Friday, March 9, 2012
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.
Quirky little thing, this poem. It's probably Robert Frost's most famous, largely because of the title of an M. Scott Peck self-help tome called The Road Less Travelled. In fact, I have seen people vehemently argue that that's the real title of this poem. On being corrected, selfsame people seem to want to have it legally changed, as if the original Frost title makes no sense.
It makes no sense.
How did all this get started? It's a chain, as usual. I was indulging my obsession with all things Oz, particularly the Tin Man, when a line from a ridiculous old song came to me. I thought it went, "I couldn't say anything to the Tin Man/That he didn't already know." Looking it up, as usual, I had remembered it wrong. The line was "Oz never gave nothin' to the Tin Man/That he didn't already have." The song was by a '70s group called
While looking up Tin Man, I noticed another song by the same group called Horse with No Name. Oh yes, I remember that one: talk about monotony! But then that one stirred the memory of a truly passionate and tender song, Wildfire. And thus a post was born.
Way leads on to way.
If you take another look at the Frost poem, it isn't at all the way we remember it. The conventional synopsis is, "A guy is standing there in the woods and the path forks into two. One of the paths is smooth and straight and well-tended, whereas the other path is grown over with weeds, rocky and twisted. In a great act of heroism, he decides to take the road 'less travelled by'".
Then comes the capper: "And that has made all the difference."
I probably did not recognize until this very second that Frost's best-known poem is saturated with irony. That momentous existential fork in the road isn't at all what we assumed: