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.
This poem is well-known, and much anthologised, but I make no apology for including it here because—well, because it’s just so damn good. The central image is so simple but so powerful: such a wonderful evocation of the difficulty of choosing, and of accepting the corollaries of choice. And though having to choose is a different kind of agony from not having a choice, what those two situations have in common is, of course, the fact that ‘way leads on to way’—and that every road taken means a road, or roads, not taken. Any life may be plotted, therefore, as a tree-diagram with multiple bifurcations, so that we all live lives shadowed with might-have-beens. Sounds like the plot of a sci-fi about parallel universes, but it’s actually just how it is…