- Aarik Danielsen
Well before poetry held my soul fast, Robert Frost ushered me beyond myself in two iconic pieces thick with timber. My untrained senses experienced “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Road Not Taken” like successive album tracks, one fading into the other.
Knowing only northern Arizona, not Frost’s New England, I translated each verse in the language of my own eye and encounter. The “lovely, dark and deep” woods of “... Snowy Evening” evoked a breathlessly cool black—not the absence of light, but somehow its sum.
Poetry is the highest form of human attention, and thus eventually became my prayer book.
This beautiful darkness didn’t merely surround but suffused, invisible and tender, breaking the skin to fill the soul’s lack with itself. A few stars bold enough to breach the canopy as God-flares lent definition enough to slender tree trunks rising like cathedral spires into the onyx.
Not knowing better, or failing to absorb context clues, I read “The Road Not Taken” like the morning after, the yellow wood breathing new air beneath a slate sky still hungover from “the darkest evening of the year.” Whatever waited along each path, provoking Frost’s initial apology and ultimate satisfaction, was hazier in my mind’s eye. But I knew two roads would unfold before me too.
Poetry is the highest form of human attention, and thus eventually became my prayer book. A means of noticing everything temporarily broken and beautiful, an attempt to reconcile its presence with an infinite divine.
Now the path seems to fork after every few footfalls. And I often hear Frost’s opening lines like the beginning of a parable. The kingdom of God is like two roads that diverged in a yellow wood.
What distinguishes the kingdom of God is the radical softness of grace. And despite what some men will tell you, it radiates slow and untamed toward its destiny—to fill each crevice and touch each corner of the earth.
I hesitate to assign eternal significance to each trail—though perhaps Frost transposes Matthew 7 into a more humanistic and charitable key. But the roads stretched out before us have something to say as we enact the kingdom of God today. Maybe they reveal what we believe about the lines just after “Your kingdom come / your will be done” in The Lord’s Prayer. Or, as I’m prone to know it, The Lord’s Poem.
The redemptive likeness we enjoy resembles a Frost verse; knowing the same dark and light, old-growth forest and snow-still reprieve. What distinguishes the kingdom of God is the radical softness of grace. And despite what some men will tell you, it radiates slow and untamed toward its destiny—to fill each crevice and touch each corner of the earth.
I want to take whatever road leads me into the wild.
Concerned with my kingdom place right here, right now, two diverging routes rise up and present themselves. As a writer who happens to believe in God, I cannot form enough words to exhaust the goodness of each created thing, tethering them to the transcendence they reflect. But I end each night with the same prayer: Lord, let me die trying.
Other writers come to the same forked path and make a very different commitment. They have hours to spare, words to spill in essays upholding culturally-conditioned choices as measures of true orthodoxy. Time enough to deny the lived realities of loved ones at the sentence level; hot, God-given breath consecrated as an offering to legalism, not charity.
Mary Oliver might gently ask how these writers plan to spend their “one wild and precious life.” Rather than drink in the question and the silences around it, their steps would wear down even the most well-traveled grooves on the way to a thinkpiece damning her rebellious spirit.
The more I map these two roads, the more their differences express themselves in an understanding of time. People traveling both roads faithfully ask Psalm 8 questions—humans seem like nothing to be mindful of, and our time runs short. One set of sojourners seeks to redeem the time by filling it with furious sound. They live like guitarists who only know how to play a thousand notes or none at all.
On the other road—the one I dare label “less traveled”—pilgrims live out a paradox. They deal with the shortage of time by slowing time down, suspending whatever moments they can. Their fingers trace mossy bark. Feet stop and square beneath their shoulders, unwilling to budge until they feel, really feel, crisp air travel the length of their lungs.
On the road less traveled, no fears accompany the shrinking light; we know the “lovely, dark and deep” arrives with its own beauty.
On one road, people talk to hear themselves, believing their talk somehow saves them. On the other, constant whispers of wonder are broken only by the odd acclamation—an instinct that fails to care if the forest recognizes the timbre, if it even makes a sound. God hears, absorbing each vibrating air molecule as praise.
Utility and a sense of one’s own rightness line the well-traveled path. All that time affords, really. Too many miles down this road change the soul. Wayfarers would rather criticize than kiss, or fixate on the crackling sound of a vinyl record, not the blues song it plays—and how the crackle actually burnishes its beauty.
On the road less traveled, no fears accompany the shrinking light; we know the “lovely, dark and deep” arrives with its own beauty. Whatever words we use, we’re all just singing along with Damien Rice as he croons “Time / There’s always time / On my mind / So pass me by / I’ll be fine / Just give me time.”
Time to love our neighbors as ourselves, to write our way through the mystery, to sit down in the middle of the road and surrender our hearts to wonder.
I pray for grace enough to place my feet within Frost’s snowy tracks. To find the path of most resistance to every natural fear, every ticking clock within; and the path of least resistance to whatever makes this world, our God and one another worth the precious time we have.