“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by.”
– Robert Frost
One of the nifty devices that I have brought with me is an Amazon Kindle – the E-book reader. Of course it was simply impossible to haul 5 months worth of books with me (and usually not possible to buy what I wanted cheaply along the way), so got with the new millenium and ordered one (too early, alas, for the Apple iPad, although as sexy as it is, it seems a little big for a book substitute).
This morning in Skiza, having finished my first e-book ever (a pretty good experience, I must say) and inspired by the view, I had a hankering for some poetry (maybe it’s that image of poetry being something you read while luxuriating in a field of flowers). Within seconds I had downloaded an anthology of poetry onto my Kindle (seriously, this is how it works). And, it having been years since I read any poetry beyond a few lines, a favourite poem, or for my English Lit degree (when I kinda resented doing it), I began reading.
Unlike when I was studying, it occurs to me now that poetry is much like travel: it is best experienced from within. Sure you can carve it up line by line and examine it under a microscope if that’s what you really want, or like the cruise ship snappers, snatch a line or two to suit and make you feel a bit high brow (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone). However – and this is the thing about it – great poetry has the capacity to change us. Like all sorts of other magical things I never had time for before, it seemed fitting to get carried away on some now.
The Ancient Greeks were somewhat divided on the whole notion of poetry. Plato banned it, figuring it was a little too subversive for his liking. This was reasonably controversial at the time, since Homer was pretty much a rock star in ancient Greece, and Plato was pitting himself against the status quo. Maybe he didn’t like the competition: in Republic, he regarded philosophy and poetry as “quarrelling” – competing sources of knowledge and understanding. But there was little doubt that Plato understood this: poetry had the capacity to affect people deeply.
Aristotle, on the other hand, was a fair bit more sympathetic and figured that poetry and philosophy really could work hand in hand. He knew they could reveal deep features of human ‘actions and life’. All at once, the poetic experience is about both the mind and the emotions.
A few of the poems in the book have caught my imagination, but there was one in particular I kept coming back to. All of you have probably heard the line “I took the road less travelled” or some other variation of it from Robert Frost. But have you read the entire poem? And did you know that the actual name of the poem is “The Road Not Taken” – quite the opposite side of the coin to the oft-used quote; it’s just as much about the way we did not tread. And, somehow, most people who snatch this quote leave out the poem’s last line completely.
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.