Wednesday, September 4, 2013

9/4/13 The Road Not Taken

"Mom, can you help me with my English homework?"

"Sure. Whatcha got?"

"The Road Less Traveled."

First, I have to stop and stare. 

I was just thinking about this poem this morning in the shower. I was trying to remember if I'd actually blogged about it or just intended to.

Of all the poems in all the world...

"Ok, first, it's not the 'Road Less Traveled'"

"Are you sure?"

(Cue the dead-eyed are-you-kidding-me Mom stare back.)

"Um, yes. Positive. The entire truth of the poem is there actually is no road less traveled, only one not taken."

The speaker of the poem, you see, wants to be more than human. He resents being limited to the perspective of the present and wants the option to take every road, every time. Multiple lifetimes, sliding doors, what-ifs: it's the human condition of impossibility in four stanzas. 

But it really takes off in that last stanza. Because this clever speaker knows there was no road less traveled, just a choice that had to be made in the time he had, and no amount of rationalization and dreamy possibilities will ever bring him back to that same choice again. Even if he made the same walk tomorrow, he's never really setting out from the exact same place again, because every step changes him. And yet. And yet. He is keenly aware that when the memory of this walk is in the distant past, it will take on overtones and meanings packed with far more implications than were ever really there to being with. It will be, as it always is, memory creating its own realities to absolve and salve an aging conscience.  Of course, that might be its own kind of truth, from a certain point of view. But it's not really honest.

"That's why I groan whenever someone starts reading this poem at momentous occasions," I interjected at this point. "It demonstrates a complete lack of critical reading. To pretend that there really was a road less traveled that made 'all the difference' is to miss the entire point of the poem!"

"So, did you just always think this way or did you learn how to do that?"

I smile. "The entire point of a liberal education is to learn how to think, to understand different ways of thinking, and to be able to see multiple points of view."

"Well, that makes me feel better."

"And, clearly, we've crossed that one off the funeral readings."

She laughed.

"I would tell you which one I want read, but I wouldn't do that to you."

"What is it?"

"Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot. But for a read-aloud, it's just not doable. People would be glazing over a quarter of the way through. Okay, maybe a couple of English majors would stick with you, but everyone else will be looking for the exit."

"You know I'd do it for you."

"It's like 2000 words. Trust me. Nobody wants to sit through that.  Maybe you can just read the ending for me."

"Okay, deal."

Because, really, as T.S. Eliot so beautifully illustrates, while Frost only intimates, all roads, in the end, become one.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time. 
Through the unknown, unremembered gate 
When the last of earth left to discover 
Is that which was the beginning; 
At the source of the longest river 
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for 
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always-- 
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded 
Into the crowned knot of fire 

And the fire and the rose are one.


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