Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Road Not Taken

ravenna,seattle,the road not taken
Here is a famous and oft analyzed poem: Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken". This poem, I think, begs to be analyzed -- and not just in English class. The reason: It's genuinely puzzling. Even as a kid, it played at my mind. Frost seemed to be telling us that taking the less traveled road -- metaphorically, one supposes -- had made all the difference in his life. And yet there are hints in those early lines that he's not sure those roads are different at all.

This poem has often been considered a call to make the lone, less popular choices in life, or a celebration of individualism (two things which I think are in fact not the same). There are some that see the poem in a more radically different light. Could Frost have simply been poking fun at his walking partner? There are lines that might suggest this, but ultimately I think the tone is one of idealism, not mockery. I think the poet himself might have had conflicting thoughts and feelings about roads taken and untaken, and what they meant. Don't we all? Doesn't everyone see those roads in different lights as we walk along them?

Ans as I write that, my eyes are drawn to shifting patterns of light on the picture, where two roads divergent along a not yet yellow Ravenna Woods...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Autumn Daybreak

"Autumn Daybreak", by Edna St Vincent Millay, is about that pivotal autumn moment when a storm lays the trees bare. Although the persona observes that the seasonal shift has come two weeks later than usual, the reader still gets the sense that, for her, it is too early. (Why might this be?)

"Autumn Daybreak" has strong imagery that may take more than one reading to put together into a coherent whole. Drawing can be a good exercise for imagery development, and this is an excellent poem for practice. Questions for evaluation: Are students able to place the red hill behind the bare maple? Do they recognize that there is no bright morning sun?

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Day is Done

Longfellow's "The Day is Done" has a lulling rhythm, and thus is another poem where the structure conveys a part of the meaning. Some critics have called the poem trite or overdone; I find it highly evocative. Reading it, I pondered the ways life has changed since the 1844, and the ways it remains endlessly the same. There are so many more pastimes and trinkets we may use to distract us from our own fears -- few in this day ask to hear a poem at nightfall -- and yet those same feelings creep in. I think a big part of it comes down to this: Our biggest fears as humans are about things that are outside the realm of technology to hold very far at bay.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Love and Friendship

In Seattle, the rhododendrons make a stunning display of blossoms in the late spring, then fade away into the green background in summer when the hydrangeas are in full bloom. In July, the hydrangea is surely the showier shrub. The hydrangeas lose both their petals and their leaves, though, before we march too far into fall. As the world around grows more brown and bare, the rhododendrons take on their second beauty. Something I didn't know until my first winter in Seattle: The rhododendon (Washington's official flower) is evergreen.

It's fertile ground for metaphor: the contrast between evergreen and deciduous plants. I have used the image of the rhododendron and the hydrangea in poetry, to illustrate loyalty and enduring bonds. In "Love and Friendship" Emily Bronte uses the metaphor of evergreen holly and deciduous rose-briar to illustrate the lasting bonds of friendship. Love, she suggests, is, like the rose, bare in December.

"Love and Friendship" can be the springboard for some interesting discussion at the middle school and high school levels. As a writing extension, students can select two plants native to their area and use them to represent contrasting human traits.