“I don’t want a poem that I can tell was written toward a good ending…You’ve got to be the happy discoverer of your ends” – Robert Frost
Robert Frost wrote many poems in his lifetime, but perhaps the one he is most known for is The Road Not Taken. I love this poem for so many reasons, but it has always stuck with me because I feel it perfectly embodies the ideals of exploration and uncertainty in life.
He talks of arriving at a point where his current path splits in two. He can see the beginnings of each path, but not where they lead. He knows that both of these paths are valid, but he can tell one has been traveled less. He took the path less traveled by, and to him, he knows that will make all the difference.
Think about this poem in the context of the quote at the beginning of this post. He didn’t even know at the beginning of “The Road Not Taken” which path he would take. The last stanza of the poem speaks to a bold prediction that taking the path less traveled by would make all the difference in his life. He doesn’t know what exists on that path, nor does he know if it will ultimately be a good or a bad decision to take that path. He does know, however, that taking that path will make all the difference, an assurance that ultimately it doesn’t matter what the path holds, as he understands that the purpose of taking the less trodden path to begin with is the inherent uncertainty contained within it.
To be a happy discoverer of his ends, Robert Frost placed himself at the divergence of a path into two, and wrote his way through the process of deciding which path to take. How often in our lives do we make a life-changing decision that will be difficult, if not impossible, to revert once we make it? How often do we make these decisions knowing with full certainty what the future holds for us? I’d proffer to say even in times where we feel certain, it is ultimately foolish to feel this way, as the future lies ahead of us, not behind us.
Taking Frost’s quote and applying it to my life, I’m apt to agree that I don’t really want to know where my writing will go when I begin. The sudden changes in direction and momentary influences I experience provide far more profound inspiration than some laid-out plan. Like many writers, I am not always fully satisfied when my writing is complete. Sometimes I write just to get my thoughts down so I can explore how I really feel about something. Other times, I set out to write a complete poem or article, but fall short because I thought too much ahead of time about what I wanted to write about, and the thought lost its appeal and mystique to me. Being the happy discoverer of my ends allows me to not only explore my thoughts as they flow from my fingertips, but discover new meaning and purpose at the same rate as one who is reading what I write for the first time.
Ultimately, I believe Frost’s quote can be applied to our every day lives. Do you really want to know exactly where you will end up? If you live each day according to a predetermined sequence of events and actions, either something will go wrong and you’ll be forced to improvise, or you will never experience the incomparable joy of originality that comes with uncertainty. Sure, uncertainty can breed stress, anxiety, and unsettled feelings. Simultaneously, though, uncertainy can also breed originality, innovation, and freedom. In a rut? Tired of feeling like your life is like a train on a track going down a single path to a single end that you already know when you boarded? Be the happy discoverer of your ends. Take the path less traveled by, it will make all the difference.
“Do you want to understand how to swim, or do you want to jump in and start swimming? Only people who are afraid of the water want to understand it. Other people jump in and get wet.” – Michael Crichton, Sphere