cricketmuse

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Archive for the category “American poets”

A Frosty Choice


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

And I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Ah, Frost’s famous lines that celebrate and embrace individualism. The encouragement to go against the grain, to strive beyond mediocrity, to go where few have bothered to travel. It’s the stuff of graduation speeches, self-help tomes, greeting cards, posters, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and it even helps to sell cars.
According to David Orr in his literary/biography/analysis, The Road Not Taken, we have got it all wrong. The subtitle clues us in: Finding America in the Poem Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong. 

Surprise Reading*

In Orr’s introduction he asserts and emphasizes that the roads are equally traveled, that the two roads are interchangeable. The speaker admits the other road “just as fair” and “the passing there/Had worn them really about the same…” The speaker further notes: “And both that morning equally lay/In leaves no step had trodden black.”

To me it’s all saying: “Hey, which way should I go? I have no idea. They look both the same.”

David Orr would tell us this is perhaps right, then again maybe not. After all, poetry is a matter of perspective. He states that the poem “is a literary oddity and a philosophical puzzle, but more than anything else it’s a way of framing the paradoxical and massively influential culture in which it both begins and ends.”

Maybe Orr is the only one who does get it right because after reading his illuminating, worthwhile, and fascinating treatise on Frost’s poem, I still think it’s all about making choices and living out the decisions we’ve made–no regrets.

Then again, Frost might be having the last laugh. Apparently the poem is his gentle poke at how his good friend, Edward Thomas, a British poet, had considerable difficulties selecting which way to go when he and Frost would ramble around the English countryside together. Thomas would lament how the other direction had just as many lovely sights to see. In other words, they were both good choices, yet Thomas always felt a bit of regret for not having gone the other way. It seems Frost’s poem gently chides his friend to be happy with the choice made, to be satisfied.

Frost’s poem is perhaps not so much a celebration of marching boldly through the tangled bracken of life, tripping over logs of distraction and despair, rather it’s a quiet reflection of accepting the road that is taken, and not lamenting over the one that was not taken.

Overall, for such a slim volume (weighing in less than 200 pages), it is filled with solid bits of reflective insights:

  • Frost originally titled the poem “Two Roads”–that changes things, a bit.
  • He specifically used roads, not paths and emphatically noted the difference upon hearing someone begin a recitation replacing “paths” for “roads.”
  • This is very much an American poem, written by an American poet extolling the ponderation of choice, something Americans have historically and culturally embraced, yet the poem is based upon a time when Frost resided in England.
  • Frost admitted that he did not always consciously make  decisions: “I never know what is going to happen next because I don’t dare to let myself formulate a foolish hope.”
  • I learned about “confabulation”–the concept about artful lying (my interpretation).
  • The big question Orr asks is this: if we don’t know why we made the decision, is the choice made a meaningful one?
  • Frost liked being a bit of a mystery to his public and biographers, which is reflected in his poetry.
  • The poem might also have its foundation upon an actual incident where Frost was walking upon a road and met a man coming in the other diection. Frost felt this man to be his mirror image and should they converge and intersect he would grow stronger in his last part of his journey home.
  • The poem, its twenty or so lines, is considered one of the most popular pieces of literature written by an American–Google search stats tells us so.

It’s said that while William Wordsworth desired his poetry to be of a man speaking to men, wanting to speak lyrically from experience, from the heart, Robert Frost, asserts Orr, wanted to speak with men. Frost included the reader in his metered musings by having a conversation with us. I think Frost wanted to assert a warmth in poems by including us into his writing, which he achieved with his casual conversational tone and second person pronoun usage. His writings remain popular because they are so relatable. He includes us, wanting us to share in his experience.

If allowed, I would like to celebrate and propose this thought: combine two of Fost’s popular poems. Take  the individualism “The Road Not Taken” inspires and the idea of sharing the decision of choice with the reader, and add in the joy of  discovery found in “The Pasture,” so that the universality of realizing we are all on a journey together is made more readily apparent.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

And I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference–you come, too.

 

*BtW: am I the only one who realizes YouTube videos can’t be uploaded unless I upgrade my plan?  Huh? When did that happen?

POM: April 29


Emily. Emily. How amazing is the ability to capture a moment for all of us to wonder and appreciate centuries later. And to think your poems lay hidden, languishing until a sister realized they needed freedom not a burial.

A lane of Yellow led the eye (1650)

Emily Dickinson
A lane of Yellow led the eye
Unto a Purple Wood
Whose soft inhabitants to be
Surpasses solitude
If Bird the silence contradict
Or flower presume to show
In that low summer of the West
Impossible to know—

POM: April 26


This is oh so Thoreau. The way he observes nature, breaking the whole into bits without dissembling the phenomena.

 Mist by Henry David Thoreau

Low-anchored cloud,

Newfoundland air,

Fountain-head and source of rivers,

Dew-cloth, dream-drapery,

And napkin spread by fays;

Drifting meadow of the air,

Where bloom the daisied banks and violets,

And in whose fenny labyrinth

The bittern booms and heron wades;

Spirit of lakes and seas and rivers,—

Bear only perfumes and the scent

Of healing herbs to just men’s fields.

POM: April 22


I have fond memories of my father and boats.

Work

by Sally Bliumis-Dunn

I could tell they were father and son,
the air between them, slack as though
they hardly noticed one another.

The father sanded the gunwales,
the boy coiled the lines.
And I admired them there, each to his task

in the quiet of the long familiar.
The sawdust coated the father’s arms
like dusk coats grass in a field.

The boy worked next on the oarlocks
polishing the brass until it gleamed
as though he could harness the sun.

Who cares what they were thinking,
lucky in their lives
that the spin of the genetic wheel

slowed twice to a stop
and landed each of them here.

Copyright © 2015 by Sally Bliumis-Dunn.

image: morguefile/seabreeze

POM: April 21


Just what are the uses for poetry? I was hoping a sage, classic poet master like William Carlos Williams has the answer. After reading his poem I have more questions than answers.

 

The Uses of Poetry

William Carlos Williams, 18831963

I’ve fond anticipation of a day
O’erfilled with pure diversion presently,
For I must read a lady poesy
The while we glide by many a leafy bay,

Hid deep in rushes, where at random play
The glossy black winged May-flies, or whence flee
Hush-throated nestlings in alarm,
Whom we have idly frighted with our boat’s long sway.

For, lest o’ersaddened by such woes as spring
To rural peace from our meek onward trend,
What else more fit? We’ll draw the latch-string

And close the door of sense; then satiate wend,
On poesy’s transforming giant wing,
To worlds afar whose fruits all anguish mend.

Definitely a spot for posey Mayflies

image: morguefile/mzacha

POM: April 20


Carl Sandburg captures well how language is as fluid as a river. Rivers can shrivel up over time, and so can language. Poetry keep the languages of times, people, ideas, and civilizations from drying up.

Languages

Carl Sandburg (18781967)

There are no handles upon a language 
Whereby men take hold of it 
And mark it with signs for its remembrance. 
It is a river, this language, 
Once in a thousand years 
Breaking a new course 
Changing its way to the ocean. 
It is mountain effluvia 
Moving to valleys 
And from nation to nation 
Crossing borders and mixing. 
Languages die like rivers. 
Words wrapped round your tongue today 
And broken to shape of thought 
Between your teeth and lips speaking 
Now and today 
Shall be faded hieroglyphics 
Ten thousand years from now. 
Sing—and singing—remember 
Your song dies and changes 
And is not here to-morrow 
Any more than the wind 
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

POM: April 19


Walt Whitman. I now associate him with Robin Williams’ Dead Poets Society when he is coaxing Ethan Hawks’ character to create a poem about “Uncle Walt.” A “sweaty-toothed madman” is the description that rolled out. Walt Whitman is a bit of a madman. He wrote and rewrote Leaves of Grass throughout his career–sadly his new approach to poetry wasn’t readily embraced which is reflected in this poem.

I can relate to Walt and his statement about being open-minded to new ways of thinking. While his writing was not fully embraced in his time, Whitman is now considered one of America’s greatest poets.

 

morguefile image

Shut Not Your Doors to Me Proud Libraries

by Walt Whitman

 

Shut not your doors to me, proud libraries,
For that which was lacking among you all, yet needed most, I bring;
A book I have made for your dear sake, O soldiers,
And for you, O soul of man, and you, love of comrades;
The words of my book nothing, the life of it everything;
A book separate, not link’d with the rest, nor felt by the intellect;
But you will feel every word, O Libertad! arm’d Libertad!
It shall pass by the intellect to swim the sea, the air,
With joy with you, O soul of man.

POM: April 18


The Brownings provided one the most moving romances in literature. Robert writes to Elizabeth first as a fan, then as an admirer, and finally as confident and husband. Although older and ill, Elizabeth escapes the oppression of her father’s household and elopes with Robert to Italy, living out the remainder of her days in the bliss of her husband’s love. Okay, it probably wasn’t that perfect, but I do get a bit sentimental when I read poetry. I didn’t want to investigate this particular poem. I didn’t want to pop the bubble of how enduring love  remains through time by discovering he wasn’t looking for Elizabeth. I also wanted to believe she was perhaps just visiting friends, or had popped out for a gelato and would return. It would be too sad to think that she had passed away and he kept looking for her throughout their house. *sniff* Now and then mushy stuff is good to feast on.  Hope you appreciate R.B.’s poem as much I do.

 

Love in a Life

Robert Browning, 18121889

Room after room,
I hunt the house through
We inhabit together.
Heart, fear nothing, for, heart, thou shalt find her,
Next time, herself!—not the trouble behind her
Left in the curtain, the couch’s perfume!
As she brushed it, the cornice-wreath blossomed anew,—
Yon looking-glass gleamed at the wave of her feather.

Yet the day wears,
And door succeeds door;
I try the fresh fortune—
Range the wide house from the wing to the centre.
Still the same chance! she goes out as I enter.
Spend my whole day in the quest,—who cares?
But ‘tis twilight, you see,—with such suits to explore,
Such closets to search, such alcoves to importune!

image: pintrest

POM: April 16


Dunbar was one of the first African Americans recognized for his talent in poetry. This is almost magical in its lyric imagery. I can’t even think of trying to find a photograph that could possibly capture its radiance. Perhaps a Monet?

les Coquelicots

 

 

Invitation to Love

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 18721906

Come when the nights are bright with stars
Or come when the moon is mellow;
Come when the sun his golden bars
Drops on the hay-field yellow.
Come in the twilight soft and gray,
Come in the night or come in the day,
Come, O love, whene’er you may,
And you are welcome, welcome.

You are sweet, O Love, dear Love,
You are soft as the nesting dove.
Come to my heart and bring it to rest
As the bird flies home to its welcome nest.

Come when my heart is full of grief
Or when my heart is merry;
Come with the falling of the leaf
Or with the redd’ning cherry.
Come when the year’s first blossom blows,
Come when the summer gleams and glows,
Come with the winter’s drifting snows,
And you are welcome, welcome

POM: April 15


This is a new poet for me and I’m not sure why I’ve not come across her works before. She apparently was influential in the Modernist movement so I’m curious as to why when I read up on Pound and Elliot, Djuna Barnes doesn’t chime in. Lovely name and lived nearly a century. Somehow this poem seemed appropriate for the date.

Call of the Night

Djuna Barnes, 1892 – 1982
Dark, and the wind-blurred pines,

With a glimmer of light between.

Then I, entombed for an hourless night

With the world of things unseen.
Mist, the dust of flowers,

Leagues, heavy with promise of snow,

And a beckoning road ‘twixt vale and hill,

With the lure that all must know.
A light, my window’s gleam,

Soft, flaring its squares of red—

I loose the ache of the wilderness

And long for the fire instead.
You too know, old fellow?

Then, lift your head and bark.

It’s just the call of the lonesome place,

The winds and the housing dark.

 

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