I don’t want to live a life I have to justify in retrospect.

Life has a way of bringing us to forks in the road. We travel this path that evolves as we traverse it – organically responding to the choices we make.

Whether they be mere flutters of a butterfly’s wings, or proverbial earthquakes, these choices shape our present moment. From straightaways, to twists and turns, to curves – we adapt. We move forward and never back.

But sometimes, we are faced with those damned forks. We shift into neutral, attempting to slow down enough to make the kind of decision that reminds us that we have something that resembles free will. And for a minute, or a day, perhaps a week or how ever long we are afforded, we contemplate; we weigh, we seesaw back and forth, eyes and emotions darting between the two roads.

I recently found myself standing in that long tail of a Y in the road, time bringing me closer to the bottom of a V as I was faced with the options: A or B; unsure of which being the direction I would take. Trying to bluff myself into buying into the notion that one would be ‘better’. One would be the ‘right’ path.

A young man faced with a conundrum. Woe is me.

So, being a wannabe Literati, I consulted the most cliche poetic work for young men faced with such dilemmas.

The Road Not Taken 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.

Being an NPR listener, I know Frost’s most famous work to be widely misinterpreted – so misinterpreted that many people refer to the poem using the misnomer: ‘The Road Less Traveled’.

For a poem written in 1916, the 97 year old American treasure is one of the most oft misunderstood poems in modern culture. If I see another ‘Take The Road Less Traveled’ post on facebook, I’m going to actually become a KPBS Member.

The decline of society aside, the verse that strikes me in the chest is:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:

To me, this verse is more than just an allusion to regret – it’s the poets’ foresight of the painful wince of nostalgia for a life that could have been – but evaporated the moment he made the alternate choice.

But then Frost displays a very human trait. He immediately quells his regret by rationalizing his decision in hindsight.

The final stanza finishes:

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

The totality of Frost’s final words seem to encapsulate the literal impression imparted upon most readers – that ‘taking the road less traveled by has made all the difference’.

But, we know better – because we listen to NPR.

The less known, ‘proper’ interpretation that I just posited is backed up by scholarly analysis. But rather than regurgitate and reiterate unoriginal thoughts, I’ll rip it straight from the (thankfully) well written Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road_Not_Taken

According to Larry L. Finger’s analysis, nearly all critics have agreed that the sigh represents regret as this is mirrored in the regretful tone of the opening lines. He quotes scholar Eleanor Sickels as saying that the poem is about “the human tendency to wobble illogically in decision and later to assume that the decision was, after all, logical and enormously important, but forever to tell of it ‘with a sigh’ as depriving the speaker of who-knows-what interesting experience.”

Likewise, Lawrance Thompson is cited as saying that the speaker of the poem is “one who habitually wastes energy in regretting any choice made: belatedly but wistfully he sighs over the attractive alternative rejected.”

While a case could be made for the sigh being one of satisfaction, given the critical support of the ‘regret’ analysis it seems fair to say that this poem is about the human tendency to look back and attribute blame to minor events in one’s life, or to make more meaning of things than they may deserve.

So, knowing that as Frost, I am but one traveler – I am aware that I cannot take both paths; however, using the aforementioned analysis, the solution to my dilemma becomes very clear to me.

I must make the decision that will leave me least sighing in regret. To me that’s just called making the mature decision. I’ve made plenty of fuck it decisions in life. I’ve tasted those sighs and I’ve quelled regret to the rejection of my soul’s intuition.

I don’t want to live a life I have to justify in retrospect.

So, I will take the road I will regret less. I will not tell this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence; and that will make all the difference.

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