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 marked 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.
I’ve taught this poem in my English classes several times and each time I teach it, I think it means something more for me. I think it means something more because every time I read it, I’m in a different stage in my life.
Upon first read, if you did that and didn’t ignore it, you probably think the traveler took the road less traveled and it made all the difference in his life (I do love that quote). If you search in the stanzas, it’s actually not the case. This poem is incredibly misunderstood and upon first readings, if we don’t really look at the wording, we can miss what is actually being said.
Let me break out the English teacher in me, and let’s take a look 🙂
Of the two roads the speaker says “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” In fact, both roads “that morning lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.” Meaning: Neither of the roads is less traveled by… they are exactly the same.
When the speaker is standing at a fork in the woods, he has a decision to make. He doesn’t know what will be on either road, he just knows he has to take one of them. He can’t foresee what will be down either road, as they both look the same. There are so many times in our lives that we come to these forks and we are forced to decide without knowing (frightening! Will we make the wrong choice?). But as we stand there, a decision has to be made. We have to go somewhere. Recovery is that case for many of us except we know a little bit of information about both roads. But, really, for us, one of the roads is less traveled because it is recovery – which makes it scarier than the road we know (the eating disorder).
The speaker states, “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 kept the path that he didn’t choose and thinks he may go down it another day, but in reality he knows that he will probably never come back to that path again (In life we can’t turn back time on events that happen). So, is he just telling himself this to make himself feel better? Perhaps. When we choose a path to walk down, often we can’t go back and change what we’ve done, we can only change our course and choose yet another path (fall off the meal plan – change course and get back on).
If we look at the title it isn’t called “The Road Less Traveled,” it’s called “The Road Not Taken.” The speaker in the poem isn’t talking about the path that he is on, but thinking about the path he didn’t take. He had to make a choice, he did that, and now has to stick with it, but as humans it’s natural for us to wonder about “what could have been.”
So often, in our lives, we are standing at a fork in the road – literally, sometimes, but more often, metaphorically. We are always standing at a crossroad of free will vs. fate and making the choice is incredibly scary. Just like this speaker, we might think about the other path because we could be insecure or second guess what we are doing because we know there is/was another option and it scares us to think that we have to stick to the decision we made – to move, a job, recovery (again, what if it’s the wrong one?). With Ed, we think things could be better, but we know we are lying to ourselves. That still doesn’t stop us from thinking about it and wondering about it. That doesn’t make it bad or wrong, it just is. As we choose the path of recovery and not knowing, it’s okay to think about the path that would have been, but fortunately we know that the other path is NOT a path that is right for us. We, much like the speaker, question the path we are on because the unknown is really scary for humans – and that is normal.
Next the speaker states, “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.” The speaker is telling with a “sigh” as he’s older (ages and ages hence) that he took the road less traveled and it made all the difference. He is telling with a “sigh” because he knows that it was not less traveled, but instead they were the same. Because we stand to make whatever choices we make, he made a choice standing at the fork and he owned it. He can believe it made the difference, or he may not. Either way, he made a choice and stuck to it. As he talks to those around him about this event, he doesn’t want it to seem like a bad thing, so he says it has made all the difference because he doesn’t want to regret any of the choices he made in life. He wants to own the choices and hope they are/were right.
This is hard to do. When we choose a path of the unknown, it’s hard to think it made all the difference, but if we are learning and growing that quote can be true to us. Whether or not the speaker believed that path was the right one is unimportant to me, because we aren’t the same person. It’s all in how you look at things. You can stand tall, make a choice and then move on with life, or you can constantly think about what is not in your life, or what could have been. In reality, what could have been is NOT; you are here, right now and that is what matters. If you are growing and learning on the path you are walking, then you did take a path that has made all the difference.
It is so easy for humans to not take a new path because of how frightening it can be and that is understandable. But, if you are willing to make any changes in life, then you are taking the road less traveled because so few people do that! It’s easy to just stay with how things are and wish for them to be different… the difficulty comes in actually walking another path and making a change… but that is also where the pride and self-confidence comes from.
So, I will say that I always take the road less traveled and it has made all the difference. I am learning that I can’t look at life and see what might have been. I have to trust myself (hard thing to do) and know that my choices right now are the right choices.
What does your road/path/journey look like?