In this essay I will be comparing the poem by Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken” and Wislawa Szymborska’s poem “Nothing Twice.” What is instantly evident to me in these two poems is the apparent simplicity of both coupled with a great power of the language. However, it’s easy to read these poems, but hard to see the implicit message conveyed by authors. The topic that unites both of the poems is the topic of life. Life and the choices we make is what matters to both poets. But at the same time these poems provide complex contrast to one another on further levels of interpretation. So, let’s take a deeper insight into these two compelling works of art.
The major theme of the two poems is once again a theme of life. In the Frost’s poem the speaker stands at a fork in the woods. Both roads look equally worn and equally covered with untrodden leaves. Thus, the speaker has to face the dilemma of choosing only one of them. The word choice in the poem is very clever, because a reader can easily trace the metaphorical meaning of the paths in the wood and the fork, which stand for lifeline and the problem of making important life choices. Through vivid metaphors Robert Frost reminisces of the time he had to choose the “road” in his life. The final two lines seem to suggest that the author is talking about his choosing a career in literature, not in any other sphere of human activity:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The tone of the poem is somewhat sad. The author is “sorry I could not travel both” roads. And the problem of choice-making is what makes readers relate to the poem immensely, because the latter encounter it innumerable times in their lives. However, there is no right or wrong “path”-there is either the chosen or not chosen one.
“The Road Not Taken” comprises four stanzas of five lines each. There are four stressed syllables per line, and the rhyme scheme is ABAAB. Repetition of word “and” at the beginning of several lines throughout the poem strengthens the effect of the latter on a reader.
As for the poem of Wislawa Szymborska, the very title of it already suggests the poem’s main idea-nothing happens twice. Initially, the author seems to be talking about this problem very generally. In the first two stanzas she points that things in life are very momentary. Szymobska says that in life experiences happen only once. We are given one chance, but the irony is that “we arrive here improvised” and are often not ready for this only one chance. Eventually, as she gets more specific, readers find out that she talks about love. More than that, she talks about love to a specific man. She suggests very gracefully the idea of hardships in the relationship: “is it a flower or a rock?”
Closer to the end of the poem she raises another philosophical problem:
Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
However, she doesn’t attempt to go deep and find an answer to this question. She just tries to make us aware of the problem. “Today is always gone tomorrow” is probably the key line in the poem. All the things that people experience today are gone tomorrow. The experiences of moment are skillfully linked with eternity, and this is what gives the poem its greatest strength.
“Nothing Twice” consists of seven stanzas of four lines each. The rhythm of the poem is ABAB. Through the usage of similes, repetitions, and numerous adjectives the author makes the poem sound very melodious.
As we can see, both poems are very unique. They don’t coincide neither in form or content. While Frost draws our attention to the problem of making important choices in life, Szymborska reasons about experiences of the moment that can’t be relived again. In fact, though so different, the poems relate more than meets the eye. Both authors raise the ever present existential questions. When, as in “The Road Not Taken”, we hesitate what path to choose, we should remember Szymborska’s key point that nothing will happen twice. We won’t be able to return to that fork and make another choice-choose another “road.” Thus, two totally different authors teach a reader one great lesson of life.
by Wislawa Szymborska
Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak
Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.
Even if there is no one dumber,
if you’re the planet’s biggest dunce,
you can’t repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once.
No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the same kisses.
One day, perhaps some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.
The next day, though you’re here with me,
I can’t help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?
Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It’s in its nature not to say
Today is always gone tomorrow
With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we’re different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.
But interpretation of these poems on further levels provides compelling differences between both.
Just they look at different ever present problems of existence.
Both raise ever present existencial problems: Frost-having to make crucial choices in our life, SLjf- love and living things once. But both suggest that we can’t relive our experiences: we can’t go back to this fork and choose another road, we can’t love
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Frost’s Early Poems
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5 Then took the other, as just as fair And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that, the passing there Had worn them really about the same, 10 And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. 15 I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood and I– I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. 20
The speaker stands in the woods, considering a fork in the road. Both ways are equally worn and equally overlaid with un-trodden leaves. The speaker chooses one, telling himself that he will take the other another day. Yet he knows it is unlikely that he will have the opportunity to do so. And he admits that someday in the future he will recreate the scene with a slight twist: He will claim that he took the less-traveled road.
“The Road Not Taken” consists of four stanzas of five lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAAB; the rhymes are strict and masculine, with the notable exception of the last line (we do not usually stress the -ence of difference). There are four stressed syllables per line, varying on an iambic tetrameter base.
This has got to be among the best-known, most-often-misunderstood poems on the planet. Several generations of careless readers have turned it into a piece of Hallmark happy-graduation-son, seize-the-future puffery. Cursed with a perfect marriage of form and content, arresting phrase wrought from simple words, and resonant metaphor, it seems as if “The Road Not Taken” gets memorized without really being read. For this it has died the cliché’s un-death of trivial immortality.
But you yourself can resurrect it from zombie-hood by reading it–not with imagination, even, but simply with accuracy. Of the two roads the speaker says “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” In fact, both roads “that morning lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.” Meaning: Neither of the roads is less traveled by. These are the facts; we cannot justifiably ignore the reverberations they send through the easy aphorisms of the last two stanzas.
One of the attractions of the poem is its archetypal dilemma, one that we instantly recognize because each of us encounters it innumerable times, both literally and figuratively. Paths in the woods and forks in roads are ancient and deep-seated metaphors for the lifeline, its crises and decisions. Identical forks, in particular, symbolize for us the nexus of free will and fate: We are free to choose, but we do not really know beforehand what we are choosing between. Our route is, thus, determined by an accretion of choice and chance, and it is impossible to separate the two.
This poem does not advise. It does not say, “When you come to a fork in the road, study the footprints and take the road less traveled by” (or even, as Yogi Berra enigmatically quipped, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”). Frost’s focus is more complicated. First, there is no less-traveled road in this poem; it isn’t even an option. Next, the poem seems more concerned with the question of how the concrete present (yellow woods, grassy roads covered in fallen leaves) will look from a future vantage point.
The ironic tone is inescapable: “I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence.” The speaker anticipates his own future insincerity–his need, later on in life, to rearrange the facts and inject a dose of Lone Ranger into the account. He knows that he will be inaccurate, at best, or hypocritical, at worst, when he holds his life up as an example. In fact, he predicts that his future self will betray this moment of decision as if the betrayal were inevitable. This realization is ironic and poignantly pathetic. But the “sigh” is critical. The speaker will not, in his old age, merely gather the youth about him and say, “Do what I did, kiddies. I stuck to my guns, took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Rather, he may say this, but he will sigh first; for he won’t believe it himself. Somewhere in the back of his mind will remain the image of yellow woods and two equally leafy paths.
Ironic as it is, this is also a poem infused with the anticipation of remorse. Its title is not “The Road Less Traveled” but “The Road Not Taken.” Even as he makes a choice (a choice he is forced to make if does not want to stand forever in the woods, one for which he has no real guide or definitive basis for decision-making), the speaker knows that he will second-guess himself somewhere down the line–or at the very least he will wonder at what is irrevocably lost: the impossible, unknowable Other Path. But the nature of the decision is such that there is no Right Path–just the chosen path and the other path. What are sighed for ages and ages hence are not so much the wrong decisions as the moments of decision themselves–moments that, one atop the other, mark the passing of a life. This is the more primal strain of remorse.
Thus, to add a further level of irony, the theme of the poem may, after all, be “seize the day.” But a more nuanced carpe diem, if you please.
Like a fading piece of cloth I am a failure
What is immediately obvious to me in Blake’s ‘The Tyger’ is the powerful rhythm the poet has created coupled with the apparent simplicity but great power of the language. Blake does this by using repetition, stress and rhythm, reinforcing this further by punctuation and alliteration (‘Tyger! Tyger! burning bright’). The strong rhyme adds yet further to the power of the lines and the images they create. The power which comes from this apparent simplicity is, perhaps, what makes the poem so memorable. It would be an easy poem to learn by heart.
It might be easy to read and remember, but it is certainly not so easy to understand. Some of Blake’s phrases are strange (‘immortal hand’), some seem very old fashioned (‘thine’), and others are used with different meanings from those we use today (‘frame’). Added to this, Blake uses many vivid metaphors, which produce strong images of beauty and power (‘…burning bright / In the forests of the night’) but which are less obvious in their meaning.
The poem is also full of questions – twelve in all. Perhaps Blake intends the poem to be less than easy to understand because he, too, had lots of questions he couldn’t answer. The first question hints that this poem is not really about nature despite its title,
‘…What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?’
The ‘immortal hand ‘can only refer to God, and this gives the poem a religious theme that is continued through the remaining questions. Asking so many questions of God – especially the final question, which is a twist on the final line of stanza one, (‘What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?’) seems to suggest that Blake cannot understand how God could create an animal that is at one and the same time both beautiful and fearful, even evil.
At the end of stanza five, it is easy to imagine the tiger killing the Lamb, and, with the Lamb being given a capital ‘L’ it might refer to the ‘Lamb of God’ or Jesus Christ. Did Blake, who is known to have hated what he saw as God’s ‘natural religion’ being misused by the leaders of mankind, mean not a tiger but a man? And that man has somehow destroyed Christ, or at least, what Christ was meant to stand for in the world? Is God crying at what he sees of how His creation (‘watered heaven’) has been ruined by mankind?
Certainly, Blake wrote this poem at a violent time in history, when England had attacked France soon after the French Revolution. This revolution began in the hope of freeing ordinary men from tyranny and the uncontrolled power of kings. It was meant to bring freedom and equality for ordinary people – something close to Blake’s own heart. It does seem that there is irony, even sarcasm, in the two questions of stanza five: ‘Did he smile his work to see? / Did he who made the Lamb make thee? ‘Perhaps Blake meant ‘Could he… ‘when he wrote, ‘Did he…’?
It is not easy to know what Blake really wanted for his readers in this strange and fascinating poem. But what cannot be doubted is power and beauty of the poem. Perhaps Blake just wanted his readers to feel this power and beauty and to ask themselves why our world should contain such opposites as goodness and evil, beauty and ugliness?
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