June 10, 2007

"The Road Not Taken."

As I was saying, I played the docent at the Fred B. Jones Gatehouse, which was part of a Frank Lloyd Wright tour in Delavan, Wisconsin yesterday. Here are some views of the exterior:

The Fred B. Jones Gatehouse

(That's the water tower on the left.)

The Fred B. Jones Gatehouse

But I was posted -- imagine me, a blogger, posted -- in the interior, so let's go in:

The Fred B. Jones Gatehouse

Yesterday's post
has one picture of the interior, showing the fireplace, which has a space above it where the current owners have painted a line from that Robert Frost poem "The Road Not Taken." Here's a closeup of the inscription:

"The road less traveled..."

I showed many people through the room, and I always had to say that it was the original fireplace, but the line was not there originally, as, indeed, it could not have been -- unless, as I said once, "Frank Lloyd Wright was unusually prescient" -- because it had yet to be written in 1901 when the gatehouse was built. So I had some interesting conversations with visitors about the line. Would Frank Lloyd Wright have approved? He took the road less traveled, but the road that consists of loving that poem is very well traveled. All these people enamored of a line about nonconformity -- it's ironic. Most of the people I talked to wanted to take the road less traveled and reject the poem.

Let's hear it read by R. Frost:

One visitor said that Wright and Frost were contemporaries and that there's a good film clip out there of Wright interviewing Frost. "That should be on the internet," I said. I'm not finding it, but there sure are a lot of student films using "The Road Not Taken." Sample:

Now, when I see that line -- "I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference" -- I think of the documentary "Grey Gardens." Little Edie, truly a nonconformist, treasures the old line. Part of what is so poignant about Little Edie is that she feels so deeply about some terribly shallow things, like astrology, scarves, and the VMI fight song. And so, that poem...

I'm frustrated that YouTube doesn't seem to have the clip of Little Edie reciting Frost, but I did find this video of Rufus Wainwright singing his song "Grey Gardens":

[Speaking of feeling deeply about terribly shallow things, I'm remembering the Rufus Wainwright line: "There's never been such grave a matter/As comparing our new brand name black sunglasses...."]

And then, if I may bring this meandering post in for a crash landing, I found this clip of Christine Ebersole -- who plays Little Edie (and the young Big Edie) in the Broadway musical made from the documentary. She's struggling to answer the question why gay men love "Grey Gardens." At one point, her answer seems promising, but then it devolves into typical showbiz political talk about Republicans:

No, let's not end there. Let's get back to the real feeling of Little Edie:

"I always took French, but nothing ever happened there."

ADDED: I did not know when I wrote this post that there had been a terrible murder in Delavan the night before I was there. MORE: Actually, the murder was the night after the tour:
Six people, including twin infants, were shot dead Saturday night inside an apartment house. The shooting also wounded a 2-year-old girl, who was still fighting for her life Sunday....

The wounded girl was flown to the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.
The helicopters to the hospital fly over my house. I heard a helicopter in the middle of the night last night.


Peter Palladas said...

Six people have been found dead and a child badly injured after a shooting incident at a house in south Wisconsin. Police in the town of Delavan found the victims after responding to a call at 10.36pm on Saturday. A child who had been shot in the chest was found in a car outside the house, a police spokeswoman said.

Horrid news.

Ann Althouse said...

Peter, I just saw that a couple minutes ago. There was no sign, not a word from anyone around the tour, that a terrible murder had just occured in the little town.

Milbarge said...

When I saw that news, it made me think of a "Murder, She Wrote" episode. You just happen to be in this small town, and there just happens to be a murder that day. I'm not trying to make light of it (or suggest you try to solve it), but it was just such a strange coincidence.

greg said...

"had worn them really about the same"

"and both that morning equally lay"

That people are "enamored of a line about non-conformity" is especially ironic considering the poem isn't really about non-conformity.

Maxine Weiss said...

Don't quit your day job.

Hey, how about becoming a Docent for the 'Converted Frat House' !!!

bearing said...

That line is always missing its context. The poem never makes a value judgment about whether it was, in the end, the right decision or the wrong one to choose the road less traveled by.

All he says is that it made "all the difference." What sort of a difference isn't explained. Nonconformists who read into the line a celebration of nonconformity are projecting.

Ann Althouse said...

Greg: Good point. But people who are into that line see it as being about nonconformity... I think!

Ann Althouse said...

I'd like to be an alternative docent that can be more critical of the art/architecture and do Socatic dialogues about it.

greg said...

Ann: I think the almost-universally accepted reading of the poem is that it is a statement about non-conformity. I find that amusing.

The poem's protagonist (probably Frost's friend Edward Thomas) desperately wants to see differences in the paths and to take the one less travelled, despite realizing that the two roads are basically the same.

Similarly, readers of the "The Road Not Taken" desperately want to see it as a statement of non-conformity - that each of us has taken the road less travelled, and that we are better off for it. Somehow our society has conformed to this misreading, that the poem is a brief but profound statement that supports non-conformity. This interpretation is beautifully ironic. Frost lightheartedly pokes fun at his friend for this desire, and almost all readers of the poem, each of whom wants to think he is a non-conformist in some way, fall for exactly the same faulty reasoning as the protagonist.

rhhardin said...

The feeling that some ordinary choice is fraught with hidden future meaning comes in for some gentle ribbing, in the poem.

A better choice for a fireplace Frost line is good fences make good neighbors. He mocked that too.

Nat said...

Great photos of the homes, Ann. As a big F.Ll.W. fan, I have wanted to go to the Wright in WI tour every year since I've been in Madison. But I don't think the kids would last the whole day. Thanks for letting me see some of it vicariously.