We publish fiction here at The Hickory Stump, but here we take a detour into a close dramatization of real history, and a new perspective.
The sun peeked through the almond trees the day Robert Frost and his dear friend Edward Thomas sat at the orchard stile near Little Iddens in Gloucestershire. The two men fell deep into conversation about family, politics, love—all the things poets take a fancy to.
Just as they stood to take leave of their leafy sanctuary, a schoolboy ran into their path and accosted them, puffing and red in the face with breathlessness and excitement. He had the latest news with him, and was selling them to people passing by.
“Good day, Guvnors! May I present you the latest news of the world? It will not disappoint!”
The poets bought one each, and gasped when they read the leading article.
“Britain declares war on Germany. No one is safe,” read Robert aloud.
“Oh my,” commented Edward in a worried tone.
“Well, it was due to happen sooner or later. The growing Nazi Party took control Germany long ago. I don’t understand why people are shocked.”
Edward looked at him, forehead creased with concern. “You are right, of course. But it still fills me with unease to think about what this war might cost people. Especially those poor German folk.”
Robert frowned at that statement. He always knew his friend didn’t differentiate between people, British or German, but he was surprised that he didn’t think of the British people first. He decided not to comment on that, for he knew that it would only lead to a heated argument about nationalism, liberalism and religion.
“Well,” he said, “people look forward to this war, as you might have heard. Every country wants to prove itself.
They read the article silently. After some time, Edward turned to his friend, but didn’t say anything.
“What is it?” asked Robert. “I can see that you have something on your mind.
Edward seemed to ponder that for a few minutes, before he asked his question.
“Don’t you think we should join the fight?
Robert raised his brows in question. This was the last thing he thought would hear from his friend’s mouth.
“I mean,” continued Edward “if we join the fight, we could be patriots. We could fight for a greater cause. For the freedom of people.
“Edward, we’re not soldiers, Robert said. He pulled up one corner of his mouth. “We’re poets. We fight with words and quills.”
“This is no joking matter. It was a serious question.”
Robert couldn’t believe his friend. Was he really being serious?
“Edward, you know I adore you as a friend. You’re almost family. But you’re not soldier material. You can hardly deal with deadlines, let alone dead people. And believe me, you are guaranteed to see some if you go to the front.”
This seemed to push Edward into thought again.
“Besides,” continued Robert “we both know that you’re terrible at making decisions. There, you won’t have weeks to ponder on what to do on certain occasions. There, you have to act.”
“You’re probably right,” he sighed.
They started walking in comfortable silence through the park. After a time, Edward asked another question from his friend.
“Do you think we will hear the bombing from here? I mean Germany isn’t too far.”
“I hope we won’t,” answered Robert. “I want to be as far away as possible from that mess. And you should do that too.”
“Maybe,” was all Edward said.
“That’s why it doesn’t matter which one you choose. We’ll see where this road takes us when we get there.”
Two years later they were walking in the park again. They weren’t discussing anything significant, only nonchalant small talk. As they went, they ended up at a crossroad they had never seen before.
“Who knew this was here?” asked Robert with a smile.
Edward examined the roads carefully, stroking his beard and furrowing his brows.
“Shall we go?” asked Robert.
“But which way?” Asked Edward worriedly “How do you know which one to choose? They both look the same.”
“Exactly. That’s why it doesn’t matter which one you choose. We’ll see where this road takes us when we get there.”
“But that’s not how it works in life,” added Edward as they started walking again. “When you come to a crossroad in life, you can’t turn back to take the other one. That’s why I make careful decisions in my life.”
“In my opinion, it doesn’t matter which paths you choose in your life, for they all lead to the same destination,” said Robert.
“But what about the journey? The adventure? What if the path you chose will be a hard and miserable one?”
“Edward, you just can’t know what waits you on each road. That’s why there’s no reason pondering on the future. It will only make you feel lost.”
Edward didn’t seem satisfied with that answer, but decided not to pursue it.
“Let’s agree to disagree on that one, my friend.”
That night Robert couldn’t push out these thoughts from his head. His conversation with his friend kept resurfacing in his mind. Dreams didn’t come to him. He looked at the cracks on the ceiling, deep in thought. Then suddenly, a sentence popped into his mind. He quickly got out of bed, got some ink and quill and wrote it down.
“The Road Not Taken.”
He started to write down his thoughts and feelings on the paper, like he always did, until night turned into dawn, and dawn turned to morning.
When he was satisfied with his work, he folded it, put it in his pocket and got dressed. He left his house to visit his friend.
As he got to his destination home, he was greeted by Edward’s wife.
“Good day Robert! How nice to see you!”
“You are as beautiful as always, Helen.”
She smiled shyly.
“If you’re looking for my husband, I’m very sorry to be the bringer of bad news, but you just missed him. He went to see his editor.”
“Oh, what a shame. Do you happen to know when he will be home, by any chance?”
“I’m afraid not. You never know with these editors.”
“I see. Well then would you be so kind as to tell him that I swung by?”
“Of course. He will be very happy.”
“Thank you Helen. Kind wishes.”
“You too, sir.”
Robert was just about to leave, when he turned back after a few steps.
“On second thought, could you please hand this over to him?” he said as he retrieved the piece of paper from his pocket.
“Of course. I will put it on his desk.
“You are truly an angel, Helen.”
He said his goodbyes, and went back to his house.
One year later, he stood at the grave of his best friend, who died a hero, when he retrieved information in France that was invaluable to the Allies. Silent tears fell from his eyes, and he thought about what would have happened, if a year ago, he hadn’t written that poem. If he had chosen a different road.
A road not taken.