Poem Summary : The Road Not Taken by Frost

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Robert Frost

It is never easy to figure how a poem was written by a poet. Sometimes they reveal their influences and sometimes it is lost in translation and time. These influences actually framed the poet’s mind to reveal a new tapestry of words which are revered  by the generations to come. In all kinds of arts, be it music or paintings, the sources of inspiration are lost as people are lost in the act or performance itself rather than going behind the “meaning of it all“. They said curiosity killed the cat. I am that curious cat who lurks and tries to find that “meaning of it all“. In this post, I present a summary of another favorite poem. I like abstraction and multiple interpretations that a vague poem can lead you to. Abstraction removes you from the analogies and imagery which are of course an important part of a poem. But it gives you the lesson the poet wanted to convey through his verses. Robert Frost, in this poem, puts forward the predicament of making a decision which has no easy answer. Let’s break it down to understand it purport.

The Road Not Taken

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;

Here, Frost observes that there were two roads which presented themselves in his journey and he laments that as a single traveler he can only take a single road. Standing at a crossroad and wondering which way to take ? This decision often comes up in life and there is no easy answer  to it. Frost says he “looked down one as far as I could” which means he tried gauging the impact of going through his decision for one path.

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,

However, Frost then took the other path which looked as the other. Sometimes decisions are not easy. We may assign weights to different priorities in our life and yet may falter in understanding the situation. He justifies further why he took the path saying that maybe it was more grassy and fresh. But, again he counters himself saying that both looked equally used by the travelers. So, it was a mere passing feeling or constant indecision which haunted the poet.

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.

He notes that nobody ever came back on both the paths, which means this decision was irreversible and needed the poet to take a firm stand. But, he still believes that some other day he will take the first path as we all do. We all have many thoughts : I will read a book , I will paint and so forth and so on. Yet one can only do one thing at a time and leave the other for some other day. This “some day” sometimes never comes.  That is what he says that he just kept following the way he chose as life kept going and doubted his return to this cross-road.

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.

Robert Frost

Then, he justifies and reasons again(as we all do!) of a decision made long ago. He pauses after he tells about his cross-road situation : “I—”. Probably he is thinking what shall he say at this juncture. He then says that he took the one less traveled by. This reasoning is to tell people he was different from others in his decision. Maybe he thought people will forgive him for being unique and not blame him for his decision’s consequences. Or maybe in case of a happy outcome, he felt he could masquerade his good luck as his own decision to take the “less traveled path”. The poem shows the poet’s humanity and his mask in front of his future audience(grandchildren?) whom he is narrating as to why he took a particular decision although decision meant nothing to him when he took it. This is what life is. We take decisions some consciously and unconsciously and life turns out as it will. In the end, of course it feels good that your decision led you to this present life of yours. The poet leaves the reader guessing as to what has made all the difference. Being unique does not make the difference. The difference is due to the path you took. You did not know you are unique when you were about to make the decision. We are made by our choices and we have to live by them and make peace with them.

Hope you enjoyed the summary. Please comment if you have an interesting interpretation to share for this great poem. The poem is wonderfully illustrated by Gav from Zen Pencils. Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken



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