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?

Woman Inspired! | Stella Gibbons and Carson McCullers

One of my favorite bookish swap series to host is “Literary Wisdom” on swap-bot. Through the swaps, participants select a bookish postcard and write on the back a quote which inspires them. The quote must come from imaginative literature (poetry, prose, plays)–not sacred texts, self-help books, or non-fiction. For Women’s History Month, I decided to dedicate the swaps to women writers, since, unsurprisingly, male writers often dominate the swaps.

I created swaps for the Cup and Chaucer and Book Lovers Congregate groups. Lucky me! My randomly chosen partner for both swaps was Geraldine J (Nannydino). I always enjoy receiving postcards from Geraldine. Not only are the postcards well-selected with my varied interests and tastes in mind but the presentation of the written side of the postcard is always clean and inviting–very neat handwriting and unique placement of stickers, stamps, and postage. Somehow, Geraldine packs a lot of information on the 4×6 postcard backs, always including the date and weather.  Bonus–we have some of the same postcard collections so I get back the very postcards I love.

Now, for the literary inspiration:

Stella Gibbons (1902-1989). Photograph, Mark Gerson/National Portrait Gallery, London

Stella Gibbons was a British writer with poetry, short stories, and 25 novels to her credit. The inspired quote Geraldine chose to share comes from her first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, which is a parody of the “loam and lovechild” rural genre.

Every year, in the fulness o’ summer, when the sukebind hangs heavy from the wains. . .’tes the same. And when the spring comes her hour is upon her again … ‘Tes the hand of Nature and we women cannot escape it.

What seems to be most inspiring here–besides the hilarious novel itself–is “sukebind,” a word Gibbons coined. According to the Oxford English Dictionary “sukebind” is an “imaginary plant associated with superstition, fertility, and intense rustic passion.”

Check out two of The Guardian‘s reviews of Cold Comfort Farm:

If you’re interested in reading the novel, you should have no problems borrowing it from many of the e-libraries.

Carson McCullers (1917-1967). Photograph, Bettman/Corbis

Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith, also wrote in many genres–plays, essays, short stories, poetry, and (of course) novels. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, her debut [though not first] novel (at the age of 23), remains her most popular work.

The inspiration Geraldine shared actually comes from McCullers’ commentary on her characters. “She felt her characters powerfully, once stating:”

I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen.

And one of the inspired quotes form The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

My advice to you is this. Do not attempt to stand alone. …The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.”

For more about Carson and her works, see the links below:

The postcards come from the collection, Postcards from Penguin Modern Classics: One Hundred Writers in One Box. I actually have the collection and mentioned it [or its lack of diversity] in a post on Eileen Chang. Despite the shortcomings of the collection, the photographs are stunning, and I’m happy to have two of the women writers “return” to me

Before I go, I leave you with a little homework. On the back of the McCullers postcard was an equally stunning fierce and inspiring woman postage stamp–featuring Elsie MacGill. If you don’t know who she is, you must do a little “research” and come back and report [in the comments] three things you’ve learned about her.

Until next time…

Real Love | Daring You to the Dangerous

Real love dares you to the really dangerous: die in the diminutive. Be broken and given in the small, the moments so small no one may applaud at all. Pour out your life in laundry room and over toilets and tubs, and pour out life on the back streets, in the back of the room, back behind the big lights. Pour out your life in the small moments–because its only these moments that add up to the monumental. The only way to live a truly remarkable life is not to get everyone to notice you, but to leave noticeable marks everywhere you go. The best love could be a broken, boring love–letting your heart be bore into by another heart, one small act of love at a time. –Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

Happy Valentine’s Day!

#ThursdayTreeLove | Blue

How do you see that tree? It’s [blue]? Well then, make it [blue], the best [blue] on your palette.  –Reduction of Paul Gaugin’s advice to his student Paul Sérusier [The actual quote below]

This has been the most rainy and dismal winter I’ve experienced yet. I was certain I would lose my mind if I woke up this morning to the sound of rain hitting the window. Thankfully, even though it’s still gloomy out, I awakened to silence. “Lo and behold,” there will be sun tomorrow, and, based on the forecast, we won’t see rain again till Tuesday. Woohoo!

I captured the tree above one morning last week on the way to work. I was drawn to the two trees leaning into each other and the mist rising from the earth (no longer visible), but I was weary of gray skies, so I turned the whole thing blue. 😀

How do you see that tree? It’s green? Well then, make it green, the best green on your palette. How do you see those trees? They are yellow. Well then, put down yellow. And that shadow is rather blue. So render it with pure ultramarine. Those red leaves? Use vermillion. –Paul Gaugin


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Beauty Remains

Beauty remains in nature, sun, freedom and yourself. If you just look for it, you discover yourself and God, you will stand out. –Anne Frank

My guys and I rediscovered the treasures above in the backyard a windy afternoon two weeks ago. The top photo features the remains of a log that once held a heart in its center.  The log in the bottom photo has been home to many tiny creatures over the years, and though it appears to be reaching its last days, it is still an incredible work of art.

If we “just look for it,” we will discover there is extraordinary beauty in the “remains” of trees.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

A “New” Definition of Greatness: A Heart Full of Grace, A Soul Generated by Love

Jesus gave us a new norm for greatness. If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, February 4, 1968 [Based on Mark 10:35-43]


About the image: The image above features the pulpit from which Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and led a movement.  The passionate “How Long?  Not Long” speech was also delivered from this lectern on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery at the conclusion of the famous Selma to Montgomery March. The pulpit now rests in the basement of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. I had the privilege of placing my hand on this pulpit during a research trip with other educators a couple of summers ago.

My Favorite Day | Let’s Celebrate Pooh!

Please forgive my brief but unplanned blogging hiatus. I had a major project to complete which took nearly all my time and energy. Now, that it’s done, I can turn my attention to pretty things and lots of rest. For a little while, at least.

Since today is A.A. Milne’s birthday–also known as Winnie-the-Pooh Day–I’m dropping in to share the two Pooh postcards that hit my mailbox within the last few weeks.

As Shelby–who sent the postcard above for a “Literary Wisdom” swap--pointed out in her note, we can almost always find wisdom in children’s books. Of course, she imparted an additional bit of Pooh wisdom:

We didn’t realize we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun.

Isn’t this true? As kids, we are just in the moment, but years later, the memories warm us.

 

For a Winnie-the-Pooh postcard swap, Alyssa of Alberta, Canada sent a card featuring an “updated” Pooh in red shirt walking past the London Bridge.

I always get to where I am going by walking away from where I have been.

Pooh’s wisdom comes off as simple and matter-of-fact, but there is incredible insight about the human experience in his [Milne’s] words. We get nowhere unless we’re willing to walk away from the things and places that hold us back.

I wonder if Pooh is interested in being my life coach?

If you need a little more Hundred Acre Wood sweetness, check out my “Happy Winnie-the-Pooh Day” post from two years ago.

Enjoy your favorite day!