it was -- in fact -- the NRO article that spurred my musings today, so we must be reading some of the same things.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

James, good to hear from you again. Your mention of teaching the poems to your school kids reminds me that I ought to be teaching them to my own offspring.

Thanks for the inadvertent reminder.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

C.I.V. I used to have them memorized ... I think ... but I've really got to set down and re-memorize them.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nathan, I can imagine that some critics would think so, but Frost is not so much 'easy' as accessible. A child may enter the poetry of Robert Frost, but an adult emerges.

I don't know why Frost's son killed himself, but I recall reading that he suffered from depression (and that Frost had, too).

No enthusiasm for Milton? Perhaps you just need a touch of prevenient grace...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:50 AM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

Lovely post, Jeffery.

I have been reading Frost to my children, and I'm hoping they'll memorize a couple of his poems one of these days.

I had an English professor who used to say that Frost's verse was deceptively simple, like some of Andrew Marvel's poetry. Works for me.

At 2:52 AM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

Ooops, I mean Andrew Marvell.

At 3:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Oops ... didn't you mean "oops"? Or is there no standard spelling for that 'word'? Could one spell it "oups"? Is it related, etymologically, to "whoops"? Are these mere dialectical differences?

The Gypsy ponders...

Anyway, I'm glad that you liked the post.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:42 AM, Anonymous Lou Koenig said...

Two roads diverged in a winter wood
That was my recollection of the poems
I often used to cross country ski in the woods and would marvel at the way my tracks would melt and all traces of my passing through would be gone

At 8:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, LK.

Jeffery Hodges

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