“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost was first published in 1915 in the Atlantic Monthly. Arguably his most famous poem. Also, his most misunderstood. Generations of us grew up believing that if we took the road less traveled, went our own way, and carved our own path, it would make all the difference in our lives. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter with a rhyme scheme where the first line rhymes with the third and fourth lines while the second line rhymes with the fifth. Each line has a four-count beat making it simple to read. Simple to read yet difficult to understand.
“The Road Not Taken” was written for Edward Thomas, an English poet and friend of Robert Frost. Frost spent three years in England before World War I, and the two poets would often take walks in the rolling English countryside. In 1915, Frost returned to his home in New Hampshire and sent a copy of his now-famous poem to his friend in England. Thomas took the poem seriously and, considering his options or roads, decided to enlist in the British Army. Edward Thomas was killed two years later in the trenches of France.
Construed to suggest that we should take the road less traveled, a closer reading shows that the paths in Frost’s poem were identical. The poem was meant as a private joke between two friends. On their walks, Thomas was often indecisive about which path to take. Once Thomas chose a path, he often lamented his decision. Frost decided to turn Thomas’s indecisiveness into a private joke. Thomas didn’t see the humor. It took six follow-up letters for Thomas to realize that Frost was poking a bit of fun.
With writing, as opposed to real life, you can often travel several paths at once. Why choose? And so, my next two writing projects will take their own paths. After finishing my memoir, I struggled a bit with my next path. So, while Lillian labors away, turning my manuscript into a format suitable for publishing, I sit and ponder what’s next.
One project I’ve been working on for several years is about my visits to Arlington National Cemetery. I’m trying to make enough trips to assemble a book with photographs and a bit of background on just a few of the heroes buried. The cemetery is huge, and with 400,000 souls resting there, it’s a bit of a daunting task. It’s also somber. I’ll start posting chapters in the coming weeks. I realize it might not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea,’ but I hope you will find the stories inspiring and leave you with a little more pride in our country than the nightly news would suggest. Your positive feedback is always welcome.
My other and newest project directly results from the literary criticisms many of you have gracefully bestowed upon me. Unlike my Arlington project, this one will be anything but somber. Some of you have suggested that I try my hand at fiction. As if my memoirs and making up tales from my mediocre past wasn’t fiction enough. I’m endeavoring to create a collection of short stories and verbal cartoons, the likes of which have been told a million times before. I very much don’t like fiction. I don’t read it, and I give it a good bash every chance I get. I’ve even gone so far as denying fiction even exists. After all, fiction is just a set of facts that haven’t happened yet.
The Arlington National Cemetery book is a labor of love. It takes time, photographs, and finding just enough facts to make each story interesting. For me, the stories of the heroes buried at Arlington are compelling and speak to some better people who, now in death, can teach us how precious our own lives are. The writing is simple, straightforward, and comes easy.
On the other shoe, writing humorous fiction is anything but simple, straightforward, and easy. At best, the writing is obtuse, confusing to the humor-impaired, and often funny only to me.
Fiction writing is a multibillion-dollar-a-year business. Tens of thousands of titles are published every year, with hundreds of thousands of books sold. Would-be authors compete tooth and nail (or pen and quill) for an opening on bestseller lists in every major newspaper. Fame is won or lost based on the review of a few so-called critics. Hungry new fiction writers dream of becoming the next Tom Clancy, Stephen King, or that Harry Potter woman. The Handmaid’s Tale is a creepy TV series written by a very nice old lady who wrote an even creepier book. Why? Why’d she write it? Worse yet, why would anybody read it?
A best-selling fiction writer makes twelve times the money that the best-selling non-fiction writer makes. But the fiction writer competes in a world fifteen times larger. So why, with so much to be gained, is there so much bad fiction out there? Could it be, dare I say, possibly, it just might be – it’s all bad fiction. Every story told has been told a hundred times before. The novelty of Shakespeare is that his stories are all way too common. Melville, Dickens, and Twain might have broken ground, but it was well-tended soil.
I just made up all the preceding facts. See, I’m getting the hang of fiction writing already.
I can’t promise to publish every week or from which side of my brain a story will sally forth. But I can promise to take your critiques seriously and adapt accordingly.