Right or Left?
Author: David Orr
Poetry interpretation may not be at topic that instantly sparks enthusiasm in most readers. But in the hands of David Orr, you might be surprised at how interesting it can be. With apparent fearlessness, he tackles one of the most famous poems ever written, Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. It’s a remarkable journey into the magic of words and meaning.
Still read at countless graduation ceremonies and other occasions of import across America every year, Frost’s poem just celebrated the 100th anniversary of its first publication. It’s typically presented as an endorsement of individuality and self-determination, an encouragement to seek out the road “less traveled by”. And at first glance it seems like a perfectly straightforward poem, without a hint of mystery or enigma. But Orr, a professor at Cornell and the poetry columnist for The New York Times Book Review, is quick to point out that this conventional approach may be entirely wrong.
“A tricky poem, very tricky”, Frost said shortly before his death in 1963, at the age of 88. To the reader’s benefit, Orr takes him at his word, dissecting the work from numerous angles. Despite the fact that the poem is made up of just 20 brief lines, Orr’s tireless analysis is endlessly interesting. Moreover, his book is a superb example of how to make a complicated argument, built piece by piece and sturdily supported every step of the way. Using both an expert’s intuition and the unforgiving scalpel of a logician he exposes the multiple possible meanings hidden in Frost’s use of a crossroad as a complicated metaphor for life.
The first poet to speak at a US presidential inaugural. The recipient of more than 40 honorary college degrees. Arugably the most popular American poet of the 20th century. Robert Frost remains a stalwart piece of traditional literary Americana. But he also had a mischievous streak that’s uncovered with some extra effort. The Road Not Taken combines revealing biography, astute literary analysis, wide-ranging existential exploration, even some modern political commentary, presenting a complicated look at a literary giant and some of the thorny mysteries he left along the road. Highly recommended.
— D. Driftless
Frost photo by Fred Palumbo