Sometimes I ride the “school bus”. Like all forms of public transport, one perk is overhearing conversations. Another is discovering poems. One week, the student sitting next to me had the front page of an assignment on her lap:
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;
The first stanza was tantalising, so I read on…
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.
– The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost (1916)
Prior to this, I had only come across the last two lines in internet memes or “inspirational quotes”. Which I don’t like much. It’s fine to “make your own way” but I think the pursuit of being unique demonstrates just as much self doubt as fear of deviating from the crowd. I’m delighted to find that the poem itself isn’t so clear about that being the take-home message after all. How is one road truly so unique if the second stanza has just described it as almost the same – only possibly more in want for wear, but not really! The story behind the poem is intriguing. Apparently Frost wrote it for Thomas as a gentle mockery of his friend’s indecisiveness when it came to which road to take on their many shared “walk and talks” in the woods.
Actually, I’m no fan of abstract or esoteric poems. Unfortunately these are the only kind I sometimes read, out of curiosity, because the journal I work for includes one or two with each issue. With few exceptions, these are hugely unpopular amongst the staff (perhaps we’re under-qualified to make sense of them without an arts degree). If they were assessed as regular manuscripts, they would neither meet the criteria of being Australian, nor that of appealing to a general medical readership.
But I do love poems like this which are so eloquent in their written expression. I wish I had more patience to read poetry and learn from these writers. Not dissimilar to how I wish I had more patience to learn classical piano pieces. Popularised quotes, like pop music, are definitely more accessible and time-friendly. But both feel almost crude and lack some of the richness of their classic counterparts. Maybe something to look into in the distant future when I retire, ha!