Thursday, September 22, 2005

Linguist Friend writes: Two Roads in a Wood

During my early childhood in south-east Virginia, we lived across the street from the artist J.J.Lankes, whose woodcuts illustrate several of the early volumes of poetry by Robert Frost. I barely remember Frost’s visit to Lankes in my childhood, when Lankes brought him across the street to meet my father, at our house on the red clay banks of the James River, but I do recall how Frost sighted at the weather up the great river, five miles wide near its mouth. Lankes’s woodcuts were widely hung on the darkish inside of his modest house in Hilton Village, and my family ended up with a number of them framed.
Today I see few references to Frost, who was a presence in Boston when I was an undergraduate student and I learned how to read literary texts from his former Amherst colleague and friend Reuben Brower. Of course, he is perhaps most (if not best) known for his poem “The Road Not Taken” of how two roads diverged in a wood, and he had to choose one. It is less known how far those roads took him, how not long before his death he traveled to Russia in autumn of 1962, met with Khrushchev, and left his traces on Soviet literature. One Lithuanian poet, Eduardas Mezelaitis, who visited Frost at his home in America, published the following verses in the afterword to a Soviet anthology of Frost’s poetry in Russian translation, published only a few months after the poet’s death in January of 1963. :

The poet reads, looking at the fire,
A poem of a man and of a road.
He’s at that age, when people are not joking
When they pronounce the words “end of the road”.

He speaks the words quite cheerfully and simply,
As if he sees them far past the horizon,
His verses going on their way alone,
Far beyond the life of any man.

Frost could be destructive in his personal relationships, and somehow I have come to feel that, even in his most famous poem, the poet got the geometry of the situation wrong. Clear divergences in the form of arbitrary decisions and choices in life are relatively rare, but it is convergences that can raise hell with things. When the two paths converge, each carrying a human, that is a classic problem of poetry. I tend to think that his poem would have been more convincing if it had been something like:

Two roads converged in a yellow wood,
Joined hands to take a walk together,
I came on one, my friend the other,
We made our common way the best we could.

You have to write the rest for yourself, of course.

Linguist Friend

(Did somebody just rewrite Robert Frost? And people think I'M cheeky... -CC)

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