The Road Not Taken
ISP Graduation Zofin Palace
This weekend, the International School of Prague once again held its graduation ceremony at the majestic Palac Žofín, an ornate neorenaissance palace situated on an island on the Vltava river.
Below is an excerpt of my speech to ISP graduates and their families, friends and faculty focused on the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.
In a few minutes you will hear faculty and students sing the words of the renowned poet, Robert Frost in a setting of the poem, The Road not Taken. This has long been a tradition at ISP.
It has been a joy for me to rehearse this piece together with faculty and students in preparation for today’s ceremony. After having sung this setting numerous times, I have asked myself, do we fully understand the meaning of Frost’s words? After all, he himself said: “You have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem – very tricky.”
Listen to his words and see what you think:
THE ROAD NOT TAKE – 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.
Why did Frost caution us about the meaning of this poem? At first glance it is a poem about approaching a crossroads in life and the virtue of choosing the road “less travelled by.”
But Frost’s message is more complex than guiding us to choose the right path in life. After all, the poem makes clear that each road was “just as fair” and that they were worn “really about the same.” It seems that Frost is really talking about approaching a symbolic divide in the road, where the choice of which road to take is not apparent.
Isn’t this is a more realistic reflection of the choices we actually have to make in life? Life is complicated and rarely presents simple choices. There is often no outward sign telling us which direction to take. But nevertheless, choose we must!
So what does guide us in our choices? I believe that it is our inner compass, our wisdom and values that we can rely upon. Hopefully you, our graduates, have developed some of the attributes we as a school consider to be fundamental. Values such as Compassion, Integrity and Respect, or having the capability to think with a critical and creative mind, these will guide you no matter which road you choose to take.
The true significance of this poem is that our choices in life are more about how we navigate our chosen path, not actually which path we choose to take. Because whichever road you choose, there will be other twists and turns along the way, which will require you to make new choices.
The real question is, how will you carry yourself as you travel through life, what inner beliefs and values will you have to rely on?
The Road Not Taken concludes by advising us that it is only in the future, upon looking back…. “Somewhere ages and ages hence:” that we might say:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.