The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost.
You can remind yourself of this poem here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/road-not-taken
I thought of this poem on this morning’s walk with my 16-year-old puppy. The real truth of walking my dog is that I am actually not walking him at all, he is walking me. As heavy as he is old, only 15lbs, he picks his paths and stubbornly leads. There is no negotiating another way. He will just refuse. He is in the winter of his years while I am in the autumn of mine; I aspire to gain his certainty.
The speaker in The Road Not Taken, we can assume too, is in the autumn of his years as well not only by the fact that the leaves are changing in this wood like they do in autumn but, by the fact, that he doubts he will ever have the time to come back. He is in his mid-life and, unlike the midlife crisis of the more modern day that involves the purchases of motorcycles and botox, the speaker is just trying to decide the best path to take knowing the luxury of time is now limited.
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”
Does he make the right decision?
For your nerdy poetry host, this uncertainty is the best thing about the poem. Frost leaves us with this ambiguity. We, the readers, are left to decide if the speaker is satisfied with his decision to take “the one less traveled by.”
The poem is usually known and liked by my students by the time they enter my classroom because they have been taught, in high school, that the poem means that they will be rewarded by choosing the riskier path in life. What college student wouldn’t feel justified by this advice during, what are thought to be, their formative life changing years? And yes, it's good advice to not follow a path just because everybody else is going that way but to forge your own way down your own path. I, too, was introduced to this poem during my freshman year of high school. It was a poem I was assigned to memorize in my small all girls school. I know why Sister Mary wanted us to cement this to our memories. We were already on a different path than many young women our age just by being in a college preparatory school. It was not a path that many 14year olds were traveling. She wanted us to take pride in our decision. She wanted us to know we would not regret it. She wanted us to know we were leaders and not followers.
But if we really pay attention to the poem we can identify the contradiction. It is more than just advice to do your own thing, it’s a reflection of how hard it is to make a decision in which way to go in life because there is so much unknown. The speaker originally says that the chosen path “wanted wear” but then quickly we are also told the paths were worn “really about the same.” The speaker too is uncertain if this was the right choice and he wonders if he will regret this choice or not as the years pass. “I shall be telling this with a sigh,” he states. That “sigh” expresses as well that uncertainty. His hope, as our hope, is that the choice he made will turn out to be the right one. He really doesn’t know, but he still must make one.
So read and remember this poem at all stages of your life. Whether for reflection or inspiration, this poem travels well with us.
The idiom, “All roads lead to Rome,” is applicable to our celebration today. Whatever method or path or interpretation we choose, my hope is that eventually we, too, will be as doggedly satisfied with which way to go as my wise old puppy.
And I am already certain that just by reading this blog today you are already on the right path.