by Robert Frost
Some poetry collections feel well ahead of their time when you’re in the midst of them. I remember being hit with this in the middle of Ezra Pound’s Cathay––that the author created something unique by moving away from rigidity within the poems but still maintaining a cohesive flow that came with inserting similar sounds rather than the forcing of rhyme. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was another book during which I was struck with this type of clarity, and this is probably a good comparator to something like The Road Not Taken because both Whitman and Frost appeared to be creating a poetry for the average, working-class American. In the case of Whitman, I think this feeling had a lot to do with the way he spoke on topics with such clarity that we often struggle to express well in modern times, all while keeping it lyrical. In the edition of The Road Not Taken I read, Louis Untermeyer, with his ongoing commentary, really tries to bring across how I should have felt this way about Frost, but I emerged without this appreciation.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the collection––even loved some poems. (“A Lone Striker,” “In a Disused Graveyard,” “Tree at My Window,” and “Sitting by a Bush in Broad Sunlight” left definite impressions on me.) However, I think the problem was two-fold. Firstly, Frost’s work is described as a combination of the conversational and lyrical. And I found this to be true, but I found it leaned far to the lyrical side of things, to the point of often rigid structure, which tends to hurt my enjoyment of poetry. There’s just something so satisfying to me when a poet is able to successfully make me forget about the structure, just letting me settle into the work and really hear it without a choppy flow taking me away from it. The second issue is in content: Frost’s work feels safe, wholesome, and even insubstantial, though I concede that my opinion on this front could change with re-readings. Even how he talks about heavier topics like infidelity or loss came across as inoffensive more than anything. Contrast it against Whitman (decades before Frost was born) talking overtly about sexuality or complicated topics, like how our living biases change the way we remember the dead. It makes Frost’s work appear to me more accessible than skilful.
So, I see something to like in The Road Not Taken, but I struggle to see what makes it special. Maybe I’ll pick it up again one day and I’ll see the light; I’ll let you know if it happens.