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Thematic Essay | Poetry

Poetic Image and Voice

By R. S. Mackintosh
November 28, 2008
The path taken was just as pleasing and perhaps more intriguing, but not as separate as it might seem at first, suggesting, that two paths are one voice contrasting and complementary patterns. 
A Path in the Woods, Pontoise
A Path in the Woods, Pontoise, 1879 -Camille Pissarro

For the poetic image to survive it must co-exist side by side with the physical world. Poetic image alone does not have enough existence to have a life of its own, or to be alive only according to the established poetic convention, and its expression must be anchored in the texture of voice. In The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost writes this:

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.

The voice is powerful and personal, balanced between what is said and unsaid, between a dreamlike cadence and a translucent, elegiac silence, and the two paths are a divergence of dream (poetry) and silence (eternity). The longing to travel both paths and be one traveler, concerns the path of silence and its appeal. The poet admires it, as it is, such as he sees and understands it, but it evokes the unknown. He looks down to where it disappears beyond, in bushes beneath the trees:

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.

Path through a Normandy Village
Path through a Normandy Village 1877 -Henri Harpignies

There are subtle shades of meaning here, which are a consequence of connections between dream and silence. The path taken was just as pleasing and perhaps more intriguing –it was grassy and wanted wear –but not as separate as it might seem at first, suggesting, perhaps, that two paths are one voice, a continuum of contrasting and complementary patterns, inflections, and textures.

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.

In the afterthought, the divergence isn’t as important as it had seemed. The path not taken is an attempt to reach beyond consciousness to the beginning of the dream, or image, which is a primal and unending silence, the unsaid language of dream, that is kept for another day. The realization of how way leads on to way, in an endless cycle of dream rotation, reversal, and poetic renewal, transcends silence.

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.

Between what is said and unsaid, voice is a minimalist, primal, interconnection of dream and silence. It is a result of many years or it can come in a little foolish flash, and result in wisdom. Through it, the experience of poetry produces eternity. There is no poetry without voice. Whatever we do on a day-to-day basis relies on it.

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