Tag Archives: road less traveled

Q: A letter to Qu Yuan Chinese Poet (340 – 278 B.C.): A Journey of “Circles” and “Squares”.

Dear Qu Yuan,

I am writing Letters to Dead Poets travelling through the alphabet from A-Z where each letter is a stop along the road.

In so many ways, we have formed something of an arranged marriage.

You see, I didn’t know any poets starting with Q and found you through a random Google search. So, instead of going through more traditional avenues to meet, we met online. Naturally, this is quite a different experience but does it make it any less valid? I don’t know. After all, is it destiny or chance which has brought me here, travelling back in time to Ancient China 340 – 278 B.C.?

That’s why I’m here. I need to find out.

Kayaking in the clouds

Kayaking Through LI SAO (The Lament).

Lacking a time machine, I’ve boarded my kayak and I’m travelling back in time along your epic poem: LI SAO (The Lament). I understand that you probably wrote Li Sao while living in exile South of the Yangtse River. There is some debate about what LI SAO means. It’s been interpreted as: “encountering sorrow”, “sorrow after departure”, “sorrow in estrangement” while others claim it was the name of a certain type of music.

In any case, your poem is bringing us together, carrying me across the boundaries of time and place.

There is a quote from modern literature, which I hold very dear:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

So, although we live so many, many worlds apart, why couldn’t we swap our skins and get a feel for what it is to see through each other’s eyes, walk in each other’s shoes and wear each other’s skins? Trade places and breathe in each other’s air? Sing each other’s song?

I know it sounds crazy, impossible and even ridiculous. Indeed, I can picture us now in a change room, trying each other on in front of the mirror and just how weird it would feel. It wouldn’t surprise me, if I am a lot taller than you and that you’d look something like the saggy baggy elephant lost inside all those folds of skin. On the other hand, your skin would be stretched as tight as a drum and would inevitably rip as soon as I tried to sit down. That would be particularly hard to explain. Yet, perhaps the biggest hurdle of all is how we’d adjust to life in our different worlds. Fast forwarding and reversing over 2000 years, would have to be the ultimate head spin!

red shoes

I wonder how far you would walk in my fabulous red shoes…

So, here we are. I’m in my kayak and you are the river.

What are the words you speak? Even though our meeting has been designed, arranged or even forced, can we find some common ground or will this “marriage” immediately end in “divorce”?

I don’t know.

Indeed, I’m very conscious that we’ll barely have a chance to meet before I’m forced to leave. My time is brief and LI SAO (The Lament) has 373 lines and about 2400 characters. Unfortunately, I can’t simply stop and contemplate the wax and waning of the moon. I must move on. So, I can really only dip my toe in what really is a vast expanse.

Yet, even on this very fleeting encounter, I immediately found common ground, even though  we’re man and woman living over 2000 years apart in different lands:

Excerpts from LI SAO (The Lament)

In swift succession spring and autumn passed;
The fallen flowers lay scattered on the ground,
The dusk might fall before my dream was found.

                                   …..

I marvel at the folly of the king,
So heedless of his people’s suffering.
They envied me my mothlike eyebrows fine,
And so my name his damsels did malign.

                                  ……

In sadness plunged and sunk in deepest gloom,
Alone I drove on to my dreary doom.
In exile rather would I meet my end,
Than to the baseness of their ways descend.
Remote the eagle spurns the common range,
Nor deigns since time began its way to change;
A circle fits not with a square design;
Their different ways could not be merged with mine

“A circle fits not with a square design.”…That line really spoke to me. Bound us together as one. Indeed, we have a modern phrase: “you can’t fit a square thing in a round hole”. This is most definitely me. While I can’t be entirely sure this phrase wasn’t in effect “added” via the translation but no doubt at least the meaning was there.

While our experiences of exile have been different, I know what it is to be a circle. So many of us do in our own way, which I guess makes us a community of circles. While we might not stack up as efficiently as the squares, is efficiency more important than creativity and imagination? That ability to think outside the square to create and innovate?

You probably know my answer.

Besides, while we circles might not stack, we definitely roll. Move. Grow. We’re not all stacked up on one top of the other filed in alphabetical order.

It’s quite difficult to budge a square.

It’s been really interesting to see how much two random strangers can have in common, even when there is seemingly so much difference between us. That there is a common thread of what it means to be human extending from the distant past and heading off into the future. That is a beautiful thing.

Alas, as much as I’ve relished our journey together, the train whistle’s blowing and it’s time for me to leave.

Perhaps, you would like to visit me and raft along my poetry some time. We could even go for a walk along the beach and contemplate the waves. It would be wonderful to pause with you when we could simply stop.

Warm regards my friend,

Rowena

 Sources

LI SAO (The Lament) translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Sao

http://www.shigeku.org/xlib/lingshidao/hanshi/quyuan.htm

 

 

 

F-A Reply from Robert Frost #atozchallenge.

Yesterday, I ended up in another muddle working on these letters to dead poets. In case you’re not familiar with the name Robert Frost, you will probably know his poem:

The Road Not Taken

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.

However, over time, the last three lines have taken on a life of their own, which is quite different to the poem’s intended meaning. So. instead of being about making life’s choices and living without regrets, they’ve come to celebrate the trailblazing adventurer or hippy going against the flow.

Anyway, Frost has been beavering away overnight because I received his reply this morning:

Dear Rowena,

You just can’t imagine what’s it’s been like to experience warm sunlight again after such a long, cold Winter and so many years underground. As much as I love conversing with nature and appreciate solitude, people need people. It was such an incredible awakening to receive your letter. Thank you very, very much!

I have given your question much consideration. Should your children take the freeway or follow the road less travelled? Although this wasn’t the intent of the original poem, nevertheless, it’s an important question. How do we as parents protect our kids and extend them at the same time?

You have already answered this dilemma for your own kids. You know you wouldn’t be where you are now, if you’d taken it easy. Hadn’t fought hard for every inch of progress through rugged, unchartered terrain. Your kids are Scouts, which extends them in all sorts of directions and teaches them how to approach life’s challenges through being prepared for anything. If you do everything for them, they’re just going to fall straight on their face.

Here are a few points I jotted down:

  • Kids aren’t like Humpty Dumpty. As long as it’s not a catastrophic fall, they bounce back.
  • We can not live without risk.
  • Nothing grows in the dark.
  • Don’t smother your kids. Everyone needs room to breathe and that’s why I always loved walking through the woods and being with nature.

Reading your letter further, you approached the road less travelled from another perspective, asking whether kids should conform or explore their individuality. Was it worth being bullied to express yourself?

Naturally, I am very concerned that difference is not encouraged. You’re right about human discovery being built on a curious and inquiring mind. You don’t get that sticking to the norm. You have to go off-road. It really concerns me that these thinkers, who could ultimately change our world and solve some of critical questions of the time, would be ridiculed, rejected and have no friends. That’s such  a travesty and needs to change! These young seeds must be watered, cultivated and encouraged…NOT chopped down!

Anyway, not knowing how long I have above ground, I must carpe diem seize the day and go for another walk.

You truly don’t appreciate what it means to be alive until it’s too late. My goodness! Even the grass is so green!

Thank you so much!

Your friend,

Robert Frost

Has this given you any food for thought? I’d love to hear from you. That poem has certainly given me a lot to think about.

Best wishes,

Rowena

This is part of my series of Letters to Dead Poets which is for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge.

 

 

 

F- Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

Dear Mr Frost,

Sometimes, when you reach a fork in the road, you don’t get much of a choice about which road to take. Such as when you’re a dead poet receiving a letter all the way from the 21st Century and you’re being expected  to think, respond, answer questions when your only conversations have been with the worms and other subterranean guests.  That’s what makes life, and I guess even death, exciting. There’s always the challenge of the unexpected…that wake up call. So, Mr Frost, this is yours.

Welcome back!

Through your poem The Road Not Taken, you’ve become known as the man who stuck the fork in the road, creating that ultimate dilemma…which road should you take? While in your original poem, both roads are almost exactly the same, it has been reinterpreted as making a choice between the freeway or the road less travelled. Are you a follower or a trail blazer?

Now, I’ve reached my own fork in the road.

Should we explore what your poem was originally about or what it’s come to mean to so many?

Choosing Which Road To Take

While it can be really difficult to decide between two evenly weighted options, it’s either win-win or lose-lose. Of course, you’re closing off a possibility and with that there’s that sense of loss but if we are to carpe diem seize the day, we acknowledge that loss and move on.

The Road Less Travelled: The Freeway or the Scenic Road?

So, moving onto a different fork.

On one hand, you have the Freeway with its smooth, well sign posted conditions and faster speed limits but bland scenery.

Then, there’s the Scenic Road with is beautiful scenery, photo opportunities, slower speed limits and unpredictability. You’re constantly needing to monitor for hazards, take evasive action and possibly even navigate by the stars. Anything could be down that road and there could be a very good reason no one else is using it. After all, the flock might not be mistaken.

Which road would you choose?

That’s what I asked my family over dinner tonight.

My husband pointed out that your choice depends on the circumstances. If you’re in a hurry and need to get from A to B as fast as possible, then take the Freeway. However, if you have plenty of time and are looking for interesting places to explore, adventures  and photo opportunities, then take the scenic road. He also grew up in the country and loves nothing more than burning down a dirt road, where the car almost dances going round a corner. That’s an Aussie bloke for you and possibly quite different from your New England experience.

So, rather than setting hard and fast rules, we need to be flexible about which road we should take. However, does this leave us sitting on a barbed wire fence going nowhere?

Forced On the Road Less Travelled.

As much as we like to believe we’re in the driver’s seat, life can dump us on the road less travelled without a bottle of water or compass. There is no choice. I was born with a mind-altering neurological condition called hydrocephalus, which went undiagnosed until I was 25. With a harbour inside my head applying pressure in all sorts of funny places, I was bush bashing with my machete to create any kind of path. Surgery saved my life. However, then I developed a rare life-threatening auto-immune disease where my muscles attack themselves. This goes in and out of remission and even when I’m well and look fine, there’s still stuff going on.

However, through being dumped on a rough and rugged road and having to survive, I’ve become much stronger and tenacious. I’ve also been shattered, bruised and battered along the way and it’s been incredibly hard going. At times, nothing short of anguish. However, like coal enduring all that heat and pressure, I’ve emerged a diamond. Well, at least in theory!

That confirms some of the virtues of travelling along that rough, unchartered road.

A Choice

Taking the road less travelled, can also be a personal choice. Perhaps, you could call it lively curiosity. That pursuing all my unanswered questions, automatically takes me over unchartered ground.

Kids and the Road Less Travelled.

family

A recent family photo.

While I am accustomed to taking the road less travelled myself, I am much more perplexed about whether our kids should undertake the journey.

As a parent, protecting your children is an inbuilt, natural instinct. Of course, you want to give them a smooth road. Make their journey as easy as possible. Yet, is that what they need? What will be the ultimate result?  That concerns me.

If the kids are going to bounce back from life’s inevitable challenges, they need resilience. They’ll only develop resilience through being challenged, encountering problems and learning how to overcome them. You don’t develop these skills sticking to the main road where everything’s being done for you. No work or imagination required. Stay between the lines and under the speed limit and you’ll be right.

That’s very well when it comes to pitting themselves against the great outdoors but how about taking the road less travelled in the school context? Going against the flow and flaunting their differences like neon signs in the playground where kids can be brutally cruel and survival of the fittest is the modus operandi? What might be a bold, creative or adventurous move, can have a kid torn down and thrown to the wolves. Bullies know no mercy.

Knowing this, do you as a parent step in and gently redirect your child back into the flock or do you leave them be? After all, do they really need to sell their souls to belong, be accepted and have a few friends?  Surely, that’s not asking for a lot!!

These are tough questions. What would you recommend to parents? Should they be encouraging their children to conform and stick to the freeway? Or should they be and develop themselves, tackling the bumps and unpredictability along the scenic route, hoping they emerge a diamond, not crushed?

Personally, I also have to believe that shutting down independent thought is a really bad thing for the future of our world. That we need problem-solvers and thinkers who can put a heap of seemingly random things together and find that cure for cancer, develop ways of containing climate change and can help people live more harmoniously together. Cloned thinking has never led to discovery, invention or the answers we need.

I’m sorry I’ve jumped up on my soap box and have given you more of a lecture when I should be asking you. I guess I just needed to get all this out. See what you think.

Anyway, it’s now time for me to get some shut eye and for you to get to work.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Robert Frost's Grave