Sophie Deng '22

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.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both.

At my middle school in China, I came across a song adapted from the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, which I learned for an English project. On numerous afternoons after school, I sat in the hallway outside of my classroom as rays of sunshine from the windows dotted golden marks on my wrinkly notebook. English was foreign to me then: each word was made up of letters with round edges–completely different from squares of Chinese characters with distinct strokes. The melody of the song played over and over again in the white earbuds hanging down between strands of my hair. I tried to portray an image of the poem as my English teacher told me to, but the meaning only landed like a layer of dust on the surface of glass–just two little paths sneaking into a yellow wood. Why the yellow wood? I didn’t know nor care. I already struggled to memorize the pronunciation of jumbled words, not to mention decode the obscure meaning of the poem. 

At a certain point, I looked out from the windows of that hallway. It was fall at the time; yellow woods were everywhere. Golden leaves of poplar trees peeked in and whispered to each other in the rustling wind, mischievously casting sporadic shadows in the sun-lit hallway. Through rays of light, only the tiny particles floating in the air hinted at the flow of time. I closed my eyes to feel the warmth of the sun through my eyelids. The yellow wood was the golden color, the warmth, and the wrinkle sound of flipping through the notebook. 

The time of middle school passed like the fleeting light of that afternoon. In the next snippet of my memory, I was already on my way to the airport. The chill of a winter morning settling in the car stiffened the tips of my fingers. The low humming of the engine occupied the tiny space. Outside the car window, the sky was only dimly lit at this time in the wintry morning. I watched the woods on both sides of the highway swiftly retreating. Their bare branches formed a cloud of dark starkness hovering over the dusk. As my body was pulled away from the city that was yet to wake up, the woods began to take up a larger presence. They silently gazed at me as I said my farewell to the city I grew up in and flipped open a new page of life in a foreign country. 

And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

As I flowed down the crowd of customs security lines, I did not look back once. I was eager to take up a new journey. The path lying in front of me seemed fine; I couldn’t see far as it bent and twisted into the deep of the yellow wood, but I was full of hope that it led to a shiny future. Then, the very first term at Groton, I discovered the bleakness of fall hidden in the undergrowth of the yellow wood. On my lonely walks to the Dining Hall, I noticed the smell, a mix of rotting leaves, soil, and withered grass; I noticed the dry, dusty textures of tree barks and piled foliage. On the empty Circle at nights, I acquainted myself with the wind that seeped through gaps between my joints, soaking my whole body in unrelenting chill. 

One afternoon, I took a walk in the woods. As I walked down the path carpeted with fallen leaves, the woods became a huge tide of yellow, dark orange, and brown, rising above my head, about to crash down and devour me. Meanwhile, I was a tiny weightless leaf with no power to resist. I watched a leaf stumble and struggle as a whirl of wind tore it off from the thin branch, teasing its powerlessness with whistles. Eventually, the leaf crashed into the ground. I hastened my steps to pick it up. 

Dark brown speckles climbed over the leaf like the skin of a deceased elder. Thin veins spread through its surface, a delicate skeleton. The wind had cut the connection between the leaf and its tree. I looked up to countless branches interlaced over my head. I vainly wondered which tree the leaf had fallen from.
In my most insecure time at Groton, I craved to return to my tree, my woods, my home. One day in English class, I came across “The Road Not Taken.” Again. As the same lines were read out from my lips, I remembered the words written clumsily on the wrinkly notebook years ago. I remembered the melody, the afternoon, and the warmth. I longed for the gentle touch of the yellow wood as I dozed off on that afternoon in the hallway.

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I finally noticed things that I had overlooked years ago: the sorrowful melody of that song, the hesitance of the traveler in the poem, and the silent presence of the yellow wood. Four years ago, I stood where a path diverged. I then found myself considering the road not taken. I looked back, but I had lost my way back to that divergence. The deep yellow wood consumed me. More than one sleepless night I stared into the dark, wondering should I have stayed home? Comfortable, and settled, in a snug niche?

But choose I did, and while I appreciated the golden leaves gleaming against the clear blue sky, I also noticed the trampled piles under my feet, the ones that fell from the tree. Just like them, I have drifted to a new country. There was anxiety trying to fit in, homesickness late at night, tear stains on a blanket. At the same time, my world expanded from just one tree to the entire woods. I have met so many awesome people and have heard about their stories; I have learned the words in the poem, no longer an indecipherable code. I know not only the warmth of yellow wood but also its coldness, its wrath, and its nuances. I have only truly met the yellow wood through going down this path. 

Fall term of Sixth Form, I took a walk after my meeting in the college counseling office, words of my college counselor still reverberating in my head: “At the end, it is your decision.” It was my decision. Decision. I hate making decisions. Ordering an entree from a menu, picking an ice cream flavor, choosing where to go on a weekend. It takes me forever. Each decision I make means that I lose possibilities of all the other options not chosen. Choosing feels like a constant process of losing. Reluctantly, I felt shoved to choose a path as the deadline for college applications approached. Shifting my weight back and forth, I was afraid. As soon as I pointed my toes to one direction, my head turned the other way, straining my neck to see as far down as I could. I could feel the lost possibilities brewing, hear my self-interrogating “what if.”  It seemed no matter which I chose, I would be left wondering about the road not taken. As I was churning these thoughts, my legs carried me to the courtyard in the back of the campus, where a layer of leaves had already carpeted the ground. Then, there it was, the yellow wood silently welcoming me.

Again, my gaze traced a leaf slowly swinging down from a tree. Over the years, I had gradually drifted away from home; the yellow wood outside the window of that hallway had become blurry in my memory, just a cluster of golden warmth. I felt the same sense of hanging amid the air: cut off from the tree, yet not quite landed on the ground. 

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

A gust of wind cut off my thoughts and shook up the carpet of leaves. Suddenly I became aware of the thousand other leaves besides the one I had been watching. I watched them fluttering in the air towards their unknown futures. Some might be left on the ground to slowly dry off; some might be carried by the wind to somewhere very, very far, never returning; some might end up as delicate collections in books. Over cycles of years, my leaf would soon be nowhere to be found, but the yellow wood would always come back. The time to choose a path approached. The yellow wood silently watched me as it always had been. 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took a final look at the road not taken. Then, I made a small step forward, taking yet another turn on the path of the deep yellow wood.