The Road Not Taken

Lately I’ve been thinking about Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken.  My thoughts about living life one way has a sort of natural connection to the poem.  I’ve spent some time reading other people’s thoughts on what the poem says and what it means, and have come to a conclusion that a lot of what’s been written about it may be a bit off target.  Of course everyone is entitled to their own reading, and my reading may be as off as anyone’s, but I thought I’d share it and see if anyone has other thoughts.  (Ah, the tough thing of course about starting a blog is that nobody reads it in the beginning.  Hopefully someday someone stumbles on this and comments.)  Here’s the poem:

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.

A lot of the discussion I’ve found deals with  how a casual reading can leave a wrong impression, namely that there was actually a less traveled road that the speaker took.  A more careful reading would reveal that the roads were about equally traveled, and the speaker, being aware of this fact, sighs and tells a fib – that he took the one less traveled by.  Proponents of this point of view point to the second and third stanzas as evidence of the similarity of the roads, and dismiss the bit about the one road that was grassy and wanted wear.

I cannot agree.  The analysis they offer doesn’t go deep enough.  Must the sigh indicate awareness by the future speaker that he’s about to tell a fib?  Or could the sigh actually be a realization of some deeper understanding of what it meant to be standing there in the woods where two roads diverged?

I suppose how you interpret the sigh depends on whether or not you believe there was a less traveled road.  Here’s my take.  Before the speaker decides which road to take, the roads looked about equally traveled but there was a difference in them.  One did in fact look a little less traveled:

And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

The other road apparently was not grassy.  Knowing these two things, how do we know which road the speaker took?

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

He took the grassy one that wanted wear, but in doing so made the road about the same as the other.  Aha!  After taking the grassy road they became equally traveled.  Except…

The grassy road has had it’s leaves stepped on and trodden black – the other road was still covered In leaves no step had trodden black.  What we have here then is a realization by the speaker not that he will fib about his story in the future, but that he in fact took the less traveled road but in doing so made it the more traveled road.

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Taking the one less traveled changed the nature of the speaker’s choice.  That’s the cause of his sigh.

I doubted if I should ever come back

The speaker will not get the chance to take the road which is now the one less traveled, The Road Not Taken.  At the very least, the road not taken is the one less traveled by the speaker himself.  It is the road that could never be taken.  Life is filled with situations where you can’t choose to do multiple things, or at least to do multiple things at the same time.

It is true that in life you can sometimes try one thing and later go back to try another.  That is certainly the case when you live life without constantly moving from place to place.  You can, for example, choose one restaurant today and another next week – providing you’re still in that place next week.

But that is not this speaker.  He is a traveler, and his sigh may be a realization that living the life of a traveler means giving up the ability to go back and experience a place in different ways.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood

He is a lone traveler, living life one way.

Category(s): Exploration

One Response to The Road Not Taken

  1. From the get go, we know that our speaker is out in the woods, which makes him a bit of an explorer. We’ll find out as the poem goes on that he’s out here without a map, and doesn’t have a plan of which roads to take. He’s just out on the road, seeing where his feet take him. The lack of a map makes this walk in the road a little more like real life we have no laid out plan, but just make turns as they come to us.

2 Responses in other blogs/articles

  1. […] places I’ve never been and certainly there are experiences I haven’t had yet waiting.  Roads I’ve not taken….  But money?  That’s a problem.  I could eek out a living doing odd jobs here and […]

  2. […] one of these countries and my future home – if they will have me.  But I worry about the Road not Taken affect that western expats exert on their cultures.  Granted that one person alone is unlikely to be the […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *