Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thread: Uncle Lyle Responds

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Update

(Tuesday, June 17, 2008, 12:43 PM)

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After Uncle revealed his favorite poems, I asked him to explain what it is about "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and the other poems that attracts him. He said,

Jennifer, You are giving me too much credit and I love it but I am not deserving all the commentary. As you know I was blessed with 3 boys and felt compelled to be a boy scout leader and felt the army training would make me able to offer some ideas to young boys to compete in the future. The poems you refer to are set in the wild wilderness and immediately survival comes to mind and living with nature. You could find a big gold deposit or silver but the real need is food so these poems tell me how to find, identify and eat roots etc. but most of all they paint a beautiful picture in my mind of harmony with nature catching fish and living off the land. Somehow today's concerts and protests ruin the beautiful mental picture. They also offer 2 options as to which path to take but you are aware that animals made the trails so you know there has to be food on both but evil in man has to try to imagine which path has a sucker to fleece [Bold admin emphasis].

You are in the right mode of thought as I do not know a single today poet.
What are your thoughts on Uncle Lyle's comment about imagining the path that "has a sucker to fleece"?

Monday, June 16, 2008, 2:33 PM

I asked Uncle Lyle two questions:

  1. Who are your favorite all-time poets?

  2. Who are your favorite poets writing and publishing today?

His response:

My favorite poets and I do not know many so you will get a narrow view. Frost and Poe.

"The Road not Taken" = Frost

"Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" = Frost

"A Dream Within a Dream" = Poe
Uncle Lyle didn't answer question #2, which I think is telling and offers a possible commentary on the state of modern poetry: that today's poets tend to write and publish for other poets and academia--and NOT for the literature students that sit in their classes or the general public.

Lyle also noted Poe's short story "The Pit and Pendulum" as a favorite.

So why do these two writers endure while many of their contemporaries have fallen along the wayside? Perhaps we can find clues within their own poems:


_____________________________________________

A Dream Within A Dream

Edgar Allan Poe


Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

(1827)

_____________________________________________

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

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 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.

(1922)

_____________________________________________

The Road Not Taken

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.

(1920)

_____________________________________________

All three poems seem appeal to both academic and a general audience.

I wonder why that is?

42 comments:

  1. It's the music.

    (Uncle Lyle, you rock!)

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  2. In Real Estate of course we all know what it is--the same as in Geopolitics, you ninny:

    LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.

    In poetry?

    REPUTATION, REPUTATION, REPUTATION.

    But before that, how does the poet write the poem that becomes in itself the canon?

    FIRST LINE, FIRST LINE, FIRST LINE.

    Indeed, when one is talking about a poem with friends, students perhaps, more likely left-overs and other such lovers and folk, I mean people who like myself really want to know what's this poem for? why does it resonate so? and for God's sake why does it resonate so even when I haven't the vaguest idea what it's saying? Indeed, when we're talking like that who remembers to pick up the key:

    TITLE, TITLE, TITLE.

    And finally, what advice can I give personally, this old man still more interested in poetry than he is in the meal growing cold on the table before him, I mean, what can one possibly say:

    NOT THIS, NOT THIS, NOT THIS!

    Christopher

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. Please could we have the third poem and no more deletions please?

    Oh, this is rich!

    Apricot

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  5. I agree.

    'The Road Not Taken' was his best.

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  6. "The Road Not Taken" is sophistry tricked out as homespun wisdom. Either road would make all the difference. If ever there was a Readers' Digest poem, that one is it.

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  7. Could you have written that? I wish I could.

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  8. Anonymous,
    You're entirely right, The Road Not Taken is "sophistry tricked out as homespun wisdom," and indeed that is a measure of its greatness. It is also a special feature of many of Robert Frost's greatest poems, including both of the poems Uncle Lyle has chosen.

    If the poems were "sophistry" they wouldn't be clear enough and, of course, if they were "homespun wisdom" they would be much too clear.

    As it is this poem should never be shown to children. (I saw just last night the episode of The Sopranos in which Tony aka The-Road-not-Taken's daughter tries to help his already terminally damaged son prepare the poem for homework just as their detested grandmother is dead!)

    I agree too, the fact that "either road would make all the difference" is the whole point of the poem. Indeed it comes crashing in upon us with the tiniest nudge and a twitch and a whimper in the hardly noticeable falling-off that is so troubling in the very last line. The tragedy of the poem is never articulated anywhere else--until we look back, and then, oh the grief of the road not taken!

    Metrically this poem ends up as much a disaster as that denouement, and of course vise versa.

    Such poems do belong in The Readers Digest, I agree with that too, Anonymous. But what a shock it will be for those millions of Readers Digest readers when they realize the poem says exactly the opposite of almost everything the Readers Digest stands for, and America!

    But of course, that's just a beginning, and as the poem gets yet more examined we might even fasten it with a heart shaped magnet on the refrigerator--would that the word rhymed with "difference!"

    Christopher

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  9. I'd like to say a word about Uncle Lyle, for this thread is about him.

    Plato said romantic love was ‘a madness’ and most people (cautious, wise, etc) know it as such. Romantic poetry is the pinnacle in literature which invokes this ‘madness.’ Free, sensual expression in today’s culture springs from Romanticism: drinking, dancing, porn, the sports hero, the movies, the opera, the soap opera, the whole lot of it. All notable poetry since Romanticism has been a satire of Romanticism: Poe, Eliot, Ashbery. We cannot escape Romanticism. We can either indulge in it, or poke fun at it. We can treat the Romantic spirit seriously, or we can see it as childish.

    If one treats seriously a childish thing, missing the spirit of satire entirely, then one will react to Poe the way James Russell Lowell, Whitman, Huxley, DH Lawrence, Yeats, Winters, Joseph Wood Krutch, Henry James, TS Eliot, and Harold Bloom did, with a mixture of pity, scorn and helpless indignation.

    Few poet-intellectuals ‘get’ Poe, because Poe is like the grass cats are eager to consume to soothe their bellies. Poe is not food. Poe is not poetry. He is a cure for it.

    Uncle Lyle doesn’t need too much poetry. Uncle Lyle instinctively understands that excess should be avoided—we all instinctively understand this. We dream about hopeless love affairs, but we don’t throw ourselves into them on a daily basis, at least not with much success. Uncle Lyle doesn’t need to study, or even read tremendous amounts of poetry, because a writer like Poe collects the most intense, passionate expression of what defines poetry to the thinking soul and says, ‘here,’ and Uncle Lyle takes it, and says, ‘thanks, that will do. You’ve satisfied my poetry fix. I can now get on with more important matters in life.’

    So Poe abets the Uncle Lyles of the world in not having to focus a lot on poetry, but on other, more practical things, and Poe is reviled for this in vain by critical experts and intellectuals who swoop down and cry out in horror:

    “’While I weep! While I weep!’ That’s awful! What cringe-worthy verse! Good lord, that’s bad! Ha ha ha ha. Don’t you see? Uncle Lyle, you need an education! You must be taught how miserable this poem is!”

    But they cry out in vain. Poe’s medicine—“A Dream Within A Dream” has been absorbed into Uncle Lyle’s bloodstream. Uncle Lyle is free.

    Now, it would be wrong to say Uncle Lyle is a practical man who does not care for poetry, just as it would be wrong to say that a monk does not love wine and song--he does. He loves it too much.

    Uncle Lyle loves poetry as much as John Ashbery, who writes poetry every day, who obsessively writes the SAME POEM over and over. It would not surprise me if Uncle Lyle were more fond of poetry than John Ashbery, who is on a mission to mock the Romantic spirit—for that’s all that’s left to the poet—but Ashbery cannot, for “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “Dream Within A Dream” have absorbed and mocked Romanticism a little bit better.

    Uncle Lyle tastes what Ashbery, in vain, is trying to prepare.

    Monday Love

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  10. Assume, you scholars and professors out there, that what I ask isn’t as naive a question as you might first think:

    If you self-publish (and self-market) your poetry then isn't 'Uncle Lyle' the only 'someone of importance' who need be considered?

    Yes, you might reply, but few people read contemporary poetry anymore. Only poets read poetry and they only write it for each other.
    (Gee, I wonder why nobody reads it any more?)

    But couldn’t there be a ‘middle’ way between empty doggerel and the intellectually divine ?

    Yes, perhaps, but how do you make even the existence of your book known to the millions of ordinary people you want to read it? Jeez, you'd need some kind of instantaneous worldwide communication system, wouldn't you?

    Ha ha. But they won’t buy it.

    Wanna bet?

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  11. Gary, just start posting your poems on poets.net.

    IF you are good, your FAME STARTS HERE.

    I think the site will soon have a place for that.

    Unfortunately, Uncle Lyle will not make you famous. You have to be launched, first.

    ReplyDelete
  12. A Date Within A Date

    We no longer have sex.
    What shall we do next
    To save our love?
    Is it too late
    For ceremony,
    Or has ceremony led to its end?
    Can marriage defend
    Desire, or is this our pallid fate?
    To walk the floors of silent seas,
    A date within a date?

    Thunderstorms cover
    The outspoken mother.
    Dark miles of valley
    Says desire must wait.
    Oh, darkened city,
    Is this our parental fate?
    To plead with each other
    To call each other late,
    To meet in the middle of the floor,
    A date within a date?

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  13. Dear Anonymous (two above):

    Sorry. I am hopelessly in love with paper.

    And the only fame I seek is among your great-great grandchildren.

    My work is available. You have a computer...use it.

    This may be some of Carl Jung's synchronicity (apologies, Matt), but this quote came up just now on my Dell Home Page. Go figure.

    "Words are just painted fire.
    Books are the fire itself."

    - Mark Twain

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  14. Regarding the posts above by Christopher Woodman and Monday Love:

    superb!

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  15. Here's a little try on the poem that was just posted--a quick response. As it comes just 4 minutes after Anonymous' encouragement to Gary to post a poem here on Poets.net, I assume it's a response to that request, whether or not it's posted by Gary or even Gary's poem.

    A Date Within A Date

    We no longer have sex.
    What shall we do next
    To save our love?
    Is it too late
    For ceremony,
    Or has ceremony led to its end?
    Can marriage defend
    Desire, or is this our pallid fate?
    To walk the floors of silent seas,
    A date within a date?

    Thunderstorms cover
    The outspoken mother.
    Dark miles of valley
    Says desire must wait.
    Oh, darkened city,
    Is this our parental fate?
    To plead with each other
    To call each other late,
    To meet in the middle of the floor,
    A date within a date?
    ........................................Anonymous

    I'll take my Priorities as my order as this is a poem that fall's into the same tradition I was talking about.

    REPUTATION.
    Well, I for one don't know who this poem is by, and though I read quite a lot I still don't recognize a lot of the things the whizzes like Monday Love, Athena and TomWest recognize so fast they don't even bother to cite them!

    I would say this is a poem that would seem to be well known already, that that is its persona. It would seem to be a poem that you know by heart, yet its subject matter is hardly what you sing children to bed with or write down in your best long-hand for somebody you love on their 80th birthday. So that's a disconnect, the odd contrast between the quintessential and the quotidian--because this is distinctly not an archetypal theme in any but the "Prufrock" tradition, and that's not the tradition we've come to expect from Robert Frost & Co (select company, but you know who I mean, and love them as much as I do!).

    And I don't mean Philip Larkin who might have written but would never ever have published this poem--though Anthony Thwaite might have, and therein lies all the difference!

    Were the poem by Robert Frost, for example, it would be extremely interesting indeed, and that's a compliment to the author because the statement concedes that it could conceivably have been by the great master himself, even if not in one of his most propitious moments--but I mean, nevertheless!

    Now REPUTATION is what sets this poem up with a certain sense of expectation, in other words, it could sound like a good poem if it were in fact written by a great poet. On the other hand, if it's not written by a poet with a great reputation or any reputation at all it may just be posing, which means it might be the sort of poem a skillful imitator of great poetry would write instead--and take note, there were a whole lot of such gifted imitators who wrote some very good poetry in the Poets.org POEM-A-DAY marathon during the month of April. A poem a day is what they wrote, for a whole month, honest injun (oops, I meant Ashberry!), and a surprising number of them were really good too--but just up to a point. And the point is the same point we arrive at with "A Date Within a Date"--it feels it ought to have a reputation but almost certainly, I'm afraid to say, it doesn't.

    John Ashberry can write a poem a day and it will get reviewed in NYRB by Helen Vendler. And you know what? Even I, this cantankerous old guy right here will read it, still hoping for some little additional gift from that very great reputation, and even if I get nothing (!) that's still what makes all the difference!

    So much for REPUTATION.

    Anyone want to take up FIRST LINE now, and perhaps include it in a discussion of TITLE?

    I'd like a shot at NOT THIS, as that was my formulation, and a little too clever by half. If you get what I mean, go for it. If not, I'll come in later with some more 'views.'

    This is a great thread, Jennifer, and I feel Uncle Lyle just rumbling for a response. So I'll go for that too in due course.

    Think we'll ever get to the other two poems? In this life time?

    Christopher

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  16. T.S.Eliot would never have written this poem, ever, and anyone who does so thinking they are somehow J. Alfred Prufrocks are missing the point altogether. It's what acting teachers call "indicating." "Play against the emotion, God damn it!" they shout at you. "I don't believe you when you just tell the truth. I don't believe you at all when you act it out like this!"

    "Bend it, hide it, do just the opposite of what you feel you ought to be doing. Then we'll get you, then we'll start crying."

    The poem is good, I agree. But it wants you to notice it's dealing with a theme that's not exactly poetic. That's what undermines it--it's altogether too transparent!

    "One note," my acting teacher used to shout at me even when I had tears streaming from my own eyes!

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  17. Enter JORIE GRAHAM!

    NYRB, December 20th, 2007, p. 98

    At least today, after the self-canonization. (Be thankful you don't have to contend with that, Gary--which is also another argument against self-publishing, isn't it?)

    Apricot

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  18. My own feeling is that anonymous poems put up for critique on-line are worth diddly-squat. If I knew one were by a gifted 15 year old from the Bronx I'd give back my best. If I knew it were by Christopher Woodman, with all due respect, or by Gary Fitzgerald, for whom my jury’s still out, I'd certainly be what you might call more measured.

    Or by Apricot? Oh my God, I'm in love already!

    Poems should be posted on an open Forum as part of the dialogue, that’s my feeling, and they must contribute or be studiously ignored. I also feel they should be discussed for what they say first and foremost, and only for HOW they say it if that's the best way to get at the meaning—which it probably will be if it’s a good poem. An exception to that would be if the mechanics of a poem get in the way of the meaning, and end up by limiting something important the poem is obviously trying to say.

    I myself would defend Christopher for having posted To Whom from Whom All Blessings Flow toward the end of the thread called, “Can Poem Criticism Exist Without Po-Biz Criticism”—that’s the thread I’ve been following most closely, of course—right up to the "end" (more anon on that, though I don’t quite know where…). Even though To Whom From Whom isn't a poem that carries it’s weight/freight very well in isolation, as I feel sure Christopher would agree, it was certainly on target at the time—compassionate and yet, most important of all when the tears start to well up, funny.

    As a "talk" poem too it delivers a nice little sermon with its coke and its fan--and we certainly needed a nice little sermon at that point. On the other hand, if someone stepped up and said Christopher was taking unfair advantage of a crisis, I could see the point. There's something always and inevitably patronizing about a poem that has something to say!

    Anyone care to comment on that?

    Robocop

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  19. I love the comment about the actor who needs to 'work against the emotion' to truly move the audience.

    Subtext. Surface meaning--and the meaning just below the surface saying something a little different. I guess this is where we drag out that oft-used word 'irony.' The suppressed meaning commenting ironically on the surface meaning.

    Shakespeare's clowns and peasants appealing to the groundlings, replicating and commenting on his scenes with kings and generals.

    The play within a play.

    The trope within a trope. (Mine: to hate poetry with a wild love; to never trust poetry, like Plato, and yet, in the mad hatred of it, finding a glory in... what? This question, ever being asked, never satisfied...)

    The faith that Uncle Lyle, who never consciously thinks about these things, knows more than me...

    A dream within a dream.

    A _____ within a _____.

    I wrote a "Date within a date" on a mad whim, as if this was the only way I could respond to the Poe poem, to discover the template, the glory of it, and surely it is this idea:

    The _______ within a ______.

    One could start a whole poetic tradition, like haiku, writing only poems that are two stanzas, 22lines, rhyme scheme etc etc using the phrase 'a _____ within a _____.

    I have said too much. I have revealed too much. My rhetoric out-runs itself.

    My essay within an essay needs to...

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  20. Uncle Lyle speaks of nature.

    Nature, nature, nature.

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  21. "Nature, nature, nature."

    What else is there?

    An anthill is 'nature', right? How about an Apartment building in Manhattan?

    Same difference, I'd say. Just a matter of scale and complexity.

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  22. Uncle Lyle seems to have 2 basic criteria, however:

    1. Beauty
    2. Survival skills

    Neither of which quite apply to 'anthill' and 'apartment building,' at least in the sense of walking through a snowy woods...

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  23. "2. Survival skills"

    Have you been to Manhattan lately?

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  24. And since we're in a lull for the moment, I'd like to make an off-topic observation.

    Funny how different people spell the exact same words wrong.

    IMPD?

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  25. I grew up in Manhattan, and it's even nicer today.

    Everything you need is there.

    In fact, there's a little restaurant in the Village, a table with your name on it...

    And they serve alcohol!

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  26. It seems silly to reply when you agree (more fun to argue), but I think Robocop's comments above are right on the money and deserve a second look.

    And anthills are beautiful in their own way. Like critics. :-)

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  27. I agree that "Road Not Taken" is "Readers Digest."

    I think "Stopping By the Woods" is just lovely. The longest homerun ever hit by Bobby Frost.

    Poe? Scary hitter. Talk about power...

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  28. Anonymous within Anonymous:

    Boy, did you have me fooled, and that's truly a wonder as you wrote the f---ing thing in four b----y minutes.

    Which all goes to show about REPUTATION, Gary, what is more publishing on-lie!

    Actually, I didn't put too many feet wrong, did I, A-----within A----? I'm much too charitable, of course, but that's because it never occurred to me the poem was a spoof--as 99% of PoBiz poems aren't spoofs either, of course. Indeed, they're all by poets as skillful and, forgive me for revealing how green are my eyes, as FAST as this "Date Within a Date"--indeed, I would propose that we call PoBiz poems of this sort now "Date-within-a-Date" poems.

    Got me?

    I mean, "date within a date" is what happens when you go on a date so starved for companionship (aka hard for a hit) that you date yourself not somebody else (aka onanism!). And if that isn't shorthand for the poetry that's being generated within the PoBiz workshops and schools and programs and on-line forums today in America I don't know what is.

    When you pay for something you've got to get something back. So you sign up for a batik class and they give you a tee-shirt, some wax, some dyes and an apron and you go home with a tee-shirt and, by-God, you wear it! Go to Poets.org 101 to 404, or whatever, and you come out with a poem and a poet!

    Suck up, become a Moderator, become a Winner, become a Boy Wonder and you're a Poet with a job!

    Just like being on a date within a date, you get to be a poet within a poet. Nobody's reading you but yourself and you look good (and feel nice) with the kids in the white house romping on the lawn with Binker (it's a King Charles spaniel, not a corgy, you dolt. Haven't you seen Masterpiece Theatre?).

    Christopher

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  29. "The Road Not Taken" is a Readers Digest poem if you're a Readers Digest reader.

    It's also a Readers Digest poem if you're afraid someone might spot you reading a Readers Digest poem as if you actually digested your reading, so to speak.

    Which means you still read poetry as if it's purpose was to mean something--which, of course, is what the plebs do, not having your own sophistication, historical background, and philosophical and aesthetic affectations.

    What is great about "The Road Not Taken" is that it speaks in so many voices and answers questions about the meaning of a life in so many different ways. And if you're ready for it, it dismantles all your questions about everything.

    Apricot

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  30. Apricot,

    "it dismantles all your questions about everything..."

    Is this hyperbole, or do you really believe this?

    I don't believe this can hold up to analysis.

    What does "Road Less Traveled" mean? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it doesn't mean anything.

    It's just one of those self-flattering adages: "I took the less traveled road! I struck out on my own! I don't run with the crowd! And that's made all the difference!"

    This is 'the meaning' that caught on, so to speak.

    It's a bunch of rubbish.

    Or, I should say, this proves that popularity in poetry is a tricky thing.

    In what moment did FROST become FAMOUS? I think it had something to do with his name, and that he wrote about Vermont.

    In some ways Frost was Emerson/Thoureau squeezed into Hallmark; that's being a little harsh, but Frost managed to personify the 'wise old country poet' which probably goes back to China and Japan and the simple folk who wrote their wise little nature poems (I know I'm being horribly condescending) and then Wordsworth and Thoureau invoked this for 'Modern Western Man' and Frost picked up the crown for 20th Century America. There will always be this tension between these two perceptions: 'rural is stupid' (Karl Marx: 'the idiocy of bucolic life) and 'rural is wise' (Robert Frost).

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  31. Christopher WoodmanJune 19, 2008 at 10:07 AM

    Anonymous (the one that's not within anything) wrote:

    "It's just one of those self-flattering adages: 'I took the less traveled road! I struck out on my own! I don't run with the crowd! And that's made all the difference!'

    This is 'the meaning' that caught on, so to speak."

    Not only did it catch on, it seems to have caught the poet himself--for awhile anyway. Because had the poem actually said that to the end, the case would have been closed for sure--bad poem, the poet a Hallmark Houdini. But the poem doesn't say that, as hard as the author may have tried to get it to say it as he wrote it. But it wouldn't, it just wouldn't stay still and be silly.

    I mean brave guy, good American, he "took the other, as just as fair," because using his powers of free choice he realized the other had "perhaps the better claim,/
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear"--the natural way, in other words, environmental and as free as Daniel Boone--"Though as for that the passing there/
    Had worn them really about the same..."

    Oh dear, Dale Carnegie never prepared me for this, but I was brave, an individual. I was a mover and I followed my bliss.

    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.


    End of story--"and that has made all the difference..."

    This is not a poem that should be in The Reader's Digest but on some unknown soldier's gravestone!

    Indeed, anyone who has had time to grow old like me can tell you that every single brave and principled decision one makes in life leads absolutely nowhere unless one is prepared to die after it's done--and only that will "make all the difference..."

    A desperate poem whose only hope lies in whatever's the answer to life's folly other than despair.

    A great poem if you can answer that riddle. If not, it's not a bad idea to keep carrying the poem in your pocket until you can.

    Christopher

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  32. "In some ways Frost was Emerson/Thoureau [sic] squeezed into Hallmark; that's being a little harsh, but Frost managed to personify the 'wise old country poet' which probably goes back to China and Japan and the simple folk who wrote their wise little nature poems..."

    And this is a bad thing?

    And the average person (simple folk) doesn't read poetry any more...why, again?

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  33. Christopher,

    I don't see where Frost says 'you have to be willing to die' for every life-choice you make.

    But you do remind me of the poignancy in the poem: 'we want to take the other road some day, but the one we take leads on to other roads, so we never get back to that other road...' I guess that's the emotional core of the poem, the nostalgia, the regret of not being able to taste all of life's joys and mysteries; we must make choices and take certain roads and not take others... We marry Sue and leave Ann behind, for instance...the poem is about LIMITS, and it manages to be wise and self-assured and breath-takingly sad about the LIMITS, this, I think, is the poem's chief success. The 'sage' invokes life's limits and griefs, but in a way that soothes because of the 'sage' approach, and because of the poetry, which lends both emotion and authority to the whole picture: it's rather what 'The Poem' is expected to do. Frost managed to invoke 'The Poem.' It's not the message of the specific poem, finally, that matters, it's that we feel we are reading 'The Poem' doing exactly what it is supposed to do: dusting off a common grief or dilemma and putting it on display.

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  34. Gary,

    No, 'Hallmark Thoreau' is not a 'bad thing;' I was just making an observation.

    Simple folk don't read poetry anymore because they no longer exist.

    When you invoke a 'simple folk' persona as a poetic authority you are investing in something with diminishing returns. The fiction eventually betrays the reality.

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  35. "What is great about "The Road Not Taken" is that it speaks in so many voices and answers questions about the meaning of a life in so many different ways."

    I think the ensuing debate and many opinions about the 'meaning' of this poem proves Apricot's point, above.

    "Simple folk don't read poetry anymore because they no longer exist."

    Please elaborate. I don't understand this statement.

    It's easy to write about mundane things with difficult words.
    It is much harder to address the difficult things with simple words.
    This simplicity, however, is the very soul of poetry.

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  36. Gary,

    "It's easy to write about mundane things with difficult words. It is much harder to address the difficult things with simple words."

    Amen.

    'Simple folk,' the drunken Chinese poet on his donkey looking at the moon, the rural poet giving us his 'natural wisdom' does not exist anymore. Point to such a person. The human race, or at least the part of it that writes poetry, is becoming more and more artificial, more educated, more subtle, more specialized. The 'simple folk' are not poets anymore. There are some poets or critics who might play the 'simple folk' card, but that's it, really.

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  37. "'Simple folk,' the drunken Chinese poet on his donkey looking at the moon, the rural poet giving us his 'natural wisdom’ does not exist anymore."

    I refer not to the writers of poetry today, for they are no longer wise, but to the dearth of readers of it. The world is teeming with ‘simple folk’ hungry for the wisdom of poetry and they have been long starved.

    And by the way, I fell off my horse drunk looking at the full moon just last night.

    Thank you to poets.net for such magnanimous tolerance and gracious hospitality.

    Farewell and good luck.

    Gary

    ReplyDelete
  38. Anonymous asks me, "I don't see where Frost says 'you have to be willing to die' for every life-choice you make."

    Sorry, I didn't mean to say that--indeed, I meant to say that you will die regardless of the life-choices you make, and however much you agonize over those decisions the result will still be the same.

    Die is perhaps a little extreme. You could say turn 30, get divorced, win the lottery, or retire.

    I used the example of the gravestone of the unknown soldier because most unknown soldiers die for the silliest reasons, including reasons like wanting to get away from home or out of a relationship, get a better education, or die for their country. That last choice is a beautiful example of the folly of the whole decision making process, because unless your a Kamikaze pilot or a Jihadist, however confidently you march down that path you don't ever consider the possibility that you might actually be on it!

    Most unknown soldiers die because they were in exactly the wrong place at exactly the most awfully wrong moment. They got there perhaps because they took the road that was rather not taken but they did.

    Christopher

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  39. The same Anonymous goes on to say in the same post:

    But you do remind me of the poignancy in the poem: 'we want to take the other road some day, but the one we take leads on to other roads, so we never get back to that other road...' I guess that's the emotional core of the poem, the nostalgia, the regret of not being able to taste all of life's joys and mysteries; we must make choices and take certain roads and not take others... We marry Sue and leave Ann behind, for instance...the poem is about LIMITS, and it manages to be wise and self-assured and breath-takingly sad about the LIMITS, this, I think, is the poem's chief success. The 'sage' invokes life's limits and griefs, but in a way that soothes because of the 'sage' approach, and because of the poetry, which lends both emotion and authority to the whole picture: it's rather what 'The Poem' is expected to do. Frost managed to invoke 'The Poem.' It's not the message of the specific poem, finally, that matters, it's that we feel we are reading 'The Poem' doing exactly what it is supposed to do: dusting off a common grief or dilemma and putting it on display.

    And that is precisely where my earlier "NOT THIS" test can be applied.

    So yes, I agree, Anonymous, "The Road Not Taken" does fall into "The Poem" category, and not just because it looks and sounds like "The Poem" but because it's by Robert Frost and it's been by Robert Frost for 88 years--i.e. the REPUTATION factor. To put that into perspective, "The Road Not Taken" was one of the very first poems I became aware of as a poem, and I think I can date that moment to about 1948 or 1949--and it was already almost 30 years old by that time!

    "The Road Not Taken" is less guilty of this than "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening," but it has also been a God-send not only to Hallmark and Walt Disney, but to Laura Bush and Tipper Gore. I mean, look at our Poets.net graphic just above? It's beautiful but it's also pure Tipper Gore (pacé Tipper Gore and the artist. both of whom I admire greatly. My argument is that Hallmark like The Reader's Digest is O.K! I mean, what a snob you'd have to be to refuse even to look at such an influential literary magazine!).

    And the spoof poem that so threw me, it was that skillful, "The Date Within the Date," is "The Poem" too if you're not careful. Indeed, you have to be a good reader to apply my "NOT THIS" test and realize it's either a bad poem or by a very gifted satirist. Because it has no tension, it has no denial, it has no rear-end! A great poem has got to moon you too, always and always and always, not just smile at your own big rear-end as you turn away and drive to the mall to buy yet another Hallmark card.

    Look at the last two lines of "The Road Not Taken:"

    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.


    And what a shock to realize that they don't say at all what the feel-good guru, M. Scott Peck, M.D, transformed millions of lives by suggesting they meant in his own "The Road Less Travelled." Indeed, the irony is that the persona in the poem is confessing in those last 3 lines that despite all the beautiful, Hallmark bravado of the earlier and far more famous lines. he/she is actually a "person of the lie"--to loosely paraphrase the title of M. Scot Peck, M.D.'s next feel-good best-seller, "People of the Lie." Because in the context of the poem, it's a blatant. self-serving lie that he/she took the road less travelled by, I mean just look back and see what actually happened at the moment of the decision. No decision was made at all, just some pretty wooly Hallmark thinking. And THAT has had made all the difference?

    Give me a break!

    And of course we critics know how to talk about that very last word. "difference," in the metrical scheme of things. Kaltica would have some Latin or Greek tag for it, and I'm sure that even if I said something like dactyl he'd floor me for not saying hypercatalexis at the very least!

    You now what I say to myself?

    The line falls off the edge into consciousness or defeat, depending upon what happens next.

    Christopher

    ReplyDelete

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