The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
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.
‘The Road not Taken’ has always been a very popular poem and despite 21st Century developments such as Google Maps and iPhones and Sat Navs it still bears a relevance for the modern reader. Then again not all journeys are easily mapped and some take place off-road! This lyric poem, a first-person narrative tale, describes a key moment in the poet’s life. In the poem, the speaker, whom we can assume is Robert Frost himself, is faced with a choice that appears quite suddenly as he walks along a forest track. Imagine walking through beautiful woodland in upstate New York or Vermont as the Fall takes hold and imagine at this moment, the route on which you travel diverges into two separate paths. This mirrors the poet’s dilemma in the poem and he faces a difficult decision that has to be made for the moment, yet may have repercussions that last a lifetime. This is what makes the decision so difficult.
If you consider, briefly, some decisions you make in your own life, you know that you might make hundreds of choices in any one day, most without even noticing! Deciding where to go for lunch is usually not too difficult; however, a much more difficult decision is the career to follow after your Leaving Cert or A Levels. Your choice may affect your life for many years and so you tend to take time and effort in arriving at that decision.
So, Frost comes to a fork in the road. If taken on a literal level, the choice is simply the path along which to continue. However, if these paths are seen in a symbolic or allegoric way, then the choice is more challenging. Great poetry and literature have always given us many examples where life is seen in terms of a journey on which we will meet many twists and turns. So, therefore, the moment described so beautifully in the poem could be such a moment in anyone’s life.
The poet considers his options carefully. He looks down both paths, ‘as far as I could’ in an attempt to see what they might offer. But his view is limited by the bend as the track veers into the undergrowth. It is, in other words, impossible to foresee what future may lie ahead – and Frost did not seem to have the luxury of a Change-of-Mind slip! At first, each alternative is equally appealing or ‘just as fair’. Similarly, both roads diverge into ‘a yellow wood’ – Vermont in all its Autumnal glory! The first path, however, is a more popular route, while the other less-traveled path is overgrown and ‘wanted wear’. The choice is clear but not at all simple: the common, easy path or the unusual, more challenging path? The first road might prove more reliable, even reassuring, for others have gone that way. The more difficult road, however, may produce a less predictable outcome yet perhaps a more fulfilling and individual one.
The poet is aware that the minor difference between the paths at this time will become major differences as the paths diverge further into the woods and into the future. Each path is attractive and alluring in its own way, but he cannot travel both. You can’t have your cake and eat it! This he regrets. Nonetheless, he decides.
Even as he travels his chosen path he still wonders about the path he has rejected and hopes to keep ‘the first for another day’. Yet, he knows in his heart that ‘way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back’. The poem, in this way, suggests that we can only hope to explore a very limited number of life’s possibilities. Finally, the poet ‘sighs’, happy with his choice, yet wondering what if…..? What experiences might have occurred along the other path? Certainly, his choice has ‘made all the difference’. That is gratifying; the decision has had a positive effect on his life and he is thankful for that and overall seems pleased with the road he has chosen.
This poem reminds us that important decisions in life are not exact predictions. We base our choice on reflection of what might be encountered along the way. Like Frost, we all hope that our major decisions will make ‘all the difference’ in our lives. We need to believe they will.
Frost believed that each poem was a ‘little voyage of discovery’; a path to something else, rather than an end in itself. Perhaps, the road not taken is just such a voyage?