Friday, November 4, 2011

That Has Made All the Difference?

The Road Not Taken 

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

I grow rather weary, at times, of people approaching Robert Frost's poetry as though it were all happy verse with glad imagery.  Perhaps it is the ease with which it is read and the sort of warmth that some of his images evoke within us that allow us to overlook the irony to be found in a poem such as the one plagiarized above.  The fact of the matter is that no one really knows what might have come to pass has the narrator traveled the other path.  He has no idea whatsoever how life might have been different had he chosen other than did.  Maybe he would have become rich and famous after have discovered a new variety of truffle.  Perhaps he would have been eaten by bears.  Perhaps he would have found that a giant sequoia had fallen across the path and he had to go back and take the other path anyway.  He might have spontaneously combusted.  And that really is the point.  We don't know.  We haven't any sense at all what might change if we were to choose differently than we do.  This poem is not one of happy reminiscence.  This poem, to my mind, is an expression of bitterness and resignation.  It is a "sour grapes" poem.  The narrator, unable to know what might have been, can console himself only by assuming that what he abandoned was worth abandoning.  And the reader is left to wonder, "How do you know?"

To read the poem in this manner, I think, is a much more realistic assessment of the human condition.  Bound by time and space, we are forced to make decisions.  We haven't the liberty of having all experiences or of following all paths.  When we make an affirmative decision for one thing, we are necessarily deciding against another.  That's the way life is.  This is part of what it means to be a grown-up.  It does us no good to sit around and speculate as to how life may have been otherwise.  This, in part, must be what drives men to midlife crises.  They regret the decisions they have made and try to reverse them in their later years.  It is absurd, because in the end, I don't have what might have been.  I have here, and I have now, and I have a God who loves me, and in his providence, can make all possibilities work for the good.  This, not a leafy road of happy nostalgia, makes all the difference.


  1. I like (and pretty much agree with) this entire post except for these two lines: "This poem, to my mind, is an expression of bitterness and resignation. It is a "sour grapes" poem."

    Resignation, perhaps, but not bitterness -- I don't taste sour grapes here. To me, the fact that he took "the road less traveled" is sweetness enough for the protagonist. He is sorry he can't do it all, to be sure -- he says as much -- and it is in our nature, somewhere, to wonder what might have been. But a bitter person finds excuses. Our poet offers none.

    I've missed your writing, Father.

  2. Hmmm, never thought of it that way. but then, I am truly happy with the paths that I HAVE taken! Trust in the Lord. After that, it's all easy.

  3. Does this mean I SHOULDN"T have my kiddos memorize it? ;o)

    p.s. I've missed your writing, too


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