The Road Not Taken – A Cautionary Tale

‘The Road Not Taken’ – a poem 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 took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Some years ago I met someone who had studied this poem at university. He thought that Frost was mocking himself. I hadn’t looked at the poem much and didn’t do so then. I said something or other in reply – and I defended ‘the road less travelled’ probably because it is the more romantic and adventurous road.

Being aware of my defensiveness on that occasion made me look at the poem again, recently.

The Road Not Taken

So, he stood a while thinking about which road to take. And for a reason that was part of his makeup he decided to take the lesser road, precisely because it was the lesser road.

And having taken it, now he sees that a long time in the future when he is old, he will say that taking that path made all the difference and he will say it with a sigh.

Why a sigh? After all, he is seeing all this having taken the road.

Will he sigh because it doesn’t matter which path he takes, ever?

Will he sigh because once again he spent too much time thinking about paths?

Will he sigh because he feels the weight of his own makeup leading him down wrong paths?

He believes he can’t turn back – he explained already how ‘way leads on to way’ – that there are consequences and that when a fateful move it made, there is no going back.

Is that even right that one cannot turn back

I don’t have to be so literal. Frost is a poet. It doesn’t have to be an actual wood. The wood can be a metaphor for life. And the paths can be paths between any choices. A choice to get fit or not to get fit. To take a job in a bank or become an artist. To get off here or continue to the usual bus stop. The list is endless.