With great poetry comes great responsibility?
I discovered recently that the American poet Robert Frost was disappointed
that his most famous poem was also the most misinterpreted. Apparently, The Road Not Taken was written merely to gently tease his indecisive English friend and fellow poet, Edward Thomas. The two used to walk in the woods chatting (I imagine) about all things life and stanza related and occasionally on their wanders they would decide to randomly pick a path. Allegedly, Edward would consistently be disappointed after they returned that they hadn’t taken a different route. The poem is actually intended to suggest that it makes no difference which path is taken. The tragedy of this tale of course is that Edward may have misinterpreted the meaning and it may have helped spur him to make a firm decision and choose a very definitive path – he enlisted in the army and was killed in WWI. Robert Frost would later state “You have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem—very tricky.”
I wonder if perhaps he even regretted writing it. Maybe. Who knows? I hope not. I’m sure there was no intentional risk when he wrote it. And I think I might like to argue in praise of misinterpretation – something along the lines of surely the more alternatives the merrier?
I might argue that to explain art is to risk destroying it and that to overly analyse it is to diminish it? “Is it true?” “Did it happen?” “Did you strictly mean X, Y or Z?” Does it matter? I might argue the best art allows space for personal interpretation – its show not tell not show then tell. And if you confirmed to Reader A that it unequivocally meant B then that might disappoint Reader C who had hitherto been convinced it meant D. And had been happy with that assumption.
I might also wonder why you would ever want to insist that another intelligent free-thinking individual should interpret your creation in the exact same way that you do. It’s Art after all. Isn’t that quintessentially the point? Surely, it’s a two-way relationship? It’s writer and reader. I finish writing and I hand it over to you – it’s yours now, make of it what you will.
I offer it to you unboxed. I see no need to provide a forensic dissection or award it a definitive label.
Unless of course when attempting to promote, hawk, hype, and sell it – and that thrusts us back toward the awkward pragmatic side of art – back to the necessity of linguistically luscious loglines and sharp synopsis and beautiful blurbs and cleverly constructed cover letters.
And now I know I’ve erred – I’ve been diverted once more. I’ve recklessly allowed the mind free reign to meander once more. I’ve lost focus to whimsy once more. I wasn’t supposed to be sighing or muttering about the process. I was supposed to be revealing all about securing a literary agent then striding valiantly forth toward podium and adulation. I can only apologise and provide a promise – perhaps next week…