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A Road Through the Poetry of Robert Frost
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.
The Poet Best Known
For most casual partakers of poetry, Robert Frost is best known as the author of "The Road Not Taken" which is often quoted and often taken as an inspirational call to non-conformity. This poem, so often misrepresented as "The Road Less Traveled By", is less a call to individuality, and more a realistic look at choices, at life, and at the wish to have it both ways, which is so universally human. He stood and looked for a long time at the first path, and then chose the other, for better or for worse. He wrote of the path he chose as-- "...having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear;" and then readily admits the similarity of the paths... "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."
He finishes by describing his future romantic spin on his life choice-- "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." It is with this same romantic view that the casual reader will draw inspiration from this poem. It is human and realistic to do so, which is possibly exactly the reaction Frost was working to get. It was his style. A clue that this may be accurate lies in the previous stanza where he admits he would have been happy to have taken either path and preferably both... "Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back"; and it appears he anticipates regretting his choice, because after all, the poem is named for the path he didn't take.
Design by Robert Frost
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper Kite.
What had the flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to apall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.
The "Terrifying Poet"
Frost was and is regarded by some as the American poet who presented the dark side of life and humanity. English professor and literary critic Lionel Trilling called Frost a "terrifying poet". In the poem "Design" Frost presents a scene (as if painting a picture with color, texture and depth) involving a spider and a moth which in countless commentaries has attracted the description "macabre". However, the scene with its spider, its "death march", and witches' broth is a portrait of nature itself, sometimes cold, harsh and ugly, and always a product of design. The observer's (the author's) issue is the nature of "the designer"-- did cruelty and darkness inspire the design?
The well-fed white spider, the white froth-like flower, and the moth like a rigid white satin cloth were all "characters of death and blight" in this scene. The question of the designer's intention, may never be fully answered; but the scene is as fully natural as the new morning sunrise, stark, ugly and tragic though it may be. It's the questioning of the designer (God) that is the most terrifying aspect of the poem. The acknowledgment that there may be a less than benevolent creator leaves the reader feeling as helpless as the characters in the scene-- "What but design of darkness to appall?-- If design govern in a thing so small."
From this scene, then where does the author go? Where does the reader go? There is the terror... where does man turn if the designer does this? And beyond that, where does the designer go if man has made his own definition of benevolence, and of terror? All fair questions. In the end there is Nature the way it was intended... the way it was designed.
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 neighbor 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 outdoor 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 neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? 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 offense.
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 neighbors."
As if in raw indifference Frost easily moves from picturing nature in all its attractiveness to revealing its unbending manner and brutal ways. "Mending Wall" shows "the other guy" as we see him in all of his senseless folly. "Good fences make good neighbors," recites the "old-stone savage" as the narrator describes him, all the while thinking that fences are only necessary if livestock is involved.
Two neighbors repair a property-boundary rock wall after "something" (nature is suggested) seasonally takes it apart. The one believes walls are not natural; the other believes that the best neighbors are on the other side of one. Each picks up the boulders on his side and places them once again in position on the wall.
This poem describes the two viewpoints we commonly find within ourselves. The "old ways" and traditions that we've gathered around ourselves like winter comforters. The "new ways" that we know our parents would not approve of. We toy with the idea of doing "things" our own way; and we tease ourselves with notions and games. And then we follow the old ways, all the while comforting ourselves with the knowledge that "we know better".
In the case of neighbors, aren't one's beliefs and traditions as valid as another's? Is it not better to help the one maintain his traditions, than to impose my own will upon him?
Mending wall is as important a pastime now as it was in Frost's time, and in the time of the "old-stone savages". Good fences make good neighbors, as the poem suggests; and "good neighbors make good fences". That is, if we care about our neighbor...
More on Robert Lee Frost 1874 - 1963
Difficult times leave marks on all men. Frost had his share of difficult times, as the unexpected loss of loved-ones visited his family often. Such grief and suffering bends men low like ice storms bend the birch trees in the poem "Birches". In Birches Frost talked about the suffering that left its mark on him. "...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."
With all his suffering came great insight, understanding and sense of reality. His poetry flourished, and his success brought critics, as success often does. Looking through the eyes of George Bailey (who was given the great gift of seeing what the world would have been like had he not been born), the world would be far different had Robert Frost not been born to contribute his vision of it. His poetry has been enjoyed the world over. After Frost's death in 1963 President Kennedy said of him: “The death of Robert Frost leaves a vacancy in the American spirit....His death impoverishes us all; but he has bequeathed his Nation a body of imperishable verse from which Americans will forever gain joy and understanding.”
For the Pleasure Of It:
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
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 sounds 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.
© 2011 Mr. Smith