The Poet’s Battle – “The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost

Choices – they are the bane of our existence, aren’t they? To do one thing is to NOT do the other. To choose profession X is to forego profession Y. To marry person A is to never meet person B, C, or D. To eat at McDonald’s for dinner is to bypass Burger King.

Have you ever thought about the concept of timelines? I have for awhile. Sure, we all think about “what might have been.” Chances are, if you think about it as much as I do, you’re second guessing some of the decisions you’ve made in life. You wish you’d of bobbed instead of weaving. You wish you’d of ducked instead od covering. You wish you’d of taken the blue pill instead of the red.

“Regrets, I’ve had a few,” as Frank Sinatra would say. Heck, had he ignored his desire to express himself through song, he’d of never even said it. I would have had to of think of another quote to express myself just now. Thanks Frank.

Here’s what the poet Robert Frost had to say about the subject:


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, 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.

That’s some powerful imagery, isn’t it? Imagine yourself walking down a path through the woods when all of a sudden the road forks into two directions – you can either go left or right. Your mind starts racing – “What if I pick the left road and it’s full of bats and zombies?” “What if I pick the right road and it’s full of daisies and adorable bunny rabbits?” “What if, after the daisies and adorable bunny rabbits, the right road leads me straight off a cliff?” “What if the road full of bats and zombies leads me to a life in a magnificent mansion?” “What if both roads are scheduled for demolition and I’m screwed either way?”

Life is all about making difficult choices – to do X is to forego Y. And sadly, you never find out whether or not X was a good decision until you’re smack dab in the middle of it and to get out of it would be a nightmare and a half. Y never presents itself as the better option until it’s too late. And even then, you never know for sure if Y would have been a better option.

Perhaps a verbal illustration is in order. You meet a nice woman at a party. (Ladies, you can play along and just imagine you met a nice man.) You two hit it off. You date for awhile. She starts talking about marriage. You’re now at a crossroads. Choice A leads you down a road where you’re married to this woman, you have kids with her, you’re tied to her for life. MAYBE it will be great and you’ll end up an old man pleased with yourself for choosing a woman who looked out for you for so many years. Or, maybe she’ll turn out to be a beast-and-a-half, and you’ll end up living in a one room apartment because she took all your money in a brutal divorce, your kids end up being raised by Fabio the tennis instructor she dumped you for.

Before you chose Choice A, to marry this woman, you also had Choice B – to tell her no thanks and remain single in the hopes that someone else better for you comes along. And maybe someone better does come along. Or, maybe you never meet anyone else for the rest of your life and end up with a lifetime of regret, kicking yourself daily for allowing the woman from choice A to get away.

Then there’s the wild card possibilities that will hurt your brain if you even try to think of them. Maybe you marry the woman from Choice A and she’s wonderful, but to marry her means you move to a new city you’d of otherwise never been interested in living in, and while there, you are hit by a bus you’d of otherwise never encountered. Maybe you stay single in Choice B and your feeling sad for a few more years until one day, you go to a convenience store at 3 AM (the wife from choice A would have never allowed you to stay out so late), buy a lottery ticket on a whim and win a million dollars.

Forget women and dating altogether. You’re trying to pick the profession you want to enter. You think you might be better suited for Profession X, but Profession Y makes more money. You pick profession X and you never make it past the entry level arena. You kick yourself – “Had only I picked Profession Y, I’d of become a star of that profession.”

If only we could have some kind of magical clairvoyance that allows us to see into the future to help us make our choices. If only we could consult a real live fortune teller. “Don’t marry Woman A – she’ll be nice for a few years then will cheat on you with the milk man. By the way, milk delivery will make a come back. Fear not, for if you hold out only two more weeks, Rebecca Romijn Stamos will get lost, pull up next to you at the gas station to ask for directions, and fall madly in love with you.”

I feel like Robert Frost’s infamous poem is often used to teach people to take the hard road in life. Don’t take the easy way – take the one that involves a lot of hard work and determination. Your legs will get really tired but you’ll be really pleased with yourself once you get there. It’s kind of like taking a road trip on the highway – you can stop at the creepy HoJo with the Jo part broken so the neon sign just reads, “Ho” and all the beds haven’t had the linens changed in a year because the maids are lazy – OR you can keep driving for five more miles and there’s a perfectly lovely Marriot to stay at.

I think the uniform translation of this poem is that the speaker is happy with the choice he made – “and that has made all the difference.” Overall, that was probably the message Frost meant to convey – but keep in mind, at no point does the speaker come right out and say, “Holy Crap, am I happy with the choice I made and how! The road I took was great! I skipped along it the whole time like a happy idiot and it was just all kinds of wonderful the whole time!”

“And that has made all the difference” – was it a good difference? A bad difference? An indifferent difference? We don’t know.

Sadly, the bottom line is – WE WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN. You kind of have an inkling, but usually you never start yearning desperately to go back in time and choose choice Y until it turns out that choice X sucks big time. You never wish you stayed single until the milk man until you look around your breakfast table one day and say, “Well I’ll be damned if my children don’t bear a striking resemblance to the milk man!” You never start to wish you’d of chosen Profession Y until your boss from profession X starts making you stay late every night and not only never pays you more but cuts your salary to less. You don’t start second guessing yourself until your first choice craps out.

My advice – it is perfectly normal, even logical, to think about what might have been, but not helpful to torture yourself and be angry at yourself for not taking the alternate choice. A) You HAD to choose something and you made the best choice you did given the information you had at the time. B) You really don’t know for sure what would have happened had you made the other choice. Might have been great. Might have been even worse. C) At least you took a choice and didn’t end up as one of those people who just spends their entire lives staring at the fork trying to figure out what to do.

The point is – if you’re unhappy with the road you took, stop looking in the rear view mirror and start looking for an exit ramp. (That means find a new choice to make, for you people who are metaphorically challenged).

Thanks for reading, and by the way – you have the choice of following @bookshelfbattle on Twitter or not and I think doing so would be a really great choice.

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