… And sorry I could not travel both / And be one traveler …”
— “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
“But, what does Robert Frost have to do with your life in France?” you’re probably wondering. “Shouldn’t you be citing Verlaine or Prévert or somebody else with a French name?”
Well, as a matter of fact, I should be. Just last Thursday, Monsieur Carlier, my French teacher at CCFS, encouraged us all to recite “L’Albatros” by the French poet Charles Baudelaire … or at least some part of it. It is, after all, the first poem that we’ve studied this semester. In the alternative, however—knowing that most of us wouldn’t be able to recite a French sonnet, whether out of timidity or just sheer laziness—we could recite something in our native language. This was a French class, though, so we would have to explain (in French, of course) the meaning of that incomprehensible barrage of foreign words, be they Russian, Japanese … or English.
One brave soul rose to the occasion and recited Baudelaire’s first stanza impeccably. Bravo, Rafaël! When Monsieur Carlier asked for someone to continue the recitation, there was not a single volunteer—just uncomfortable chuckles. “Okay, something in your native language?” Monsieur Carlier offered, obviously desperate for us to simply use our voices. One poem in Russian was quickly followed by another in Japanese, and then we clammed up again. I wanted to offer something, but I simply wasn’t prepared. “Okay. Tomorrow, ‘L’Albatros‘ or something in your native language from each of you … or you can just draw a map of your home country on the board,” he joked. (We had discussed French geography briefly that morning.) To be honest, accomplishing the latter would be easier for me by far.
It didn’t take much reflection after class, though, to decide what I would recite, should Monsieur Carlier ask for recitations the next day. I was just coming out of a long period of melancholy: uncertainty about my financial means, frustration with the job market for foreigners with student visas, doubts about how I could make things work over the long run in France. I decided that I would recite Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” I would talk to my classmates about the metaphor of that poem: about choices made and paths taken, about courage and adventure, resignation and regret, reflection and satisfaction … the course of life. I would tell them how this poem resonates with me—how it seems an anthem for my life. I would tell them that I, too, had stood at a fork in the road some two and a half years ago, that I had looked down one path as far as I could—the one I thought was the right one for me, the one that might have led me to a new life as a priest—but that I had taken the other path. I had chosen the road that seemed less traveled … the one that was different … the one that was strange … the one that was foreign … telling myself that I could save the other for another day, all the while knowing that I might be foreclosing that choice forever. I read and re-read the poem Thursday afternoon and recited it for Michel a few times that night before going to bed. I even woke up Friday morning with the verses turning in my head.
In the end, I didn’t get to recite “The Road Not Taken.” Either Monsieur Carlier forgot to ask us, or there was just too much grammar and vocabulary to review before our end-of-the-week test. That was a little disappointing for me, but I was pleased all the same that I had been able to spend a few hours with Robert Frost, reading, reflecting, reciting, resonating. And who knows? Maybe Monday morning, Monsieur Carlier will ask for a recitation and my classmates will get to hear it after all.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
© 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved