How many times have you ever read or heard Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken? I’ll wager it has been at least once. It is one of those favorites at graduations and often cited as inspiration for those embarking on their life journey, encouraging them to strike out and make their own path. Always the focus is on the last stanza where we are left with this final thought.
Upon closer examination of the poem as a whole the inspirational interpretation becomes a bit comical. First off, it’s a poem. Poems tend to be loaded with layers of meanings and are generally written in such a way as to leave room for the invention of more meaning than the author ever intended. Perhaps this is a Freudian slip of sorts, or perhaps, what is more likely, it is our own self indulgence seeking validation for what we want to believe. Frost himself refered to this poem as being “tricky.”
We all want to understand the world, and our place in it. This sometimes has the effect of skewing our perspective, especially in memory. Ironically that is one of the interpretations of the poem in question.
In the much abused poem, the speaker is walking along and comes to a point where the path splits. He is faced with a choice, right or left, because there is only one of him to walk the path. At the time, either path looks about the same so the speaker picks a direction with the idea that he will take the other next time. However, even as he makes this choice he realizes that he may not ever come this way again to have that opportunity.
This brings us to the famous last stanza where the speaker alludes to how he will think of this in the future where, when he speaks of this walk, he will say he took the less traveled path, and think how it made all the difference. This is the point were we are left thinking about how taking the less traveled path in our own lives is the best way to go. The truth, however, is that many of the decisions we are faced with in life have an equal chance of defining our character as we gain experience. It isn’t so much about which choices we make, as it is about owning our decisions.
Reading the poem The Road Not Taken at this point in my life, I see it in that “tricky,” ironic way in which Frost wrote it, and not as it was taught to me by so many teachers in school. In fact, I know of only one teacher who tried to enlighten a room full of students to the irony of the fact that the speaker says he took the path less traveled after having admitted that they at first seemed quite the same. Here, take a moment to read the poem for yourself.
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.
What do you think? Do you see this poem any differently than you did before?