Interpretations, Intentions, and Chances

“The Road Not Taken” and Taking a Chance

The new year brings resolutions, promises, commitments, and a wide variety of interpretations, intentions, and chances that can be ignored, compromised, and broken. If you are still with me after that long first sentence you may be wondering what a Robert Frost poem has to do with taking a chance? The answer may not be as obvious as you think (that is if you are familiar with the poem and its common interpretation).

Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” is pretty much a high school standard. I figure it is a pretty slim percentage of students who got through twelve years of public education and didn’t read Frost’s poem and/or saw it on some poster in an English teacher’s classroom (or multiple classrooms). Various views argue the poem is ‘about’ pursuing dreams, being an individual, and taking a chance on the road less traveled. But what was the author’s intention when writing the poem? According to Frost the poem is “tricky” and the two roads that are so important to the poem’s message are “really about the same.”

A Collection of Poems by Robert Frost

As the title of this post implies I could get into a conversation about author’s intentions versus readers’ interpretations, but that is the stuff of another post. I will say both should be given consideration when criticizing a piece of literature. What I want to spend a few lines discussing is the idea of taking a chance. Taking a chance “made all the difference” as some critical interpretations argue, or taking a chance may not really change one’s life as Frost implies. What is important to realize is regardless of the outcome an individual must decide to take a chance.

We live our lives with certain intentions. We interpret the events of our lives in various ways. But the intentions and interpretations fall flat without first taking a chance. Maybe taking a chance won’t change our lives but we’ll never know unless we take it.

-K-

A Collection of Poems (2015) by Robert Frost

The Lust for Tragic Spectacle

Sylvia Plath’s “Aftermath” and the Tragedy Lookie-Loos

With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching I’ve been celebrating in various ways. One of those ways is with Bushmills Irish Whiskey, and whiskey and poetry just seem to fit together. I was thinking of reading some Seamus Heaney but that would have been a bit on the nose. I had just enough Bushmills to start feeling introspective so I went with Sylvia Plath’s The Colossus and Other Poems. I’ve read this collection of poems numerous times over the past twenty years and each rereading is a new experience (I change, the times change, the world changes, and Plath remains a genius).

There is one poem in this collection that caught my attention with this recent reading. Plath’s “Aftermath” is fourteen lines of raw talent packed into two stanzas.  I’ve already used more words writing about the poem than there probably are in the poem. To be honest, you may want to stop reading my ramblings here and just go read the poem (whiskey optional but highly recommended). Seriously, I’ll wait if you want to go read it. I won’t be offended. When you get back jump down to the third paragraph and we can pick it up from there.

I don’t want to waste time with any type of in-depth analysis if you have already read the poem. I just want to throw a couple of observations out there and see what you think. The first stanza presents us with a tragedy and the lookie-loos who are drawn to its aftermath. These lookie-loos love to act as if the tragedy happened to them. They get some sort of perverse enjoyment through this play acting. The second stanza expands on the first. The lookie-loos, not satisfied with pretending that the tragic event happened to them, attempt to identify with survivors. They don’t care to know much about the victim because it would detract from their vicarious experience. Instead, like some sort of emotional vampires, they attempt to feed off the suffering of the victims. Once the lookie-loos have had their fill they move along to the next tragedy and the next victim.
Reading Plath is always an enlightening and somewhat humbling experience (each and every time). “Aftermath” is a succinct indictment of those individuals who troll tragedies looking for some sort of perverse thrill, and she does it all in fourteen lines.

-K-

The Colossus and Other Poems (1998) by Sylvia Plath

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