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.

Robert Frost

I kept reading this poem by Robert Frost over and over again recently but I can’t seem to grasp the meaning of the poem. What I gathered was this: taken out of its context, the last few lines of this poem seem to advise the readers to take the road less-traveled because that will make all the difference in their lives. When read as a whole, this poem by Robert Frost seems to have a more philosophical meaning. Both roads at the junction are in reality equally well-trodden. But because eventually you can only take one of the roads, you can only imagine how the other road looks like. Even though you have never seen what the other road looks like, as a traveler, you would like to think that the road that you took was less traveled by as compared to the alternative. Not just that, you go on and work to convince yourself and others that this less traveled by road has made all the difference in your life.

What I could not decipher was the tone of the sigh in the last stanza. What kind of emotions did he think he would have when he is narrating this story many years later? What kind of sigh was it? Luckily enough for me, I happened to be reading a Chinese book and I found the answer to my questions in one of the short stories:

在人生的長路上,總會遇到分歧的一點,無論我選擇了那一個方向,總是會有一個方向与我相背,使我后悔。

此刻,在我置身的這條路上,和風麗日,滿眼蒼翠,而我相信,我當初若是選擇了另外一個方向,也必然會有同樣的陽光,同樣的鳥語花香。只是,就因為在那一個分歧點上,我只能選擇一條被安排好的路,所以,越走越遠以后,每次回顧,就都會有一种其名的悵惆。在我心里,那條我沒能走上的小徑就每次都在那里,在模糊的顏色里,向我展露著一种模糊的憂傷。

然而,中年的心情,是由不得我來隨意后悔的啊!

席慕蓉 <中年的心情>

I guess the tone of the sigh in “The Road Not Taken” is not something that young people can easily comprehend because we have not stood at enough number of crossroads and chosen which road to take. This sigh is not a sigh of regrets – neither Robert Frost nor 席慕蓉 showed that they felt they had made the wrong decision at that crossroad. If I have interpreted his poem correctly, he is essentially wondering where else he could have been and how different his life would have been if he had taken the other road at that junction.  He wondered with a sigh and after some thinking, he realized that his choice of roads at that junction had made all the difference in his life. Actually now that I think about it, the meaning of the “road less traveled by” should not be taken literally. What he meant to say was probably that he made the most rational decision at that point in his life. As a traveler (traveler, not tourist), you desire to explore and hence rationally, you prefer the road that is less traveled by.

Today I am standing at a junction and making a decision. I wonder if I would look back 10-20 years down the road at this junction and think about the road that I did not take.

 

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