The Road Not Taken (transcript)

Senator Thad Cochran: No one should compare this to the unity that L.Q.C. Lamar, a United States Senator from Mississippi, brought to the nation following the Civil War, when he gave a eulogy in the Congress to Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, but it was a symbol of the times and was given credit for helping to heal some of the wounds of the Civil War. But I didn’t intentionally choose to read a Yankee poem. [audience laughter] It just so happens that it’s one of my favorites, and when Robert Pinsky came to ask me if I would participate in this project and read one of my favorite poems, I started trying to think, what were my favorite poems, and this truly is my favorite.

Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

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.

One of the things that I think this poem illustrates is the unique opportunity Americans have had to make choices for themselves and for their own personal future. Of course, one of the things it also tells us is those choices, once made, have consequences, and that we should think about them carefully. But a beautiful poem, I think. Thank you for inviting me.