The Call to Adventure – Part 2

A few posts ago, I mentioned that once the journey portion of life is completed, which is when each of us has achieved self-esteem, and before the beginning of the adventure to happiness, Joseph Campbell teaches that a call to adventure may be sent.  If the call is sent, three things can happen: 1) the call can be unrecognized, 2) the call can be ignored, or 3) the call can be accepted.

I presented three pieces of visual art by Degas, Munch, and Homer.  Each of the three pieces represented individuals living a life based on each of the three ways of accepting the call mentioned above.

Now, I would like to present three very well-known poems that depict a life lived based on the same three ways of accepting the call to adventure, as represented in the poets’ own artistic styles rather than the artistic styles of the painters.

The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost, 1920)

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 the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked 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.

This famous and beautifully written poem by Frost is not what it seems.  One would think that it is inspirational in its suggestion that selecting the road less traveled is the path to happiness.  However, upon closer reading, the traveler in this poem sees two roads that diverge into the woods and both roads look identical in wear.  In addition, the traveler mentions that, “with a sigh,” he/she will recall in the future the “one less traveled by” was chosen at the fork in the road. 

This poem is one of disappointment by the traveler at not being offered the opportunity to see the less traveled path.  The traveler knows that selecting the less traveled path will “make all the difference” and is necessary if happiness is to be achieved.  Unfortunately for this traveler, such a less traveled path is never encountered.

The fork in the road of this poem is not that exceptional; it is just one of many everyday decisions that all of us make in our lives.  No call to adventure was ever given or, if it was given, the traveler never recognized it.  The traveler simply remains in the everyday world without the opportunity for adventure.  The traveler knows this to be his fate and realizes that in the future he will sigh with disappointment at not being given the opportunity for a more complete life.  Vividly represented is the resignation to the future of an everyday existence, similar to that expressed in the painting by Degas.

The Waste Land, 335-345 (T.S. Eliot, 1922)

If there were water we should stop and drink

Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think

Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand

If there were only water amongst the rock

Dead mountain of carious teeth that cannot spit

Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit

There is not even silence in the mountains

But dry sterile thunder without rain

There is not even solitude in the mountains

But red sullen faces sneer and snarl

From doors of mud-cracked houses

This is a poem addressing the decline of civilization.  The feeling is one of spiritual loss, a world empty of hope, a life without purpose, a horrifying malaise in which each day simply flows into the next without any meaning or purpose.  Perhaps the sentiment of this poem best resembles that of the Munch painting.

Ulysses, 56-70 (Tennyson, 1833)

Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Though much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Dramatic monologue is relied upon to convey a call to adventure.  While tired and slowed by advancing old age, Ulysses is ready to “strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” He calls his friends to join him and sail into a new adventure, an adventure into the unknown and possibly, “It may be that the gulfs will wash us down.”  We are not sure that his friends will join him but we have a sense that they will aid him if they do not join him.  While Ulysses appears more confident in his acceptance of the call to adventure than the girl in the Homer painting, both have made the decision to heed the call, most likely with the help of friends.

Next, the interpretations of life under the three different ways of accepting the call to adventure, as depicted by classical music composers.

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