Oh Shit!


And now for something a bit blasphemous
(A poem about a classic poem that uses that poem in the poem):

The Road Less Traveled

Wonderful, inspirational phrase
made famous by New Age musicians and self help gurus

The Road Less Traveled

The creative path, the artist’s way, the explorer's, the adventurer's
The different drummer

The Road Less Traveled

Which is fine
Ostensibly this is a paraphrase from the last stanza
of the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken”
which goes:

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

The obvious implication being (to fulfill the inspirational phrase)
that the difference that has been made
is a positive one

No evidence to support this contention exists

Consider the poet
One of Robert Frost’s greatest works
is about a boy dying because he cut off his hand with a circular saw
His most famous work, “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”
is  regularly taught as a metaphor for the contemplation of death
“Fire and Ice” is a sardonic look at the end of the world
In a poem about nocturnal perambulation he includes the lines:
"I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street
But not to call me back or say goodbye"

He is a dark poet, intimating violence
A trickster whose tricks are in plain sight

The poem is not called “The Road Less Traveled”
It is “The Road Not Taken”
And it goes like this:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

Diverge can mean turning away from the true
Yellow is the colour of sickness and cowardice
A wood is yellow in the fall, a season of death and decay

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler,

The ninth word of the poem is the word “sorry”
clearly indicating, I would suggest
a poem of regret
A poem who’s first conceptual image is of being split in two

long I stood

Which may be a reference to Poe’s “The Raven”, with its line:
“Long I stood there, wondering fearing, doubting”

And looked down one as far as I could

The pathway of the title, the road not taken, is first called “one”
a symbol of dominance, unity, preference
And “as far as I could”? Is that yearning?

To where it bent in the undergrowth

Sinister words there, “bent”, “undergrowth”
Is it fear of the unknown?

And took the other as just as fair

The road “less traveled”, the pathway eventually taken
he first calls “the other”, which in some philosophical works
is used to reference the concept of insanity

And is he rationalizing, trying to be just and fair?

And having perhaps the better claim


Because it was grassy and wanted wear

Grassy sounds nice! And “wanted”?  Is it beckoning?

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

Hold everything! How can it be the creative, the explorer’s
The different drummer’s path
When the “less traveled” part is not a significant feature
But merely a superficial identifier?
It sounds more like he’s taking the easy way!

And now he ends his description of these two roads in the wood:

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black

It is an image of bucolic scenery
reduced by the passage of a human foot to oily decay

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Ha! He calls it “the first”
and he didn’t “leave” it for another day, he “kept” it.
He covets it.
And what about that singular exclamation mark
and the declamatory "Oh"?
The statement is framed with unspecified emotion and energy
further framed by the words "black." and "Yet..."

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

Wai-ait a minute!  The author most certainly knows what happened
when way led on to way
And by doubling the way
is he not telling us the decision was, in fact, a weighty one?
And by doubling the way
is he not reminding us of being split in two?

What happened when way led on to way?
Did he lose his way? Was he way-laid?
Did the world fall a-way?

I doubted if I should ever come back

If he remembers nothing else from this moment
he remembers the doubt

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

He doesn’t know where he will end up, or how long he might live
But even if he lives for ages and ages –
or, in reincarnational terms, through many lifetimes –
he will never forget the unspoken outcome
of this apparently arbitrary decision in the woods

And if, after the word choices that precede it
you can believe that to be a sigh of pleasure
then we may be speaking a different language

Two roads diverged in a wood and I –
I took the one less traveled by

The poet signs his name in the last stanza and he splits himself in two
In most printings the first pronoun is at the end of the line
followed by a long dash
... I –
followed by a precipitous leap down and across

And that has made all the difference

Can you see the difference?

I am strongly opposed to the dissection of poetry
which I consider to be a very personal experience
not readily amenable to academic analysis
and I make only this one exception

I believe this to be a poem about a capricious, even fear-based choice
made against the urgings of intuition
that leads to a lifetime of regret
And therefore the proper translation of the phrase

The Road Less Traveled

if meant to reference this poem, would be:

Oh. Shit!