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 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.
– Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
After a hectic few weeks of work, a short pause before the next round of (fascinating, challenging, exciting, infuriating, whirlwind) days without enough hours, hours without enough minutes, and lists extending in every direction beyond the notebooks and devices insinuating a done-ness ever destined to be just round the next corner.
Of course we restless, rootless, over stimulated creatures of the regimented days and flickering screens will always make sure a pause is filled quickly. Though at least its filled with time for music and words, idle chatter and clouds, and lazy whiles away-ed in bed or café or cinema.
Time now for thoughts to wander more leisurely around life’s endless parade of what ifs and if whats, of this-es and thats, of heres or theres. Although of course ironically in the more languorous time lurks the spectre of rumination. The undistracted mind can quickly turn the parade from orderly procession to ear shattering cacophony of choice and decision. Poetry is always close to hand at such times.
I read Frost’s The Road Not Taken as a teenager first. Every road was untaken then. Every road, like the end of the to do list now, permanently just around the corner. A friend who read it at the same time found it thrilling and exciting. I’m not sure why, but I felt afraid to say it made me feel sad. I wasn’t as convinced that the difference had been a good one. There was something melancholy about this wanderer. Perhaps it was my anxiety about the life about to be lived that shaded Frost’s roads for me from glittering Kodak summer plains to misty autumnal forests.
Now, so many years later, so many roads taken and untaken, the melancholy hovers still but more welcome this time. Somehow there’s comfort in the knowledge that roads untaken are simply the by product of a life lived. The untaken road the signifier of the taken. Without journeying, without turning point decisions reached, no differences good or bad would have been made. But unlike Yeat’s Irish airman foreseeing his death, Frost’s wanderer feels less defeated than resolved, less nihilistic than accepting, less doomed than hopeful.
Roads diverge, that’s their nature. We wanderer’s stand and ruminate and then we take. That’s our nature. It’s not the taken-ness of the roads that will matter at the end really. It’s the difference lived.