Friday, August 8, 2008

Reading a poem

Reading a poem is always a pleasurable exertion. Did I call it exertion! Well…you heard me. It is because it is such a challenging accomplishment that, along with an enrichment of our mental strength it also confronts our grasping capabilities. If we try to find the reason, it might be because poems are highly individual, irrespective of its subject matter. It could be based on purely scientific or socialistic approach but still it is individual, since it has been created by a single intelligence.

It is just like reading other person’s mind which is nearly impossible. It is not viable that we understand a poem as the author intended it to be. Every one can perceive the meaning of the poem in their own contextual and knowledge based backgrounds. Each poem can cause highly debatable, controversial arguments. It is probably for the same reason that one of my inspiring literature professors used to say, “There is no wrong answer in literature”. We as students, used to feel happy for this statement since he was the one who corrected our papers! Jokes apart, but what he said is very much true. There shall be multiple ways to perceive any poem.

Unlike essays and stories which is more elaborated and elucidated, poems are usually concise and loaded with connotations. To explain this point, I would like to quote a simple yet complex poem by Robert Frost which he himself has said, "You have to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem - very tricky" The poem is called “The Road Not Taken”.



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.

-Robert Frost

At first reading the poem looks simple. He talks about a person standing at the fork of the road, and deciding on choosing one way to walk. And that way shall be the road “less travelled by”. But will this poem end with that note? Yes, when I was in collage! Well… if we read it carefully, we can observe much complex realities about life. In the first stanza, the poet stands at a dilemma to choose his path.

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;

There are two roads diverged in the forest. But the poet could not take both the roads. He, as a traveler stood for long and observed one path. It was visible to a small extent but after that it was bent and was not perceptible.

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 then he observed the other one. This one was of his interest, because it was grassy and looked like very few travelled passing that way. “wanted wear” is a phrase that Frost uses, to indicate the solitude of the road that was “not taken” by many. He decides to take this other road which he felt was less traveled but still “about the same”. Here we have to observe the words usage and its complexities. He says, it looked like “wanted wear” but still it was “really about the same” as the other one. Then what made the second one of his interest? However if we see further;

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.

In this stanza, poet observes that both the roads have leaves that have not been walked on. At first he wanted to come back to the first seen way on some other day. But again, he is so much attracted by the other way that he doubted that if ever he comes 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.

This is the stanza that of much confusion. He says, with a “sigh” after many ages, he thinks about the road that he took and which made all the “difference” in his life.

Now the problem is, is that “difference” is a positive one? Or a negative one? This leaves us in a provoking curiosity as to know more about the status of the poet. Was he right or was he wrong in his decision?

This poem speaks about the problems and situations in life, and also our decision making capabilities. I am sure every one of us has come across the situations where, deciding and putting a step ahead in a particular direction is very difficult. Making choices are too complex. In such a situation, should we follow the ancestors foot steps? Or should we listen to our mind and desires and decide over consequences?

Some say, this poem provokes individualism and leads to unnecessary liberation. It inspires the readers to listen to their mind and go according to their psyche, be it very hard or bad.

But some others say that, this poem talks about how choices are inevitable in life. And it also talks about the metaphysical aspect of life, where choice has to be made to lead a blissful life and to attain the enchantment of realization.

Doesn’t both the ways look very much acceptable? This is the joy of poetry which never has a single dimension, which makes us read more and more and dig deep to find the depth of its innate meaning. Some times it so happens that the poet himself would not know that his poem can be analyzed in so many multiple ways.

Reading poetry is not only a delight and joy, it also helps us to explore sublime things hidden within our own selves. Choices are inevitable….so let us also make a choice to read poetry!

12 comments:

dinesh said...

Nice writing ....Super langauge, excellent Interpretation...

kanasu said...

Thanks dinesh...

sunaath said...

Thanks for the beautiful explanation of a beautiful poem.

kanasu said...

you r welcome sunaath...am glad at your comments :)

ತೇಜಸ್ವಿನಿ ಹೆಗಡೆ- said...

Beautiful poem .. Excellent explanation too.. keep writing :)

kanasu said...

Thank you Tejaswini..

Vijaya said...

that was great ... can you explain fire and ice too ... thats somehow a fav, but i cant claim i understand it well ... and it would be good to see from other's perspectives as well ... right?

kanasu said...

Exactly. Thanks vijaya and i'll try to explain that complex poem from my minimal understanding. I am happy to make this a discussion platform.

ಸುಧೇಶ್ ಶೆಟ್ಟಿ said...

I had this poem when i was in PUC. I still remember how my english sir interpreted this poem. You interpreted this poem nicely and it led me into nostalgia. Thanks for reminding of a beautiful poem and also for the excellent interpretation.

kanasu said...

Thanks a lot sudhesh..

Madhava said...

It’s just excellent. This is the first time I’m visiting your blog. Quite interesting.

I too love reading poetry like this. Your essay gives a new perception. But what you have written is an age old concept; even then it is fresh and highly readable. Thanks for giving such a wonderful narrative on one of my favorite poems.

kanasu said...

Thanks madhava...n i must say..ur photography is very nice :)