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Mountain Interval by Robert Frost 
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Post Mountain Interval by Robert Frost
Please use this thread to discuss Mountain Interval by Robert Frost.


Mountain Interval is available online.



Sun Feb 15, 2009 9:07 pm
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The Road Not Taken is the first poem in this collection. We've already had some interesting discussion of this poem on the Poetry Forum. The main question posed earlier was whether the poem's conclusion indicats an affirmation of the choice or regret.


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.



Sun Feb 15, 2009 9:19 pm
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Saffron:

Thanks for starting this thread.

About "The Road Not Taken," my word, what a fine poem. Excellent craft, as always: the skillful use of enjambment, the assonance, the use of monosyllabic words to slow us down and evoke a sense of the pace of walking in the woods. (I've been noticing how Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. does the same thing in his court opinions and essays, with similar effect.) Today while reading this poem I had a strong sense of experiencing it: visualizing the scenes, letting the words conjure up the trees, the leaves, autumn air (the trees are yellow, and he's expecting the fallen leaves to become black, so I think it's autumn). And the ways we experience memory as we get older: remembering a poignant moment, then recollecting a later time, and then, when we speculate about the future, that future is so heavy with the weight of the past, and of the chain of consequences of past choices. The poem makes me feel the irony and regret when we consider our youthful thoughts that we'll always be able to start over later on in life if one path doesn't work out. I love the openness, the undecidedness, of the last line, because it lets me experience so many feelings at once, the way we often do as we get older: regret, self-doubt, vindication at having chosen an innovative path, deep sorrow at the opportunities relinquished due to that choice. I'm struck today also by the way nature acts as teacher and comforter: it gives us all the images and metaphors we need to make sense of most difficult aspects of life, even as it's always greater than our lives, it seems always to enfold us and exceed us. So that even that endless vista going forward that I always see in my mind when reading this poem is always bordered by a familiar woodland path, birches or aspen on either side, a path one can always eventually find, always a horizon placing a comforting limit on one's vision. Today I also very much appreciate Frost as comforter, as an exceedingly welcome ancient voice, gently guiding us forward in life, consoling us respecting the hardest issues, fate, death, loneliness, regret. I thought today about what it must have been like to have lived in the world before this poem had been published, to never have known it or to have been able to share it with others. Makes me feel grateful to have been born in this time and place.



Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:03 pm
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Post An Old Man's Winter Night
Read "An Old Man's Winter Night" for the first time tonight. I think it's a very lovely poem. It has a transcendent feel to me, in the last lines, like Larkin's "High Windows" or Whitman's "The Sleepers" or Joyce's "The Dead": after this vivid, detailed scene of confinement and heart-rending loneliness and dead-locked down to the ground imagery and sounds, in the end the old man's spirit expands outward, filling the whole countryside. I really feel that sense of overcoming and uplift at the end, in dream, in the safety of sleep. I like so much his gentle rendering of the old man, his forgetfulness, the deep, deep loneliness of the elderly in the rural districts, the kinship the old man feels toward the moon, like a spouse. I admire Frost's extraordinary gift for rendering the sounds and feel of a scene like that: when I read this, I can so vividly see the frosty window, the glare of the lamp, the woods outside, the barrels inside, hear the creak of the floor boards, see the root cellar below, hear the echoes of the footsteps outside in the woods, see the moon and stars in the night sky, the roof snow and icicles, see the old man dosing in the chair, hear the logs settling in the stove. So that when the transcendent moment comes, I feel as though I'm experiencing it from the inside. And he just gestures toward that transcendence, to evoke it: "if he can," perfectly placed at the end of the line, lifting us off the plane of the page. So subtle, like a whisper. Marvelous, marvelous writing.



Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:21 pm
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on the Road Less Travelled and saffron's question re affirmation and regret:

Quote:
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

These three lines from the second stanza tell us that he chose the road less travelled only because it was less travelled and not for some other reason .. why would a road less travelled have a "better claim"? In some ways this is illogical - if a road is less travelled logic would suggest that it is less travelled because the road is inferior, that perhaps one has to travel further or deal with more difficult conditions. But Frost says that this road has the better claim, that the road's lack of popularity, in itself, lends the road some particular value and that this value overcomes other possible disadvantages.

As to the question of affirmation vs regret, the tone of the poem up to the second stanza leans toward affirmation, but in the third stanza there is a hint of regret when he says that he doubts he will ever return to this spot:

Quote:
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

When one says they will never come back, there is this negative overtone, a suggestion of mortality, of death.

The riddle of affirmation or regret in the last stanza may come down to shades of meaning of certain words and phrases. "Sigh" sounds negative, wistful, suggests regret .. but it is not always negative ... for example, one can give a satisfied sigh, but we generally use the negative meaning. How do we know which way Frost was leaning?

I suspect that our modern day, western culture has a positive bias toward the notion of a "road less travelled" (in a crowded, harried world) and the suggestion of a "difference" (making a difference suggests positive control over ones life and doing something useful) but are these attitudes or biases that Robert Frost would have had?



Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:27 pm
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When I think of this poem I always think of Henry David Thoreau's words:



"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."


So, of course I read the poem in a positive light, using ones own internal guide to make ones way in the world. And of course there is sometimes remorse, making one choice often does mean we can not go back to also have a go at the choice left unchoosen.



Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:39 pm
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Robert (Richards1000) had suggested that we do 4 poems at a time. I am a bit too tired and with a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) yet to do, with many questions to answer before I sleep. Carry on with the other 3 and I will catch up tomorrow.

The other 3 poems are:
Christmas Tree
An old Man's Winter Night
A patch of old snow



Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:51 pm
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Quote:
Robert (Richards1000) had suggested that we do 4 poems at a time.


I'm happy to slow down and read fewer per day, if you folks want to spend more time on the book.



Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:59 pm
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Quote:
So, of course I read the poem in a positive light, using ones own internal guide to make ones way in the world. And of course there is sometimes remorse,

Yes, overall I see Frost's poem as an affirmation of his choice but tinged with the possibility of regret or remorse.



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Giselle:

Thanks for your comments.

Quote:
I suspect that our modern day, western culture has a positive bias toward the notion of a "road less travelled" (in a crowded, harried world) and the suggestion of a "difference" (making a difference suggests positive control over ones life and doing something useful) but are these attitudes or biases that Robert Frost would have had?


I'm not a Frost expert, but from what I've read of him and about him, I think the phrases "road less travelled" and "difference" had many meanings for him. First is his notion of himself as a poet, and probably his sense that he was a great poet: I think that he felt he was writing on a par with the greatest of English and American poets, especially Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Thoreau, and Whitman, and that he felt a powerful need to write as well as they did, but also to write in a voice that was new and unmistakably his. So "road less travelled" and "difference" may mean "uniqueness of voice and style as a poet".

I also get a very strong sense in him of an identification with New England, and I think this brings up a bunch of interesting issues for him, since in his time, New England was frequently identified in U.S. culture with the past, with Europe, and with old ways of doing things, as opposed to the Western U.S., which was the land of innovation and the future. In fact, he apparently so hated change that he lived much of his life in the woods, away from Boston where all the news of changes in society were inescapable. So "road less travelled" and "difference" may mean his choice to remain in the "old country" of New England, and to distance himself from modern, urban culture: as Saffron says about his links to Thoreau and that impetus to reject modern society by escaping to the woods.

And I also sense in Frost a spiritual or mystical side, which is obsessed with death and eternity and the end of time. So "road less travelled" and "difference" may mean his wish to remove himself from exclusive concern with ordinary reality and to focus his attention on eternal truths, the essences of things, the way hermits and mystics do, denying themselves so that they can become aware of the deeper dimensions of life.

And part of it, too, may be related to his sense of himself as a great poet: I think part of his obsession with eternity and death is that he felt, as a great poet, the desire for his writing to become so famous that his reputation would live forever. I think he may have believed that if he wrote well and distinctively enough and expressed timeless themes, then after his death people would always read his work, and in this sense he would never die. And I think he got his wish.



Mon Feb 16, 2009 12:08 am
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I Enjoyed reading others' thoughts about "The Road Less Traveled." Here is my crack at it.

Some poems might not be meant to bear the weight of analysis. “The Road Not Taken” may be one. Like the pleasant stroll that occurs on the literal level, maybe that is the spirit in which to read this, undemanding and content with the surface. But in this poem Frost makes it very clear that he is talking about something else besides a walk, so in that sense he invites a little bit of dissection of the meaning.

My guess about this poem is that Frost means to provide a spin on the commonplace comparison of a less-known or less traveled path with making an unconventional choice. I’d be surprised, at least, if this metaphor is original with him. Usually, he takes homespun or common wisdom and reworks it or sees how it plays out in real situations, as with “Good fences make good neighbors.”

So what spin does he use? In this poem, he goes to great lengths, relative to the length of the whole poem, to say that the two roads are in practical terms indistinguishable (7 out of 20 lines). At the moment of making this choice that he is to call crucial later on, it is a toss-up. He feels ambivalence and sorrow at not being able to see the other road, but I think the emotion is slight at this time. There is something alluring about the road he sets off on, but it is just a gleam for him, just an appearance of which he is not sure. For him, the attractive quality is that the road might be less used, therefore may lead to places less frequented, more interesting. A different person might have valued the opposite quality, that of being more familiar and conventional. This all rings true to me about decisions we make. We may like to think we use conscious rationality in our choices, but so often isn’t there something we can’t even define or point out that leads us on, just a gleam or glimmering? For example, we might need to take a science elective in college and choose geology over biology because of a vague liking for rocks, but it's a virtual dead heat. We might then find some deep connection with geology as we become acquainted with it, devote our career to it, and only then realize the momentousness of the almost random decision to take the class.

By the time the speaker realizes that that the casual decision made way back was immensely important in determining his way of living, he forecasts that he will [/i]always[i] give this account of his past ("I shall be telling this with a sigh/Ages and ages hence.") What originally seemed of no particular importance has become the crux of his personal narrative.
His "sigh" is in my reading neither one of satisfaction nor regret, but comprehends both, a philosophical sigh recognizing the lingering sense of ambivalence over the choice. His choice made all the difference, but that was a difference of both good and ill. How do we know that Frost means to underline the ambivalence and not affirm that he took the "right" path for him? Look up at the title he gives the poem.



Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:34 pm
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DWill wrote:
How do we know that Frost means to underline the ambivalence and not affirm that he took the "right" path for him? Look up at the title he gives the poem.


Very astute observation. Titles are generally meant to provide the ground or give us an arrow toward meaning.



Last edited by Saffron on Mon Feb 16, 2009 8:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:49 pm
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I think I will post the whole of this poem, it is so small.

A Patch of Old Snow

There's a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I've forgotten --
If I ever read it.


My impressions upon reading this poem: Of things cast off and forgotten, sadness that lingers in a corner. The poem itself is a quickly sketch with just enough detail to accurately capturing the moment.



Mon Feb 16, 2009 8:08 pm
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In the Home Stretch is a surprise to me -- a bit of short story. I am not finished with it yet and not quite sure what to make of it yet. I very much like the opening lines and the image they create.

In the Home Stretch

She stood against the kitchen sink, and looked
Over the sink out through a dusty window
At weeds the water from the sink made tall.


Again we see, things unwanted, used up or cast off. The coming together of society and nature, also a theme in An Old Patch of Snow. The gray water from dish washing nourishes the unwanted, and maybe troublesome weeds in the back yard.

Now, I'm off to finish the poem.



Mon Feb 16, 2009 8:29 pm
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About "In the Home Stretch":

Another poem that middle age lets me enjoy more. Tonight it came across to me as a chance to reexperience that strange sense of time that comes upon us when we move to a new home. Viewing objects from our past evokes memories, gets us to thinking about where we are in our stage in life (as the wife reflects on the future and the proximity of death as she gazes out the kitchen window). And all the disruption elicits fear (what if my partner dislikes it, what if we can't make a living--with the French Canadian moving man warning of the hardships and riskiness of farm life; and the wife's intimations of darkness and death, and her craving for light and warmth), and the changed surroundings inspire hope and a youthful giddiness (with the husband like a new groom inviting the wife out to the yard to look for fruit). I like how the couple reach equilibrium by talking about time and how to cope with it, with the wife becoming reconciled to the new surroundings by casting all of life as "middle," a kind of eternal present, and the husband wanting to enjoy the novelty of every feature of the farm while it remains fresh. I like the soft-touch final image, also: he leaves us with light, but we only see it indirectly, from its reflection on the ceiling; I think that's also a lovely metaphor for the love between the spouses. I'm struck, too, by the lines characterizing the town as a place of trendy novelty that the husband, at least, wants to avoid: that seems to square with the "pastoral escape" reading of The Road Not Taken.

"Meeting and Passing" came across to me tonight as a pleasant, witty sonnet in the style of the metaphysical poets. I found the images of the "figure" and the decimal number engaging. I was left wishing he had done more with the "past"/"passed" punning in the final couplet.

Saffron's comments about the paper image in "A Patch of Old Snow" helped me to see the paper image at the center of "Hyla Brook," in the dry brook bed. In this poem I enjoy the conjuring of the mental imagery we experience as we look at actual things in nature, how we're always seeing the past as we gaze on the world in the present. This poem feels like Stevens's The Snowman, as it described "The nothing that is not there and the nothing that is": that wonderful image of "ghost of sleigh-bells", the brook that the poet knows is there only because of his past encounters with it: "to none but who remember long", or because he can sense where it is hiding, underground or in the marshy patches. And he expresses his love for those things: the invisible brook, those old paper sheets that might mean the Renaissance and Romantic poetry that means so much to him; or it might mean the pages of his own poetry that he's devoted his life to: so the secret brook he celebrates here might be the spring of his inspiration, his art, the central interest of his life, but which often isn't visible to others: when he's developing a poem in his mind, before anything is written on paper, he is hard at work, but there is nothing to show for it. Or in these early stages of his writing life, only a few years after having written his first successful book, and he has so little to show for himself yet. I'm reminded of Beckett's explanation for why he wrote: "To get it over with": as though writing were a joyless fate of a person unlucky enough to have been cursed with talent and inspiration. Frost here seems to take the opposite view, stating his love for his work, even when it seems to have failed because the stream of inspiration is dry. He seems to view his talent as a blessing. Frost seems to show a tender heart towards the world much of the time, and I benefit from that. I like the "cold-hearted" writers too, like Milton and Yeats and Beckett, but the warm-hearted ones, like Keats and Frost, give me great comfort. [/s]



Wed Feb 18, 2009 1:13 am
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