April 12, 2016

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Source Poems Wrap Up: "The Road Not Taken"

For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer has described a single poem's significance in his or her life.

Welcome Poetry Friday friends! Our May Flowers host is Katya at Write. Sketch. Repeat. May the Fourth be with you this weekend as you venture to a galaxy of poems far, far away (okay, Katya's Connecticut isn't that far), where the force will be with you.

Visit Write. Sketch. Repeat. for more
Poetry Friday posts.
Our series is drawing to a close. The final guest blogger is poet and novelist Toby Speed. Toby's recent move to New Hampshire deepened her connection to a favorite American poet. [Toby visited AuthorAmok in March to talk about inspiration. Read her post here.]

Toby Speed
The journey began with the book itself, a book bound in blue fabric that I covered with a brown paper grocery bag on which I printed in red, “Collected Poems of Robert Frost,” along with my name and the year: 1970.

My father, an artist, had taken the book from his shelf of treasured volumes in his basement workshop and given it to me. I was 17 and completely in love with poetry. I gorged myself on it – everything from Poe to Whitman to Plath to Ferlinghetti. But I loved no one more than Frost and the gift of this book from my dad.

As I lay on the daybed in the makeshift bedroom I had set up in our basement on Long Island and read the volume from cover to cover, the language — so eloquent in its plainness — gave me the chills, and I wanted to experience Frost’s stones and woodlands, his apples and snow. I wanted to be a swinger of birches and a stopper by woods, although perhaps not a buzz saw user or wall mender. Mostly, I wanted to live in New England, something that would not appear along the road in my own journey for another 44 years.

Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” in particular has stayed with me and whispered its lines every time I’ve made a decision, large or small, in my life.

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

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.

I’ve been drawn to less-traveled roads all my life. In my twenties, I abandoned plans to go into advertising to take a lower-paying job that allowed me more time to write, a risky proposition that made all the difference. In writing, I’ve shied away from the mainstream to write along the edges, and I’ve consciously looked for the edges in all of my life choices, sometimes doubting my sanity, like when I learned to fly. Learning to navigate the world of pilots and pre-flight checks and radio communications, clouds that pile up despite sunny weather briefings and runways covered with deer, was a series of choices made mostly on weekends when I was presented with plenty of other desirable (and less scary) ways to fill my time. “I’ll save that for another day,” I’d think, but, as the poet and I both knew, way led on to way, and I never came back.

Earlier this year I found myself at a fork in the road. I’d recently married a man who’d lived for many years in Vermont. Long Island had been my lifelong home, and it was now ours. I was happy to stay in my familiar environment after retiring from my job of twenty years; he wanted to return to New England. I carefully considered the two paths before me, and once more the words of Robert Frost came back to suggest that I take the other road, as just as fair. The view from my New Hampshire window is of a field with tall pines and birches, beyond them the mountains of Vermont, and beyond them, on certain evenings, an arresting sunset.

Those diverging roads — maddening! And the moment of choosing — bittersweet. And the outcome — a world of difference.

I love the ease of this poem, the surprise and the truth of it. Frost said it best.

“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove,” he wrote in his 1939 introduction to the collection, “the poem must ride on its own melting. A poem may be worked over once it is in being, but may not be worried into being. Its most precious quality will remain its having run itself and carried away the poet with it. Read it a hundred times: it will forever keep its freshness as a metal keeps its fragrance. It can never lose its sense of a meaning that once unfolded by surprise as it went.”

Robert Frost
From Wikipedia
Toby Speed writes mysteries, children’s books, short fiction and poetry. DEATH OVER EASY (Five Star), the first book in her mystery series featuring aviator sleuth Emma Trace, came out in October. Her short story, “At the Corner of Night and Nowhere,” is included in the recent anthology, MOON SHOT: MURDER AND MAYHEM ON THE EDGE OF SPACE (Untreed Reads). Toby is the author of seven children's books, including TWO COOL COWS, an American Bookseller Pick of the List and an IRA-CBC Children's Choice Book, and BRAVE POTATOES, which was on both the Publishers Weekly and The New York Times children's bestseller lists. Her most recent poems appear inThe 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly, Light, and Silver Birch Press. Visit to learn more.

A note from Laura (AKA AuthorAmok)

I can't bring this series to a true close because -- as I said in my invitation to the guest bloggers -- source poems are like a well we draw from. I believe that these poems come from a well that never runs dry. Their healing water is always available to us.

I am grateful to each of the guest bloggers for their honesty and openness in this series. We have covered:

  • poems of childhood (Laura, J.C., Pamela, Dennis);
  • poems that stretch us as poets and readers (Dylan, Diane, Jone, Mary, Renee, Tim);
  • poems of comfort (Mary, Jacqueline, Janet);
  • poems that help us find our voice (Linda, Pat, Shirley);
  • poems that lead us down the right path (Ann, Margaret, Toby).

Links to the entire series are below. Thank you, readers, for joining me and the guest bloggers for these enlightening posts about poetry.

Here -- enjoy some cherry blossoms
from my back yard, with my thanks!
Previous posts in this series:


Diane Mayr said...

This has been an enlightening series, Laura. Thanks for bringing Frost into the mix, Toby. I especially like this part of Frost's quote, "A poem may be worked over once it is in being, but may not be worried into being."

Linda B said...

It's been a pleasure reading the story and life connection with Frost's poem, Toby. When one does arrive at a fork in the road, it is a wonder when a poem arrives too, and then stays with you in your life. I guess all of us take some meaning from this poem, and sometimes I like it because it seems to offer choice, and that makes a difference to me. Thank you for sharing. And again, thanks Laura for a beautiful idea. I loved reading every story.

GatheringBooks said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful series, Laura; and thank you Toby for sharing your story. I really loved going through so many poets' reflections about how poetry saved them or changed their lives. Such heartfelt sharing. Robert Frost's poem always brings something new with each reread. It never grows old.

Tabatha said...

That Frost quote is as good as any description of poetry I've ever read. Wow.
What a great gift from your dad!

Mary Lee said...

Hi, Toby! Great to see you again in the PF roundup! Love the RF quote. Best wishes on this new path in your life!

Tara said...

I love this Frost poem. Two summers ago, I visited Stone Cottage in Vermont, and there was an exhibition about this poem in which I learned so much more than just my own private interpretation. Thank you for sharing how this poem resonates in your life, Toby - and thank you Laura for bringing us this wonderful poetry project.