Scholars may disagree, but I believe that Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is about plumbing. I cannot think of any other interpretation of the lines near the end of the poem: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”
According to Wilson Hahn, it began as an ordinary drip, one drop of water falling every 27 seconds. Had he left it alone, it would still be falling at nearly the same rate, less than pint of water wasted each day, equivalent to another verse in the shower or a quarter-inch in the bird bath. But Frances couldn’t stand it, even after Wilson showed her how to move the faucet so the water would fall quietly on the side of the sink. She hadn’t been able to stand it three months earlier when it had dripped every 31 seconds, and she couldn’t stand it now. It had to be fixed.
“I’ll phone Curly if you won’t fix it,” she said, having never read Robert Frost. “He’ll have it repaired in ten minutes.”
Wilson couldn’t pay Curly to change a simple washer; he’d never be able to show himself at the Crawdad Club again. Robert Frost would have understood, however. Robert Frost knew his plumbing.
Trying to look indifferent, Wilson walked into the hardware store the next morning.
“I just need a washer to fix the bathroom sink,” he told Big Bull Burson as the other men smiled awkwardly and looked at the floor. Wilson heard laughter as he left the building.
Setting his toolbox on the bathroom floor, Wilson watched the drip, still steady at 27 seconds. According to his calculations, the interval would change by one second every 31 days. In six months, there would still be more than 20 seconds between drops. A lot could happen in six months. Frances could be dead. The sink laughed. Like Robert Frost and the men at the hardware store, the sink understood. Resigned to his fate, Wilson grabbed a wrench, beginning to unscrew the faucet. As he knew would happen, the pipe broke. Laying it on the floor, he assured the pipe it would soon have company.
When Frances called him for lunch several hours later, he had nearly reached the kitchen. Suppertime found him in the basement. Wilson finished at 9 o’clock that night, standing next to the furnace, three feet from the water main, a trail of corroded pipe behind him.
“I hope you’re satisfied,” he told his wife. “I’ll have to call Curly in the morning. That drip you couldn’t stand is going to cost hundreds of dollars.”
“There you go, Mr. Fix-it,” Frances said as Wilson closed the door behind him, leaving to shower at the Club. “Too proud to ask for help and now you’ve got half the house torn apart and I’ll have to dip into the vacation jar to pay for it.”
Yes, Robert Frost knew about plumbing. “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence…”