Reading

Reflecting on Choices

President John F. Kennedy once said that artists play a special role in a society. They contribute “not to our size [as a nation] but to our spirit; not to our political beliefs but to our insight; not to our self-esteem but to our self-comprehension.”1 Langston Hughes and Robert Frost are among the many American poets who have reflected on the choices we make as individuals and as citizens.

I Dream a World
by Langston Hughes

I dream a world where man 
No other man will scorn, 
Where love will bless the earth 
And peace its paths adorn.
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way, 
Where greed no longer saps the soul 
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white, 
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth 
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head, 
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind. 
Of such I dream, my world!2

 
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;

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 passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

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.

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.3

Citations

  • 1 : President John F. Kennedy, “Remarks at Amherst College,” October 26, 1963, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, (accessed on August 7, 2007).
  • 2 : Langston Hughes, “ I Dream a World,” The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 311.
  • 3 : Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” Selected Poems of Robert Frost (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.), 71–2.

Connection Questions

  1. What is Langston Hughes’s dream for the nation and the world? What democratic ideals are part of that dream? What part does democracy play in realizing that dream? How important is an honest confrontation with the past to realizing it? What is your dream for the nation and the world? What steps will you and others have to take to make it a reality?
  2. Many say it is difficult to confront one’s past when it reveals “bad things.” For example, some politicians, educators, and parents believe that schools should not confront all of the nation’s history. What do you think? What should schools teach about the nation’s past?
  3. When “two roads diverge,” people are forced to make a choice. What is Frost suggesting about the importance of that choice? What is he suggesting about the difficulties in returning to make a different choice at a later time?
  4. President Kennedy once said that a “nation which disdains the mission of art” invites the fate of the hired hand in one of Frost’s most famous poems– “the fate of having nothing to look backward to with pride and nothing to look forward to with hope.”4 What is he suggesting about the relationship between past, present, and future?
  5. What individuals you have encountered in your own life have taken the road “less traveled by,” the one that “was grassy and wanted wear”? Did their choices make “all the difference”? How did those individuals help in some small or large way to make “a world where all/Will know sweet freedom’s way”?

Citations

  • 4 : President John F. Kennedy, “Remarks at Amherst College,” October 26, 1963.

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