Any Road Will Do: “Response to Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken'”

Photo by Jirí on Pixabay

Today, I am sharing a poem written by James E. Dykes, one of my undergraduate English professors. He taught research so well that I knew the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems by heart. He retired shortly after I took my first-year composition course under his instruction and passed away, unfortunately, weeks after I graduated from college.

To my knowledge he wrote two collections of verse–Cosmos Electric and Variant Verse and Graffiti and Grace.  I have not been able to find Graffiti and Grace, but [many, many moons ago] I found Cosmos Electric on clearance at a bookstore and bought every copy available.

The poem below is one of my favorites from the collection. I often use it as an example in my introductory literature courses of how to respond creatively to a poem and to show students that it is okay to critique and question what some consider great literature.

I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I do.

Response to Robert Frost’s “Road Not Taken”
James E. Dykes

“Any road will do, if one knows not where he is going.” —The Talmud

In that famed yellow wood, where parting ways
diverge, I, too, have stood with eyebrows raised;
weighing the iffiness of this or that–
transfixed as the Stylite who sat and sat.

But one must move, or else be swept along.
Not choosing is to choose the right or wrong;
or share the irksome fate of those who learn–
too late–that they mistook or missed their turn.

By signs, by compass pints; by sun or star,
a pilgrim journeys homeward from afar.
Some seamen reach the East by sailing West.
All circuits parallel lead to one’s quest.

Though course correction or reversal might
improve or solve a wanderer’s plight,
if one should take a road that leads to nowhere,
what difference can it make in getting there?

6 thoughts on “Any Road Will Do: “Response to Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken'”

  1. franhunne4u says:

    But is Dykes’ criticism fair?
    I opened the older poem (on poetryfoundation.org) and found

    “Then took the other, as just as fair,” and
    “I took the one less traveled by,”
    So, yes, even Frost’s lyrical “I” DID decide. It is not as if that wanderer in that poem did not.

    Dykes’

    “But one must move, or else be swept along.
    Not choosing is to choose the right or wrong;”
    therefore does not apply to Frost’s wanderer in the forest.

    And if you think, Dykes’
    “share the irksome fate of those who learn–
    too late–that they mistook or missed their turn.”

    as a criticism of Frost’s acting persona, because Frost ends his poem with
    “I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:”

    This is not a sigh of regret for taking the wrong turn – rather a sigh of having to have one path unexplored.

    But DID Dykes even criticise? Does he mean those lines I quoted from his poem to be critical of Frost’s perspective? Or doesn’t he just use that poem and add his own perspective (which is legitimate)? I do not see Dykes poem as criticism … but what do I know, I haven’t studied literature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chandra Lynn says:

      To be fair, Dykes’ poem is a response–which doesn’t necessarily mean disagreement. And in literary study “critique” doesn’t necessarily mean disagree either. You’re right. He expands Frost’s point, and that is also critique. Frost’s traveller takes the “road less traveled” and does not regret it. But, of course, he’s curious [as most of us would be] where that other road might have led. Dykes’ instruction to move and keep moving, to not rest too long in indecision is more warning than criticism of the traveller in Frost’s poem. Some of us [IRL] get frozen in that state but Dykes says, “move.” We can adjust or correct our path and eventually find our way. Furthermore, if we don’t have some sense of our purpose (which Frost’s traveller may lack initially), what difference does it make what road we take? [Great job on your critique. 😀 Sorry for the quick response; I’m responding between prep and meetings. They started early this morning].

      Like

      • franhunne4u says:

        I can agree with all of your points and as I said I am not a scientist when it comes to literature, so that special meaning of critique was not on my radar. Thanks for clearing that up for the uninitiated. (English is not my first language either, so I really find scientific jargon puzzling.)

        Liked by 1 person

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