The Road Not Taken to the House of Soud


I’ve been weighing whether to post this, as it doesn’t really fit in with most of my blog. Then I remembered that bit about not caring about all that anymore. Below is something I wrote in response to Frost’s famous poem on one of TNC’s threads. I can’t take credit for thinking up the idea myself; My poetry teacher in high school, David Soud, brought it to the classes attention. But it’s Friday, and I think this is a worthy idea to have out there:

I love the first part of your comment. And look, I’m being an ass about this, but it’s always stuck with me. The poem is about (well, I shouldn’t say that; the more recent view among asshole, but probably correct scholars on what it’s about is) Frost tricking himself into thinking that the road less traveled is somehow better. To wit:

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.

Break that down–“Just as fair” and “about the same.” Frost realizes that upon reflection, he’d probably have been just as satisfied (or unsatisfied) on either path. Also note in the next stanza “and both that morning equally lay.” Frost makes the profound claim–one I totally agree with–that there are some choices in life that make the rest of your life immune to change. In essence, this is a poetic form of the Butterfly effect; you can make one choice that changes the rest of your life. I wrote about this in Casino on my blog with Rothstein firing the slots manager; one decision that sets him down a path for near total destruction.

Anyway, back on the poem, there’s that lovely em dash in there, separating the “I”s. The initial read on the poem is that Frost is thankful that he took that path, and he pauses there to make the big point. But look closely. “All the difference.” That’s not a qualitative claim; it just marks distinction. Also notice the “telling this with a sigh.” It’s not a sigh of relief, but rather a sigh of exasperation.

Frost is one of my favorite poets, but his body of work is not sentimental. It’s mostly about dealing with isolation in New England, and, I don’t to what extent he’d acknowledge this, how his own genius often leaves him lonely. And so this poem, beautiful, simple, populist, is in the same vein. It just gets interpreted according to the American zeitgeist–that iconoclasts challenge themselves, but are rewarded for their efforts. According to my interpretation, he’s really saying it is more of a crap shoot.

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