The Road Not Taken
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—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This is a poem about choices. At the end, the reader gets to determine whether or not the author actually regrets the choice he made. Frost’s line, “And that has made all the difference” is commonly interpreted as a positive remembrance. Building on that interpretation, the poem itself is viewed by some as advocating “going your own way.”
But the final stanza can just as easily be interpreted as dissatisfaction. Robert Frost wrote this poem to make fun of his friend David Thomas who had a tendency to express regret over which path they took when walking together. From that perspective, this does not sound like a poem which champions the intrepid wanderer carving out his (or her) own path. Instead, with that knowledge, the poem reads as a personal remembrance of an indecisive friend. The “telling this with a sigh” line to start the final stanza plays into the ambiguity. A sigh can be born out of either a happy memory or it can be born of remorse. The line “And that has made all the difference” could be positive or it could be the lament of someone who is thinking back to a decision that made his life worse.
Perhaps we can glean something about the mental state of the individual reader based on how he or she interprets the poem.
Personally I like the ambiguity. Everyone looks back, from time to time, and thinks about the decisions they have made and the repercussions that followed those choices. There are good choices which lead to happy outcomes. There are bad choices which lead to remorse or bitterness. Good or bad, our choices make all the difference in where we go.