August 13, 2010

The Road Not Taken

We just finished up the poetry unit in summer school and I'm in the middle of grading exams. The first couple classes were ... well, dismal. The last class will not require curving and has provided some smiles and laughs. Especially question 21. Especially S's interpretation of the poem.

On The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost
21. What do you think the poem means? What is the poet telling the reader about?
Refresh your memory if you haven't read it in awhile. It's good for you. Skip down to the end if you're lazy.

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;        5
 
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,        10
 
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.        15
 
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.

And the student's response:

He is a traveler, I think. Maybe it's about love, so he needs to choose which would be the better one. He decided to break up with two girls at the same moment.
I'll admit there was a WTF moment upon reading the answer, but then I looked at a couple lines of the poem, figured, yeah, why not, and gave him full marks.



  • Yellow, in Chinese, can mean pornographic, as in "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood."
  • The line "...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" certainly could be interpreted as being "Yellow" as they say around here. 
  • But the next phrase about the fair one "...having perhaps the better claim/ Because it was grassy and wanted wear" hits it out of the park. 
The student didn't use specific examples from the poem to defend his answer, but another one that could offer him some help would have been "And both that morning equally lay."

I shall indeed be "telling this with a sigh/somewhere ages and ages hence" whenever I teach this poem as a morality tale about running around with loose women. God bless that kid. Drove me crazy all year long and then provided me with the biggest gut laugh I've had in quite some time this morning.

1 comment:

Marion said...

Hay Teacher! What a wild romp of reading on a Sunday morning! Robert Frost, that sweet-little old-New-England-POET your Father & I went to hear at Rutgers University, so long ago, must be rolling in his starched & proper New England grave! No wonder I don't paticularly care for YELLOW. I never knew why till now! THANKS for the laughter! LOVE, MAINEly Mother