The Road Not Taken, 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.

My thoughts

This is one of my favourite poems. My friend Emilie showed it to me a few years ago.

I used to think that it was about taking “the road less traveled by”. That the theme of the poem was simply about “seizing the day”. But, I’ve read it again and I have since realised that neither of the roads is less traveled by (“the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” and “both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.”). There is also an ironic tone in the poem which I had not perceived at first glance (“I shall be telling this with a sigh”). The speaker anticipates that his future self will be insincere when telling the story about his decision. Probably because of a natural tendency to rearrange the facts as we want to believe that the choices we’ve made were the best we could make. In reality, both roads were equally good. There is no Right Path, just the chosen path and the other path.
I also found that the theme of inevitable regret was present in the poem as the speaker knows that he will second-guess himself at some point in his life (highlighted by the “sigh” and the title: “the road not taken”).

The poem is therefore not simply about “seizing the day”/Carpe Diem but more about the human tendency to look back and attribute inaccurate meaning or blame to events in one’s life. Robert Frost actually said that the speaker was based on a friend of his, “a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other”.


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