Taking “The Road Not Taken”

GROUCH 2: Poetry?

GROUCH 1: Oh, boy, am I thrilled.

GROUCH 5: Me too.

GROUCH 2: Poetry?

GROUCH 3 and 4: What fun!

GROUCH 5: Why not just kick us in the head and get it over with?

GROUCH 2: Poetry?

GROUCHES: Whose brilliant idea was this?

VACILLATORS: Uh, I … uh … don’t know … really …

GROUCH 1: Who do you think?

READERS: All right. What’s your problem?

GROUCHES: Poetry!

VACILLATORS: Poetry … ?

GROUCHES: Yeah, poetry.

GROUCH 1: Who wants to read some stupid poem?

VACILLATORS: Us?

GROUCH 3: Maybe you.

GROUCHES: Count us out.

READERS: Wait a minute. We’re in this together.

VACILLATORS: We are?

READERS: You’re not going anywhere.

GROUCHES: So you say. We’ve got better things to do.

GROUCH 4: It looks like we’ve come to a parting of the ways.

VACILLATORS: Maybe they’re right …

READER 5: Isn’t that what the poem’s all about anyway … ?

READERS 1, 2, 3, 4: “A parting of the ways”?

VACILLATORS: Is it?

READER 5: Of course it is.

GROUCHES: Wow. Isn’t that wonderful.

VACILLATORS: I like it. Don’t you? It’s okay. Sort of …

GROUCHES: Yeah right. Uh-huh. Don’t make me laugh.

GROUCH 1: I didn’t understand one word of it.

READER 4: Now you’re exaggerating.

READER 5: That was Robert Frost—

GROUCHES: Robert Who?

READERS: Robert Frost,

READER 3: (1874-1963), the “New England bard” …

READER 4: … among the most popular of twentieth century American poets …

READER 5: … admired for the blend of colloquial—

GROUCHES: Huh?

VACILLATOR 2: Everyday speech.

READER 5: … and traditional in his verse …

READER 1: and hailed as the fitting heir, in his response to nature, of Wordsworth and Emerson…

VACILLATORS: Or so says the Oxford Companion to American Literature.

READERS: He’s America’s best loved poet.

GROUCH 2 and 3: “Best loved” by who!!

GROUCH 1 and 4: Dweebs like you?

VACILLATORS: Hey, you just rhymed!

GROUCHES: We just what?

READERS: Rhymed. You just rhymed.

GROUCHES: Listen: we don’t rhyme.

VACILLATORS: But you just did … “Who” … “You” …

GROUCHES: What are you talking about?

READERS 1 and 2: They’re talking about the elementary techniques of traditional poetry.

GROUCHES: Oh, boy. Here we go now.

READER 2, 3, 4: Meter and rhyme are the foundations or corner-stones of poetry.

GROUCH 5: Oh, sure. I understood that.

GROUCH 2, 3, 4: Poetry rhymes and has a beat.

GROUCH 1: I learned that in kindergarten.

READER 3: Meter establishes the length and rhythm for each line of a poem.

READER 5: Each line has a certain number of feet, and lines are described by the kind and number of feet.

VACILLATORS: And the poet has to stick to that pattern? Whew! Hard.

READER 1: In “The Road Not Taken” Frost is using iambic tetrameter. It means there are four …

READERS 2, 3, 4, 5: (that’s the tetrameter part)

READER 1: … iambic feet in each line, like this:

READERS 2, 3, 4, 5 and VACILLATORS: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

READER 5: Some lines follow the four-stress, eight-syllable pattern perfectly …

READER 1: … whereas others include a little variation for interest.

READERS: And that’s the meter of the poem.

VACILLATORS: And he still makes it sound like he’s just talking to us.

GROUCH 5: I thought this all started talking about rhyme, not rhythm.

GROUCH 1: It did.

READER 3: Rhyme? Okay.

READER 2: Rhyme unifies stanzas through an established repetition of final sounds.

READER 4: A stanza is a group of lines unified by rhyme pattern …

READER 3: And rhyme is the similarity or likeness of sound existing between two words.

VACILLATORS: Like: “time” and “crime” or “yellow” and “fellow”.

READERS: “Dumb” and “scum”!

GROUCHES: Okay. So how does it work?

READER 1: In Frost’s poem, each stanza is five lines …

VACILLATOR 3: And there are four stanzas.

READER 5: Each stanza has the same rhyme pattern:

READERS and VACILLATORS: a b a a b

GROUCHES: Huh?

VACILLATOR 5: Rhyme schemes are marked with letters to indicate repeated or new sounds.

GROUCH 2: I get it! Five lines with two rhymes mixed around each other.

GROUCH 3: Cute. So it rhymes.

GROUCH 5: But I still don’t know what it means.

VACILLATORS: Yeah. She’s right.

READER 4: She’s right?

VACILLATOR 1 and 2: All we know is its beat …

VACILLATOR 3, 4, 5: … and that rhyme thing.

READERS: You don’t have any idea—

GROUCHES: None!

READERS: … what it means?

VACILLATOR 5: Well, maybe some idea.

VACILLATOR 3: Let’s see …

VACILLATOR 1: There’s a guy in this woods …

VACILLATOR 2: And he comes to where the path divides …

VACILLATOR 4: And he has to decide which way to go.

GROUCHES: Yeah. Okay.

GROUCH 5: And he looks at them both…

GROUCH 2: And then takes the one nobody else takes.

GROUCH 1: And for some dumb reason he’s going to be talking about all this someday down the road—

GROUCH 5: I like that “down the road.” Get it?

GROUCH 3 and 4: “Down the road?”

ALL THE OTHERS: We get it.

READER 4: Well, making sense of a poem is pretty straightforward.

READER 3: We just look at what the poem actually says.

GROUCHES: Big deal.

READER 2: In a poem there are certain basic factors to remember:

READER 1: Most poems are spoken in the first person by someone we call the—

GROUCHES: Poet!

READER 4: —Speaker.

READER 2: The speaker in a poem often is not expressing the same ideas as the poet would.

READER 3: And most poems focus on a certain situation—in this poem the woods where the paths divide. It’s fall, and—

GROUCHES: How do you know it’s fall?

VACILLATOR 2: I know. “Yellow woods.” They’re yellow because the leaves change color in the fall.

READERS and other VACILLATORS: Hey! Yeah! That’s good! He’s taking a walk in the woods in the fall!

GROUCH 4: Aren’t autumn leaves more red?

GROUCH 3: Or gold?

VACILLATORS: Or yellow!

GROUCH 1: Or kind of dead and brown.

VACILLATOR 2, 3: That’s a real nice thought.

GROUCH 5: Maybe the woods just look yellow because … —it’s morning!

READERS: What!!?

GROUCH 5: Sure, in the morning light, at dawn, everything can kind of look sort of … yellow.

other GROUCHES: Okay! Good one! You got ‘em there!

GROUCH 5: Besides, the poem says later it’s morning.

VACILLATORS: “And both that morning equally lay … “

READER 5: All right. Let’s say it’s fall —or morning—, and the speaker finds he can go two ways in this woods.

VACILLATOR 5: He’d like to go both roads…

GROUCHES: But no one person can do that.

READER 1: So he checks one out as far as he can see, but then takes the other one—

GROUCH 4: Because it’s the one nobody else took. I’ve heard all this.

GROUCH 1: Right. Back in junior high, my social studies teacher told me that.

VACILLATORS: Oh, yeah! It was on one of those cute little posters with the pictures of bunnies and trees and stuff … And each one had some quotation. She said this poem meant …

GROUCH 2: “Be yourself.”

GROUCH 5: “Go your own way.”

GROUCH 3: “Avoid peer pressure.”

GROUCHES: “Find your own path through life.”

VACILLATORS: Sounds good. I guess we understand it now.

VACILLATORS: Sounds good. I guess we understand it now.

GROUCHES: Hah!

VACILLATORS: Is that what it means?

READER 5: Maybe. That is how most people have interpreted the poem.

READER 1: But maybe we should look closer and find out if they’re right …

GROUCHES: Try “the road not taken,” huh?

VACILLATORS: Well, that is what the poem says. Isn’t it?

READERS: Maybe.

READER 2: As you all just did in trying to understand, the speaker looks down one road,

READER 3: but then he takes the other,

READER 4: just as nice,

READER 5: but it looks less used.

GROUCHES: Uh-huh. How does he know? It says both were covered in leaves.

VACILLATORS: And no one had gone down either that day.

READER 2: Like most decisions we make: we think one route may be more unusual, but each choice is new each time.

VACILLATORS: And that’s why the paths are both covered in leaves that no one’s stepped on!

GROUCHES: Now it’s getting deep.

READER 3: So we end up a long while later remembering the choices we’ve made and how they have shaped who we are, where we have gone, and who we’ve become.

GROUCH 1, 2, 3, 4: Uh-huh. Isn’t that what we just said?

VACILLATORS: I guess we’ve got it all figured out now!

GROUCH 5: I don’t agree.

VACILLATORS and READERS: What!!?

GROUCH 5: I don’t think you’re right..

VACILLATORS and READERS: You don’t?

GROUCH 5: If it’s such a goody-goody “make-the-right-choice” message, how come he’ll be telling the story with a sigh?

VACILLATORS: Because he’s happy?

READERS: A sigh of contentment. (sigh dramatically—happily)

GROUCH 1, 2, 3, 4: That sounds stupid enough to be right.

GROUCH 5: Nope. He sighs because he’s not happy. (sighs tragically) He blew it. He made the wrong choice.

VACILLATORS: Ooooh! —Is that right?

GROUCH 1: Why else would he remember some lousy fork in a road ages and ages later?

READER 1: And it explains why it’s called “The Road Not Taken.”

READER 5: But the title means the path he did take: the one not taken by anyone else.

GROUCH 4: But you just told us he doesn’t really know that no one else took it. He just thinks so.

VACILLATORS: “And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.”

GROUCH 5: Besides, in the poem only one road gets taken, the one the speaker took. The title has to be about the other one, the one he wishes he’d chosen.

GROUCHES: No one took that road. Not in the poem.

VACILLATORS: Ohhhh. That makes sense …

READER 1: … And it fits Frost, too.

VACILLATORS: It does?

READER 1: Yeah, it does. The critic Lionel Trilling praised Frost, on his eighty-fifth birthday, as … (big pause) … a “poet of terror.”

VACILLATORS: That’s “America’s best loved poet”?

GROUCH 1: Sounds kind of cool to me. I like it.

GROUCH 5: “And that has made all the difference!”

VACILLATORS: Oh, no! Is she right, after all?

READERS: It can’t be …

GROUCH 5: But I’ve got you there, don’t I? … A miserable poem about missed chances, wrong choices, and deep regrets.

GROUCH 1: Maybe this Frost guy isn’t so bad.

GROUCHES: That’s that, then. Guess we’re done.

READER 4: Not so fast. I think we’re still making a mistake.

GROUCHES: Mistake? We don’t think so!

READER 4: Yeah, we are. This is a poem, not a simple essay.

GROUCHES: What? Are you trying to shovel us some crud about “everyone sees your own message in a poem.”

VACILLATORS: Everyone’s got a right to their own opinion.

GROUCHES: Yeah, right.

READER 1: But that’s not right. You can’t make a poem mean whatever you want it to mean.

READER 3: In that case why even read the poem in the first place?

READER 5: A poem has a definite meaning, but not necessarily a single uncomplicated lesson, like we’ve been trying to find.

GROUCHES: Yeah? So what?

READER 5: So everything.

READER 3: We’re forgetting ambiguity!

GROUCHES: Ambi-what?

READER 4: Ambiguity. The essence of poetry … and life.

READER 2: The important words in a poem generally work with more than one possible meaning at a time.

VACILLATORS: And we’ve been trying to understand just one.

READER 3: Like the problem we had with “yellow.”

VACILLATORS: Maybe it is supposed to be both fall and morning in one word there.

READER 5: Morning suggests all the bright, youthful possibilities we usually associate with the beginning of a day.

GROUCH 5: But also fall, when things die and fall apart, and winter is just around the corner.

READERS: Maybe the whole poem works like that.

VACILLATORS: And maybe it’s in a woods because of being out in nature with things growing—

GROUCHES: And dying!

VACILLATORS: … And because sometimes you can’t see where you’re going in the woods and get lost and confused—

GROUCHES: And make the wrong choices.

READERS: And one path may be less traveled and the other one more, but you don’t really know, at least not on one particular morning—

GROUCH 5: I told you it was morning.

READERS: … in the fall. —The new leaves make both paths alike.

VACILLATORS: It’s the same with that sigh.

GROUCHES: Maybe he’s depressed …

READERS: But maybe he’s happy about what he’s done.

VACILLATORS: It’s both!

GROUCHES: It can’t be both.

READERS: It can until you actually make the choice.

VACILLATORS: And it could turn out bad, or it could be good.

GROUCHES: You think so? —That’s really taking a stand.

READERS: Yes. And that’s why the final word is “difference.”

GROUCHES: Because making a choice makes a difference.

VACILLATORS: But until you choose…

READERS: And until you follow your choice to the end …

VACILLATORS and READERS: … You’ll never know what the difference is.

GROUCHES: And you’ll never know what the other choice would have meant.

READERS: The poem is about making a decision, so we have to choose which of its possibilities we prefer.

VACILLATORS: It’s about going your own way and being happy.

GROUCHES: It’s about making the wrong choice and screwing your life up royally.

READERS: Perhaps for you. It’s about choosing and making us feel—through the experience of reading the poem—the nature of choices.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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