Choices

The Road Not Taken

BY ROBERT FROST

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.
Robert Frost’s poem. “The Road not Taken,” is about choices. Each day we have to make decisions as to what course of action to take. No matter what the issue is, we must decide what the best option is and go through the path in all faith.
The speaker beholds his choice when he notices that “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Each road represents a decision the speaker must make. He wishes that he could pursue both paths but painfully admits “sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler.” If he were able to choose both paths, he would be a complete “one” or singular individual; he would have nothing to regret or reflect on after he has made his choice. But since he must choose one path and not the other, he must become a divided traveler, doomed to wonder if the decision he made was the right one. Only time will tell.
And figuring out which path looks better does not help the speaker come to his decision any sooner. The first path “bends in the undergrowth” after he looks down it “as far as [he] could.” He cannot really know, based on hypothetical inquiries, whether or not the decision he makes will be beneficial or not. He can’t look into the complete future to know for certain. The other path looks better due to its grass, yet, since people have walked down the paths mostly equally (or because both decisions are somewhat appealing), they “looked worn really about the same.” But in the end, the speaker takes the second, “grassy” path. At first, he thinks he can choose the first path for another time but soon remembers how “way leads on to way.” Once he has made his choice, his life will undergo a series of events in time, forcing him to reach a point of no return. He will not be faced with the same choice again. The consequences of his actions will permanently affect his future decisions.
The last stanza is interesting, for the speaker uses the future tense to describe what he will feel when he reflects on choosing the grassy path. He will look on his past with a “sigh,” but whether or not it is a sigh of accomplishment or regret remains to be seen, for he is still, in the poem, traveling the path he has chosen. Only in the future will he know whether or not it was worth it. And the decision is not a minor one, for, no matter what the outcome, it “will have made all the difference.” What path he chooses will alter the course of his life forever.
But the fact that Frost presented this poem to a group of college students may hint that the choice the speaker made was a good one. It is “the one less traveled by,” meaning that it is not the most popular choice to make. Society deems it unworthy, at least in some respects. But because he made that decision, his life turned out well. What better way to encourage college students to pursue their dreams than to admonish them to take the most disciplined road to success?
Yet it may not be such a good choice after all. Again, the word “sigh” doesn’t hint at the speaker’s tone. What if the famous poet wanted to warn the students that the decision to go to college is not the best one to make, and, only by looking back will they realize that it wasn’t really as important as society taught it to be? One can relate to the current rise of disdain for public education and wonder. Either way, we must all suffer the consequences of our actions. It is inevitable. Let us hope that they are the best ones.
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An Exhortation to Bond

Mending Wall

BY ROBERT FROST

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Robert Frost takes another opportunity in using poetry to highlight human relationships in his poem “Mending Wall.” This by far was the most difficult poem by Frost I’ve encountered so far.  I used some information on the internet to give me more understanding about it. From what I understand, the poem deals with the theme of human separation and a desire to conquer it.

The poem’s opening line says that there is “something that does not love a wall.” The “wall” in question serves as the focus of the poem, the primary symbol the speaker discusses. When the speaker attempts to repair a wall with a gaping hole, he invites his neighbor to help him repair it. The speaker mentions that “we keep the wall between us as we go.” The wall here serves as a metaphor for separation; there is something that divides both of these characters, and it goes beyond physical limitations. The neighbor looks at the speaker and says “good fences make good neighbors.” In the neighbor’s eyes, he can serve his fellow man best by separating himself from the community at large. He does not wish to unite himself into the common bond of society; he wants to be an individual who depends on his own personal intuition for happiness.

The speaker is unsettled by his neighbor’s view. He wants to convince him that being sociable is more fulfilling than being isolated. He thinks to himself, “Spring is the mischief in me/ And I wonder if I could put a notion in his head:/ Why do they make good neighbors?” The springtime represents a light-hearted state, one full of a renewal of life. It is open and vibrant. But the word “mischief” contrasts itself denotatively as an evil scheme for some foul purpose. Yet in this context it is more playful than anything else; he wants to simply trick his neighbor into thinking of life in a different way. he wants to convince his neighbor that his life philosophy is irrational, at best.  However, the neighbor will not submit to the speaker’s exhortation: he moves “in darkness,” in the cold dictates of his own heart, repeating his resolution “good fences make good neighbors.” The speaker has failed in his mission.

The Sound of the Discontented

The Sound of Trees

BY ROBERT FROST

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.



The first question the speaker asks concerning the trees is why do he and others bear their noise all the time (lines 3-4)? Apparently they annoy the speaker to the point of exasperation: “We suffer them by the day/ Till we lose all measure of pace/ And fixity in our joys/ And acquire a listening air (lines 6-9). The speaker and his friends, at one point, had their lives together the way they wished; but the trees’ noise impedes on their tranquility, demanding their attention. They lose sight of their goals due to all the rambling. But could the trees be symbols for a certain group of people? Who exactly does the speaker feel compelled to listen to?  Lines 10-11 say “They are that that talks of going/ But never gets away/ And that talks no less for knowing/ As it grows wiser and older.” The trees represent a specific type of people, those who, in their hypocrisy, speak much truth and wisdom concerning life but who never enact their tenets. They do not reinforce their wisdom by their conduct. They may gain more knowledge in their learning but they fail to apply their knowledge practically. There is a sense of fleeting time, making the issue desperate, since the trees age but never really get any smarter. And the specific moral in these lines points to experiencing life and not remaining dormant. The speaker believes it is important to leave the confines of traditional wisdom and make a name for oneself. This is particularly true if the dominant morality ironically works against the very thing it is supposed to defend. Freedom would be preferable against such an irrational double standard. The world waits, waiting to be explored.

As the poem progresses, the listener learns that the speaker is no different than the hypocrites which he is condemning. He himself needs to break free from society’s chains and live. In lines 16-17, the trees swaying is compared to the swaying of the speaker’s head. Despite the fact that the trees are currently rooted, they want to move and be in constant motion. The speaker wants to usher in a new existence for himself, even if that means rebelling against the prevailing morality. After all, the speaker desires to make a “reckless choice” (line 20). What he wants would never be approved by others. Yet these same others want to be reckless as well. Can they not make up their mind? What do they want: subservient obedience to mindless authority or liberty?

But the speaker does not want to act alone. He wants to wait until the trees have “a voice” (line 21). It would better if the public rebelled against dominant wisdom together instead of in isolation. But the question remains: will the speaker depend on others forever? Or will he leave all the mindless idealism and live on his own? People tend to face this question. Especially when they decide to dedicate themselves to their goals without question and in disregard to those who keeps others from living their dreams. You can stay still. Or move.

Diminished Hope

The Oven Bird

BY ROBERT FROST

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

 

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Oven Bird,” tells of a chirping bird making noises throughout the seasons of the year. The poem digresses by beginning with thoughts on spring and summer and then arriving at fall and winter. The bird serves as a metaphor of the average human being, a person who desires to remain optimistic in the face of death and decay.

The bird’s message is universal, as the poem’s first line indicates; everyone can relate to the sound they hear. The bird’s words are “loud” in that they are inescapable and unmistakable. They define experience. “D” consonants appear at the end of many of the poem’s words, highlighting the sounds the bird makes. In its present state, the bird desires to return to spring: “He says that leaves are old and that for flowers/ Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten” (lines 4-5). The speaker uses a simile to contrast the now hot summer with the past spring: flowers are more prevalent in spring than summer. On a scale from one to ten, summer falls as a one in terms of personal value to the bird. Spring is preferable, being the best season of the year. There is even a time “when pear and sherry blooms went down in showers” (line 7). Spring once ruled the bird’s life, or, should we rather say, the speaker’s life? There was a time where happiness and new life reigned for him, domineering over all his circumstances. On a broader scale, humans want to look back at moments that were more fulfilling as they feel the rush of time carry them towards death.

But a shift in tone occurs in the middle of the poem. The speaker must now face a failing of the vibrant natural life. Lines 9-10 say “And comes that other fall we name the fall/ He says the highway dust is over all.” The speaker is doing much more than merely describing the effects of the fall season. There are several key phrases in the lines. First, there is “dust.” This may allude to the book of Genesis in the Bible, where God created mankind “out of the dust of the earth.” The subject of the poem seems to be about mankind in general. What the bird relates specifically concerns people everywhere in all times and places. The second phrase is “the fall.” This points to the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eve (also in the book of Genesis). Because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God, mankind inherited the state of being sinful, prone to be and do evil in God’s eyes. People must live in life carrying the burden of their guilt and pain, whether they wish to or not. Life has made sense for the speaker until he discovers the revelation of his own sin. The bird will ask “what to make of a diminished thing” (line 14). How can the speaker explain the demoralization that takes root in his heart, distilling the happiness that he once had? The sadness he experiences has taken over the mood. Winter has arrived.

Childhood

Birches

BY ROBERT FROST

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of 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
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
Robert Frost’s poem, “Birches,” tells of a speaker’s longing to return to the days of his youth; as a child, he would swing on birches for fun, being away from the hustle and bustle of the world. Since he had no friends in those days, he would isolate himself from society and enjoy his privacy. Yet now, as he is describing birches, he must face his present responsibilities with people. He has to own up to the fact that life is difficult even as he struggles to maintain sweet memories. Thus, the poem traces a conflict between realism and fantasy.

In the poem’s third line, the speaker mentions that when he sees birches he would “like to think some boy’s been swinging them.” There is a personal interpretation to the birches being worn down for the speaker as we will see later.  But he then says that ice storms wear the birches down better than boys swinging on them (line 5). He then proceeds to describe the process by which ice melts off the birches. In this section, the speaker will relate the birches to his own personal feelings: “And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed/ So low for long, they never right themselves” (lines 15-16). The birches seem to not break in that the speaker, though he may look to others as if he has his life under control, does not. He tries to make up appearances to please others. He has been bowed by the “ice storms” of life in that the life he has lived has been a turbulent existence as an adult. So hiding his pain is a difficult process. He cannot fully recover from some of the things he has suffered: the birches will never right themselves again. Indeed his pain has been so intense that “you would think the inner dome of heaven had fallen” (line 13). What seemed at time to be a peaceful childhood for the speaker eventually gave way to a much harsher existence. The speaker, once at the prime of life, now suffers under old age.

We see this in the next lines of the poem. The speaker chides Truth for interrupting his thoughts about the boy swinging on the birches with its “matter of fact” ways (lines 21-22). The speaker is angry that his sub-conscious mind demands an adherence to facts and not comforting fantasy. He wants to return to the days in which he was isolated from others, having liberty to play alone and be his own person. After he describes his childhood and experiences with birches, he goes back to the present tense regarding his life: “So was I once myself a swinger of birches/ And so I dream of going back to be” (lines 41-42). His dreams have been longings to return to a past that was easy and simple for him. But these days he lives under a harsher reality.

But interestingly enough, the speaker does not want to run away from his present existence forever. He will not abandon his duties towards other people. The speaker says “May no fate willfully misunderstand me/ And half grant what I wish and snatch me away/ Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love/ I don’t know where it’s likely to get better” (lines 51-54). The speaker desires to live in the here and now; though he may suffer at times, he does not truly believe in another ideal place for better happiness. He may even be questioning Heaven’s existence by thinking that Earth is the only right place for love. But then, who needs to be loved in Heaven seeing as those in Heaven are perfect and totally fulfilled? On Earth, we suffer, so we need loving care from others. If he withdraws form society, it is only long enough to recuperate and return to his daily routine. He just wants a brief outlet of escapism, and dreaming of his childhood allows him to do just that.

Things Fade in Time

Reluctance

BY ROBERT FROST

Out through the fields and the woods
   And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
   And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
   And lo, it is ended.


The leaves are all dead on the ground,
   Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
   And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
   When others are sleeping.


And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
   No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
   The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
   But the feet question ‘Whither?’


Ah, when to the heart of man
   Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
   To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
   Of a love or a season?



Robert Frost’s poem, “Reluctance,” traces a speaker who, after experiencing the thrills and joys of life, realizes that death is approaching for him; the things that gave him happiness are now fading from his life. He can only become bitter as his days draw to a close. The speaker relies upon the images found in nature as well as using poetic techniques to present his timeless themes of prosperity and decay.

The speaker mentions that he has gone through “fields,” “woods,” slowly passed “walls,” and climbed “hills” in order to view the world (lines 1-4). The word “fields” may suggest times in his life where circumstances worked in his favor, giving him times of ease and comfort. Yet “woods” points more to times of uncertainty and confusion; since the woods are enshrouded with trees, they obstruct one’s view of the outside world. “Walls” and “hills” could be the challenges that the speaker has faced in order to reach his high points. But in spite of all he went through, the speaker enjoys the world in all of it’s splendor. Yet on returning home, the speaker’s tone changes dramatically: “And lo, it is ended” (lines 5-6).

It turns out that the happiness he expects from his endeavors is short-lived and is not destined to last long at all. There are dead leaves littering the ground (line 7). Those moments that were so full of life for the speaker are now gone, taken from him by the power of time. Meter also shows us the passing of time for the speaker from a state of happiness to one of melancholy. The words “scraping,” “creeping”, and “sleeping” occur in the second stanza. Besides being an instance of internal rhyme, each of the words contains a trochee, which is when a stressed beat is followed by an unstressed one. If one were to read the words out loud to his or herself, the pronunciation would sound like a fall. That is why this kind of succession of beats is known as a falling meter. The speaker “scraps” by, desperately trying to maintain hope in the midst of despair. It is interesting that the word “creeping” occurs; it often denotes a person stalking another human being. The last line mentions the speaker thinking it an evil thing for a ‘love” to end. Maybe the speaker once loved another but now despises them? Or maybe circumstances have taken someone he loves dearly? No one knows for sure what the speaker has lost. His “reluctance” could be his refusal to move on with his life, whether his significant other is alive or not. Thus, in the last analysis, the speaker refuses to let something go which means everything to him, once again demonstrating the power of Robert Frost to talk of the human condition using natural metaphors.

The Fireflies aren’t Talented Enough

Fireflies in the Garden

BY ROBERT FROST

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.
 
 

As with some of his other poems, Frost draws upon natural imagery in order to metaphorically represent human experience. “Fireflies in the Garden,” on the surface, seems to merely be a comparison and contrast between different aspects of Nature. However, upon closer analysis, the speaker of the poem highlights the issue of unauthentic artists unsuccessfully trying to copy the talents and triumphs of famous, prevailing artists. 
 
The first line contains the adjective “real” that describe the stars appearing in the night sky. The word’s usage is intriguing in that the speaker wants the listener to know that these stars are authentic and true and not deceptive emulators. But what could be attempting to copy the grandeur of the stars? The speaker mentions “emulating flies” in the next line. Yet there is a deeper meaning being hinted at if one thinks in to the matter further. The flies never equal the stars in the sky in terms of size (line 3). Size could point to influence in the world, how some people affect the world with their skills. Or it could point to fame, how some are better known than others. Not all humans are created equal by God in terms of talent, and in the literary world, this can be a disheartening thing to those seeking to be the best at their craft. By comparing themselves to more successful people, the task of becoming a serious writer can be daunting.
 
Yet despite their struggles, some writers strike lucky in their endeavors, or at least produce one-hit wonders that mark their place in literary circles. The fireflies achieve a “star-like start,” in line 5. The work that suddenly lands an aspiring author in the world of fame can be a time of brilliant success. But the speaker ends the poem by saying that “Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.” Those who become famous in artistic ways soon fail to keep their talent fresh and continuous. Though they may have intrigued audiences, they lack the true potential to keep people enthralled for longer periods of time. The word “part” possibly points to a script an actor would recite on stage. Shakespeare once remarked that the world is like a stage, with each individual acting in a way that either suits themselves or others. Sometimes people fail to keep their masquerades active, upsetting their sense of balance. In time, their efforts fail to stabilize them, and this doesn’t necessarily have to refer to only art; it can refer to many different areas of life.
 
One would imagine, though, that the reason the fireflies fail to emulate the stars is simply because that is the way Nature or fate dictated it to be. One cannot escape their destiny in the world no matter what their talents. But the fourth line in the poem mentions that the flies “were never really stars at heart.” The flies never truly wanted to become the stars; they just wanted the temporary status the stars had. In the same way, if an individual doesn’t have the heart to remain and experiment with their craft, they cannot expect to be a true artist. An authentic writer is one who stays active in their work, seeking fresh new ways to improve their skills.  One must write, and continue to write, to be considered an authentic weaver of words.