The Journey of “The Road not Taken”
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost is, by his own words described as a very tricky piece of poetry to interpret. It is referred to as the most misread and misunderstood poem of our time. What was Frost trying to convey as he wrote the piece? I’m reminded of the theory that often the most obvious answer is the most overlooked, and apply it here. The poem addresses one main subject throughout: the choice between the two paths. As we travel the path of our individual roads we often must make one choice over another. The way that our destination is reached is a direct result of the choices we make.
Always wanting to know if I share the views of the masses I researched the piece of poetry to learn some of the personal facts behind Robert Frost and his intentions when writing the poem. I discovered the purpose of writing “The Road Not Taken” was more or less for humor and out of friendship. It was meant to be a jest toward his friend and fellow poet Thomas Edwards, for both the poem written by Edwards entitled “The Road” and because his friend had an indecisive nature. The two men had often taken walks together in the woods near Frost’s home. As a walk in the woods often will, the two men would come upon a fork and had to choose which way to proceed. It was at the end of these walks Edwards would often express regret for whichever choice they made. Edwards’ seemed to constantly question himself with the question of regret asking ‘what if’ in regard to the path he had not traveled. Frost was quoted saying “He was a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other.”
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In a third article published in the New York Times Review, “All the Difference” Frost is quoted saying, “Whichever way they go, they’re sure to miss something good on the other path”. It was through these sources that I found the information explaining the title of the poem, “The Road Not Taken”. It was in the mention of “The Road Not Taken” in a poem about choosing one path over another that Frost pokes at his friend Edwards indecisive nature. The average reader not having this information could find themselves among the many who have misread the poem’s intent. Yes, I admit that I am in agreement with Mr. Frost when he warned that “you have to be careful of that one; it’s a tricky poem – very tricky”.
The “The Road Not Taken” was written using a first person narrator identified as “the traveler,” (3) to recall a fork in the path as he walked along a road in the woods. By using the past tense point of view Frost allows the traveler a certain amount of leeway in which he can use hindsight to help him as he recalls the walk.
As a compliment to the title of the poem Frosts’ beginning, the first words, in the first line, of the first stanza, “Two roads diverged (1)”, present us with the idea the rest of the poem is written around. Because a poem will say exactly what the poet meant for the poem to say I looked up the definition of ‘diverged’ using Google. In the Miriam-Webster Dictionary it is defined (and I am slightly paraphrasing) as Diverged: (of a road, route or line) to separate from another route esp. a main one and go in different directions or to develop in different directions. The use in the description of the fork in the road as a metaphor that describes how our choice of path, the right or the left, on the road ahead will help determine our destination. The single word choice of ‘diverged; alludes to the impact of each decision, no matter how insignificant they may appear.
Just as we cannot change the past and the choices that we have moved beyond, it is the unknown impact they have of how we diverge into who we will be in relation to where we began that is behind, “The Road Not Taken”. In this poem Robert Frost presented us with a wonderful look at the choices we make and he presented them as a metaphor for the path of a life’s journey. I think Frost is reminding us that choices made, even those seemingly unimportant ones, leads us to a different future, each choice taking us down either the left or the right fork in the road ahead. Aware of the importance of his choice or not our narrator wisely did not choose in haste. He was aware that he “could not travel both /And be one traveler, (3),” Frost tells us that the traveler tried to make an informed decision in the third verse with, “long I stood (3)”.
The lush appearance was claimed as the reason for the choice “the better claim (7)”, “because it was grassy and wanted wear (8)”. Frost again mocks human nature using an allusion to “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”.
The third stanza offers a more honest look back at the decision and the rhythm stalls for just a moment as the traveler takes an honest look at the choice and admits that actually the two path ways had been travelled upon by others walking thru the woods and that they appeared about the same as they “both that morning equally lay(11)” before him. He chose the first one of many made before the destination was reached on the road “no step had trodden black (12)”. The man tried to comfort himself for what he what he may not experience on the path not chosen by saying “Oh, I kept the first for another day (13)”, but as with any empty promise he admits that in fact he knew that “way leads onto way (14)” and the choice made here would be followed by footsteps that he would not be able to reverse. In truth he “doubted if he would ever come back (15)”.
Upon the realization that a choice has been made our traveler takes a moment to reflect on the future retelling of his journey along this path. He “will be telling this with a sigh (16) Somewhere ages and ages hence: (17)” The reason for the sigh again proves tricky to decide upon; it could be a sigh of regret wishing the choice had been different; or simply a sigh of accomplishment of the journey he had along that pathway; it could be a sigh of private remembrance before he retells the tale. I see can the sigh as all three, each at a different point in the life of the traveler. Currently the second guessing of the decision, then after the pathway reaches its end, accomplishment. In “ages and ages (17)” he may utter a sigh, as a pause to remember privately, the first step on the journey.
In the final lines of the poem “and I- (18)/ I took the one less traveled by, (19) / and that has made all the difference20”. Frost reconciles the main idea of how a single choice can change the destination. The fork in the path was not actually meant as a metaphor for choosing the high road morally or maintaining high standards in the face of conflict. It was simply the first one of many decisions that are made on the road of life. Each one leads to the next adventure and the adventure is what the journey is all about.
My reasons for the interpretation are rooted in the origins of the poem and the friend of Robert Frost, Mr. Thomas Edwards. It was his indecisive nature and the regret of his choice at the end of the path he would travel behind the title.
The setting used is simply “a yellow wood(1)”, describing not only the time of year as the leaves fall from the trees in the woods but also the age of the traveler as he moves along the path thru the woods. Again the word tricky comes to mind as the dual possibility is considered.