Frosted Commencement Concoction

Published: May 15th, 2018

Category: Blog

It’s that graduation saturation time of year again when our students, family members, and friends commence. They launch; they embark; they set forth; they begin anew. Many will receive a commencement greeting Frosted with “The Road Not Taken,” the go-to American poem for commencement cards and announcements. (Read it here.) In fact, the culminating lines are Special Message Signature 12 in this announcement sample I received. I showed it to my UF students; most had seen Frost’s poem in their high school graduation announcements or cards. It’s a well-worn poem we all know–or think we know. But shake up this commencement concoction and its forked path isn’t as fateful it seems.

For starters, the first (and longest) of Frost’s four sentences hedges its bets. The road not taken was “just as fair.” Both routes “equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.” The chosen road “perhaps” offers “the better claim” for a singular journey, yet the paths’ wear and tear were “really about the same.” Perhaps the forked path is more a matter of the speaker’s forked tongue?

If the poem is a dilemma of divergence, that split may indeed lie within the speaker, not in the woods. Bodily confined to being “one traveler,” Frost’s commencing character becomes figuratively divided by the poem’s form in the final stanza:

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.

Split by the hyphen, Frost’s fictive disrupts the rhyme scheme (ABAAB) by duplicating the A rhyme at the beginnings of two lines. To commence is not to conclude.

So how do we take that sudden elevation of “ages and ages hence”Do we take it seriously as Sir Alan Bates intones the poem here in this monumentalizing ad for Union Bank of Switzerland (1997)? (In this performance Frost’s poem rivals Rudyard Kipling’s “If” for sheer commencement Camp.) Or is Frost winking at us in these finalizing lines? Is the route toward our futures really binary, or is it more like a rhizome? Perhaps the poem’s contingencies fracture the future like the multiple speakers reciting the poem here in’s Superbowl commercial (2000), which renders Frost’s road more fluid than fixed. I’ll take contingency over landmark regrets any day. Frost concocted a fabulously inventive mixture in “The Road Not Taken,” a poem best served shaken and blurred. Let’s commence.  –MB

– Sample 2018 commencement product from Signature Announcements
– MB commencing from U. of Tennessee with her B.A. (1982)


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