The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken is a poem by Robert Frost which he published in 1916.

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.

Countless people read this poem espousing the idea that there are two roads in life: one is for the average people (9-5 class) and the other for the champions. Unfortunately, the latter is the road less traveled by and one should strive to be among the ones who do adopt that path.

However, according to Wikipedia, Frost’s biographer, Lawrance Thompson, said that as Frost was once about to read the poem, he commented to his audience, “You have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem—very tricky,” perhaps intending to suggest the poem’s ironic possibilities. I also think that the underlying message of this poem is not simply advocating the idea of taking unconventional paths in life but the fact that whichever road you take, you are going to gain some great things from that path but lose the good things that come from traveling the alternative route.

I came to this realization when I noticed the difference between the title of the poem and the second last verse. The title is Road Not Taken while the last verse is about the road less traveled by. They are not the same! The road not taken is the one he left behind while the road less traveled by was the one he took. I think that the poet wanted to indicate a mix of triumph and regret with respect to both options. This also resonates with our feelings about choices. How many major decisions in our lives are silently clouded by ‘what ifs’, whether it be the career, spouse and the place to live? This observation certainly makes the poem more interesting.

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