Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
In Frost’s poem he tells the story of a traveler who faces a decision regarding what path he will follow in the woods. The traveler chooses the less frequented path and declares that it made all the difference in his life having done so. What does this mean? Is the unknown path better than the well trodden thoroughfare?
I won’t assume that most of us are familiar with the poem The Calf Path by Sam Walter Foss. This is a poem I read in a sociology class, and beyond that one exposure I have never heard of it before or since. The poem is somewhat similar to The Road Not Taken. Foss tells the story of a simple path in the woods, blazed by a wandering calf, followed by a few dogs, then a herd of sheep, and finally men. With the passing of a few hundred years, the path originated by a calf, all crooked, winding, and indirect across the landscape, has become the main highway for a bright metropolis.
Initially I interpreted the message of The Calf Path to be that great fruit can come from a humble seed. However, at the end of the poem Foss interjects a moral, suggesting that simply following the leader isn’t always the most efficient or rewarding way to go.
They follow still his crooked way,
And lose one hundred years a day,
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.
Each poem speaks of the paths of life which we are all called to travel. Day in and day out we come to crossroads and forks. What paths do we take? How do we determine our course?
I appreciate the explorer’s spirit presented by Frost. Of the two paths we may encounter, one is paved and one is over grown with vegetation; one predictable and safe, the other mysterious and challenging. One path is familiar, others have traveled that way. There is a higher expectation of successful travel on this road, but less might be gained in personal experience. The other path is unknown, which means it will be more difficult, and perhaps dangerous, but think of all the experience gained!
Foss doesn’t necessarily argue on behalf of the road not taken; rather, he ponders what may be lost by following precedent. An unruly calf makes his own way home, and then by others who simply follow a path of least resistance a precedent is established. Still others follow the precedent and wonder about the origin of the road, why it was created as haphazardly as it was. They never change it; they just keep following the established pattern. I appreciate the warning of blindly conforming to the status quo.
These poems leave me asking two questions: what path will I take, and why will I take that path? In some cases I think it is good to follow the path of others, it prevents reinventing the wheel, allowing us to learn from the experience of others. In other cases I think blazing a new trail is worth the cost of hard work and possible sacrifice that may be involved.
Whatever paths we take, whether the well-established or the over-grown trail, the important thing is to know where we are going. We may get there by slightly different paths, but if we don’t end up where we want to go then all of the experience in the world, if gained by the path we chose, is for naught. So choose the path that looks the best to you and then stay on it, however difficult it may be. Do not stray from the course, just continue on until you reach your objective.