The Road Not Taken
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The Road Not Taken is a poem written by Robert Frost and published in 1915 in the collection titled Mountain Interval. It is considered to be one of Frost’s most popular works and it is basically narrative, consisting of four stanzas following the iambic tetrameter structure. It is a poem full of profundity and meaning, which Robert himself claims as “tricky” to understand completely. Though the poem may be easy to deduce literally, it is the figurative interpretation that brings forth the real beauty of the literature.
Considering the literal explanation, the poem is easy to understand, where the narrator describes his position in the first stanza “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. And sorry I could not travel both.”
He is out and about, walking in a yellow wood (indicates autumn) where he comes to a fork in the road. He stands there, looking down each way trying to make his decision. He wishes he could go down both roads and see what lies ahead, but he doubts he could do it. The narrator continues to gaze down the first road “to where it bent into the undergrowth” until finally in the second stanza, he decides to take the other road which appears to be less travelled and has almost no traffic. He mentions that comparing to the first road, the other one had more grass on it indicating that it was hardly travelled on. However, as he continues to describe two roads, he notices that they are “really about the same”, if not exactly the same.
The narrator continues to describe the two roads in the third stanza once again comparing the similarities between them. He explains that there were fresh fallen leaves on both of them, and they were not walked on. As he decides to choose the second road, he wishes that someday he could come back and walk on the first road as well, but eventually he lets go the idea, because he knows that if he begins his journey on one road, one way would lead to another, which would lead to another one, and eventually, there would be no way to come back to this particular intersection.
The fourth stanza is where the “tricky” part comes into the equation. Even the literal interpretation of the fourth stanza depends on the reader`s perception “I shall be telling this with a sigh... And that has made all the difference.” The two trouble words in this stanza are “sigh” and “difference.” The “difference” in this stanza could be deduced as a positive difference that has occurred in the narrator’s life as a consequence of taking the less travelled road. However, this is just an assumption, as there is nothing in the poem that indicates towards a positive result. Secondly, the narrator has just started off on this road, its outcome at the moment is not clear. Thus, the difference here could be either positive or negative.
“Sigh” is the other tricky word in this stanza that requires some debate. This word is directly related to the “difference” mentioned earlier. If the “difference” that the narrator speaks about is considered to be positive, then the “sigh” could be a nostalgic relief. On the other hand, if the “difference” that the narrator experienced is not so positive, the “sigh” comes out as a disappointment. But the real fact is that the poem does not clarify either the nature of the difference, or the sigh that the narrator mentions in the last stanza. The one and only reason for this is that the narrator is standing on the crossroad, without knowing the destination. The “difference” in his life and the “sigh” that is an outcome of that difference are still elements of the future.
The real soul of the poem resides in the figurative interpretation. In a lifetime, a man faces a vast number of choices and has to make numerous decisions that sometimes create a lasting impact on his life. This impact, either positive or negative, manifests when the choice has been made, and when the man progresses on through his life. It is a part of the natural human psyche to then turn back and think about what would happen if some other alternate choice would have been made instead of what he has made now. This is the concept on which The Road Not Taken is based upon.
The poem starts by showing a man who is faced by choice some important event in his life that requires deep thought and observation. This important event is denoted by the “yellow woods” that the narrator is walking through. Literally, this means that it`s the autumn season, but figuratively, it could mean that a major change is happening in the life of a person, which requires a vital decision – just like the season is changing from spring to autumn. In the poem, the man has two choices. The one that seems like an obvious choice, tried and tested by others, and the other one, a choice that is made by few. This choice may have implications, either positive or negative, it might have challenges that haven’t been faced by many, and this choice might lead to a future that turns out to be quite different from the first choice. He stands at this point and thinks about his options trying hard to foresee the future outcome of one. But the matter of the fact is, that no matter how planned and well prepared you are when it comes to taking a decision, the outcome still depends on a vast number of things that may alter the final result greatly, from what it was originally perceived as.
In the beginning of the second stanza, the narrator is attracted towards the path that is less worn. This is a direct reflection of how a man thinks in real life. It is an inbuilt trait in man that he wants to be different from the others. It could either be the way he looks, or the way he acts, he is always looking for opportunities that set him apart from the crowd. On the other hand, the preference of the narrator choosing the path less travelled can be also interpreted in another way. Maybe he is looking for a path that has less competition?
At the end of the second stanza, he finally notices that though the two paths were very different from each other, they are actually quite similar. Figuratively speaking, man is motivated by a number of things when making a choice in life. For him, no path is either right or wrong. The definition of the path directly depends on what motivates the man to make that particular choice.
In the third stanza, another human trait is depicted – that a human being is never satisfied with what one has. A man makes a choice, and lives his entire life which is shaped by that particular decision. However, every now and then, he stops and thinks – what if? What would happen if some other choice had been made instead of the one that was actually made? How would his life shape up? What would be the consequences? Would be he happier? If only one could press the rewind button on life and re-consider his choices. This is exactly what the narrator wishes he could do “Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”
Though the narrator makes the choice, he always wishes that he could come back to that particular junction and experience the other path as well. Unfortunately, that is not how life works. Life-shaping decisions can only be made once. These decisions lead to other choices which lead to other decisions and so on. Though the concept of starting a new and turning a new leaf seems fascinating in literature and movies, the real life is quiet different from that. In real life, there is no such thing as “a new beginning.” Even if one wishes to somehow start a new life, it itself is a decision on its own, that will have its consequences. Moreover, the past is just like a shadow, it follows the person no matter how far he goes and how much he changes his life.
In the last stanza, the narrator seemingly looks back through time from the future and contemplates on his decision, probably as an old man “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 travelled by, And that has made all the difference.”
The narrator attempts to give a logical explanation to the choice that he took and thus to explain the situation that has result hence. Though it is apparent that the road the he took was not actually less travelled, the narrator still implies that it is because of that particular choice he is happy and content today.
Likewise, in real life, a man, no matter what choice he makes, always looks back to either applaud himself on making the right choice, or curse himself for making the wrong one. No matter how much a man ponders and debates between choices, in the end, the result of the choice made is always different from what he originally perceived.
Thus, the poem The Road Not Taken directly mirrors the feelings and experiences of a man through life. It focuses on the unsatisfied nature of man where he finds something or the other to blame if things go wrong due to a particular choice. And no matter how far in life he goes, he always wants to turn back and start all over again.