Three Poems from Robert Frost on Choices
Three Poems of Robert Frost on the subject of making choices, each one better than the other two! Here are the three poems and then I will share a bit of my analysis on these wonders at the tail-end.
Poem No 1:
The Road Not Taken
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.
Poem No. 2:
The second poem in the trilogy on the subject of making choices is this beauty from Frost:
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
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 sound's 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.
Poem No. 3
The third Robert Frost poem in the series on making choices:
For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns,
Extremes too hard to comprehend at. once
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with~ hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best.
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.
In Stopping BY Woods On A Snowy Evening, there are two personalities, one is the poet whose natural inclination is to dream, to stop, to wonder, to be lost in time, the one who just wants "to be." The second character is the horse who is the symbol of the man with common concerns, the practical person who is always "doing" something, moving forward. The two personalities are essentially the two states of mind in all of us, one wants to stop, and just be and the other keeps nidging the dreamer in us to stop this nonsense and get real and get busy.
The woods, of course, are nature and every once in a while we stop dead in our tracks to really take it all in. But the horse....he asks us to move on, don't stop, there is so much to do....
Whose woods these are, I think, I know....his house is in the village though....the one who owns all this beauty will not mind our peeking into his beautiful world...in some ways it could also represent God, who is, I guess, elsewhere...
To enter into someone else's enchanted world is to enjoy a kind of stolen, almost guilty, pleasure which is what Frost appears to be enjoying, if one looks at the poem very superficially...at heart, the poem is the conflict of the "to be" and the "to do." Frost is actually weighing in on the side of the stopper because he is really living, and the last repetition of the miles to go before I sleep is an almost mantra-like repetition of the line as if one has to struggle hard to convince oneself that the correct way of living is by "doing" and not by "Being." But the poem is about "Being" and its beauties, and not about "doing" and its beauties...
The poet decides to heed the practical part of his mind, and bows his head to the horse's nudging him on; and yet the wistfulness stays, he has glimpsed eternity in those woods, he has been one with the Infinite and yet he moves back into the impermanent, leaving behind the eternal. He makes the choice we make most of the time, as we turn our backs on the Real and choose the Unreal, choosing the mundane over the ethereal.
The last poem is the least quoted of the three poems on the theme of making choices...but it’s a short poem and has nothing to do with forests or woods. Its not a narrative poem as such, it’s not a walk through snow or nature...it’s merely about a person trying hard to keep everything he values together in his life, an effort on his part to ensure he doesn't lose sight of his priorities, and sometimes he finds himself over-weighed with his concerns (bottles, buns) and some of these even consist of "extremes too hard to comprehend, at once."
The interesting word here employed by Frost is "extremes." My own take on this is that he is talking about various people who come into our lives and who stay on and others are perplexed as to how could one associate with these two/three extreme personalities, for e.g. how could one have a crazy eccentric or weird person as a friend while at the same time associating with very brilliant people who are balanced? Extremes too hard to comprehend at once" leads to sometimes one letting drop one in order not to lose the other, and yet the effort to keep them all carries on, because each is invaluable in its own way.
"I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load."
These two lines are the resolution: no matter how hard you may try to hold something to your "breast" things fall and one loses one's grip. At that point, Man lets everything go, lets it fall, he included, and this is the crisis point which Frost is sharing with us. At this crisis there is no option but to let it all drop, let oneself drop as well...and then calmly slowly "try to" arrange one's life and priorities in such a manner that they may not become unmanageable, with things more important closer to the breast and so on.
Thus, all three poems deal with choices made, priorities in one's life. In the first poem the poet has to choose a life-altering path, and decides to answer the call of his inner being and goes for the path which may not appeal to others but is one's own inclination; in the second poem the conflict between the practical man and the spiritual being is resolved with the practical side of oneself taking the front-seat at the wheel; in the third poem which appears to me like the natural progression of thought, the priorities chosen sometimes overwhelm one, one's life throws up too many challenges and one has to collapse, one has to let go, and then one has to re-build carefully so another crisis may be prevented.
Frost’s dilemma is the poet’s dilemma, the poet’s nightmare too: should he choose the calling of remaining a poet( taking the road not taken, for instance) or should he do something more lucrative which will offer less difficulties( taking the beaten path, etc)? Should one be practical and go, like the horse that shakes his bells, go towards a life of “doing” as against a life of “being”? And then one needs to also concern oneself with having too much on one’s plate, trying to be all things to everyone, trying to hug everything close with the result that everything falls, collapses, and one collapses with the concerns; and having dropped everything and one’s self, one then slowly picks up the pieces and tries to re-arrange one’s life so a similar debacle does not recur.
Frost cannot be matched when it comes to this theme of making choices. Brilliance, sheer brilliance from Robert Frost.
I'm sorry Mr. Gopal but I beg to differ. The remarkable thing about poetry is the fact that different conclusions can be drawn from the same lines by different people or even the same person at different times. A poem lends itself to different kinds of interpretations and we draw what we want to draw from a poem. Of course we look upon poets as philosophers, for myself when I feel depressed or am going through a setback and feel that the world does not understand me I read poetry especially that of Robert Frost - in whom I find a kindred spirit in such times. If you read "Dust of Snow" by Frost you'll understand what I mean. Great poets and writers have a very deep understanding of human nature - their poetry may be spontaneous but the thoughts and ideas are deep rooted and often represent their outlook in life.
Koel, well observed, what u say is so true!
But one can never know the truly intended meaning. The author might have something, or nothing at all, in mind, and you could have something completely unrelated, and they are just words on a page that can be seen again and again. No purpose. Just words seen in many lights.
All three poems are beautiful and they have become all the more so with your lucid explanation...and that's the beauty of poetry, it becomes pleasanter every time it is better understood. However I think there are no choices with a poet..Poetry comes from one's heart and a true poet is the one who writes from his heart, poetry flows in his veins.
Thanks Navneetkumar, so happy that you enjoyed the analyses!
A fine piece.
Of course, a part of the second poem is widely known to the world.
Personally I cannot see anything very remarkable in the poems leaving aside possible messages. I belong to the old school which lays some stress on rhymes and alliterations that enhance the readability and memorisability.
And I feel that one should not treat a poet like a philosopher, ascribing all kinds of meanings in thousands of words. A poet is an "instant-writer" (unless it is epics) only. At best he gives a rare glimpse and not a philosophy.
Thx Gopal glad you liked it. "One should" "one should not" is certainly one's own opinion and not necessary accepted by others. Some may prefer to merely experience, some may want to make some meaning out of anything, its a choice for each of us to make!