Saturday, March 17, 2012

interpreting is a tricky business

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As an English and Writing major at a liberal arts university, poetry was a major requirement in my course list.


I was so the opposite of excited.

The only professor who taught poetry was one of those who asks you to interpret a poem's meaning and then stares at you until you say the right thing.

Again, joy.

I was horrified.
The first poem I wrote for his beginner's workshop was a mix of Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose.
He was nicer than he should have been, but ultimately, it wasn't good enough.

From freshman year to senior year--after lots of criticism and rewrites--I got a little better. My poetry in year four danced circles around my poetry from year one. Thankfully.

I didn't squirm so much when asked to interpret poetry.
Although I'll always squirm a little.

But one of the first lessons that professor taught us was this:

Interpretation is not subjective.

Texts mean what they were written to mean. You can't twist them to mean whatever you want. His main example? "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

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;        5
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,        10
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.        15
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.        20

Read at more graduations than anyone cares to count, this poem tends to be used as an example of taking the high road. The narrow road. The difficult road. The road less traveled by. 

But that's just not what it means. 

The last lines of that poem are really out of place. Added almost more out of self-justification than real reason. 

Throughout the text, you see phrases like "just as fair," "worn [...] really about the same," "equally lay." 

The roads both look just as good.
The roads are equally traveled. 
There's not a clearly better road. 

He just has to choose. 

I don't think that, as followers of Christ, we have that luxury. I don't think the Lord really cares whether I choose ketchup or mustard for my burger, but when it comes to the road I choose to walk, I believe that choice is of great significance to my Father. 

Even when both of the roads are good.
Even when both of the roads involve serving and following Him. 

It's hard to choose between those roads.

"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30:21

Have you ever had to pray and process through that kind of decision? 
How did you seek the Lord for direction? 

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