I used to love “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. Somewhere along the way I had assumed that the protagonist, a conflicted traveler, had chosen the road less travelled – a journey defined by its higher degree of difficulty, but greater reward. I considered it a triumphant victory that we should all seek to accomplish or, at the very least, entertain.
Then, I became an English major. And, I read the poem again. And, again. And, again. And, I was hit with the profound truth that the poem has nothing to do with triumphant victories. In fact, it is a critique on human perception and, more importantly, a critique on our justification of actions based on those perceptions.
The traveller did not take a road less travelled. The paths are equal: “…the passing there had worn them really about the same” (ll. 9-10). The conflicted traveler, in future, is comforting himself for a choice that cannot be undone or re-done in past; he is patting himself on the back for choosing a road less travelled, a road that actually never existed. It is a cowardly way of removing responsibility from one’s actions, and ultimately, the poem (ironically) showcases our ability to deceive ourselves in an attempt to more comfortably digest our life stories.
The moral of the poem, at least my moral, is not to be swayed from the healthy evaluation of paths, but rather to go forward and honestly reflect on action and consequence. Choose the first path. Choose the second. Walk in the path. Walk out of it. Whatever the heck you do, just go forward. Always. And, be humble enough to recognize that the person you are today is correlated to that choice: whether you like it or not, whether it feels good or not, whether you’re proud to admit it or you force false words from your lips to create a version of yourself that you think others will find more appealing.
Just remember, the worst choice would be to sit down in the woods, to avoid both paths altogether (as if a helicopter were going to save you from your indecisive misery). The worst choice is no path at all.