Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Road Not Taken

One of the most misinterpreted poems I can think of is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." People seem to want to read it as a poem about individualism, not following the crowd, making your own way in life even if it's not the culturally acceptable way. But I think this poem means something altogether different. Something which every single one of us can relate to. It is a poem about making a choice, and the doubt that inevitably follows; it is a poem about forever wondering what might have been. You notice that the poem's title does not emphasize the choice the narrator did make. Rather, it alludes to the foregone alternative, which is still a lingering thought in the narrator's mind. It is a poem about all the things that may have happened, all the happiness and all the tribulations that may have befallen the narrator, which now can only be guessed at--for the time to walk that path is gone forever.

I have certainly seen times where I had to make a life-changing decision, and I always torture myself with the question of whether I did the right thing... particularly when the choice I made seems to go awry. I find my head spinning with thoughts like, What if I had done it this way? What if I had chosen that instead? Would I have gotten hurt like this? Would my life have been better? Have I screwed everything up? I have had my share of those thoughts recently. And I feel the heaviness that overcomes the narrator of this poem when he says, "I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence..." It's a deep, regretful sigh, in the face of having made what he (what I) may always fear was the wrong decision.

One of the wonderful things about poetry is that it tells me things about myself that I could never have put into words. I understand that this narrator feels a lingering pang of sadness at having left this crossroads behind, because I have felt that too. Why? I think it's partly because I fear the unknown. And I think I am not unique in that regard; I am sure that many of us step with trepidation when we find ourselves in a position of not knowing where we are headed. But I also think the sorrow stems in part from the knowledge that, for that one moment as I stood and looked down both paths, I held a piece of my fate in my own hands. And that is a grave matter, for if I chose wrongly, who is there to blame but myself?

Thoughts like that can drive you mad; or at least, they could certainly drive me mad. I don't want the responsibility of having to make a blind choice whose consequences will affect me forever. I don't want to stand here in the wake of the storm and know that it was nobody's fault but mine. That would surely defeat me. And in the end, who's to say that one path was better than another? The old adage says that hindsight is 20/20. But even hindsight only provides a one-angled view of anything, for I am simply looking back up the road I just traveled. I can never, never go back to that point in the road where I had to make the choice, and so I can never be sure what would have befallen me had I chosen differently. So I have to conclude, for my own sake, that there was no fault on my part or anyone else's. I am where I am today because of the choices I have made, and the only difference I can make now is choosing which way to go from here. It is very, very tempting to stand here in limbo and dwell on the road not taken. I do it all the time. But as long as I am doing that, then I am not making the most of my journey for what it is today.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by--
and that has made all the difference.

Yes. It has made all the difference, because it has shaped who I am. For better or worse, it is what it is. And I am alive and young and strong, and I still have miles to go before I sleep. And that is something for which I can be grateful.

1 comment:

KleoPatra said...

You are wonderful, Laura!!