| 8 min read |
Yes, this is about a poem by Robert Frost but it may not be what you would expect. You’ve probably heard the last three lines of this poem, they’ve become sort of a poem in and of themselves. We’ve heard them used as a soundbite; an inspirational-rallying cry for entire generations that have become very creative out of necessity in the new age of technology, consumerism, stagnation, and the tyranny of social media. Young folks are making and breaking entire industries by opting for non conventional lifestyles versus the traditional struggle, but it has been mostly reactionary up until this point.
We are told to “take the road less traveled by,” as a means of standing out in world that prefers carbon copy predictability, it seems we are told this so often that the road less traveled is become a copy of itself. Try to not find these last three lines on any travel social media account, I’ll wait. For me therein lies the irony that deserves our attention. This is about a poem, not a haiku, it is meant to be read in its entirety as a complete thought.
So last year I decided to re-read this poem after what must have been a decade of hearing just the last three lines; and this completely changed the impact the poem had on me as well as the significance of those last three lines. Using voice to text technology I will now happily recite Robert Frost’s poem to you in its entirety (as nature intended) before I elaborate on how I believe we’ve missed an important message in the bisecting of it.
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;
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 show be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
To roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Is that not so much better? Does that not take away any aversion you had to the cliché soundbite version and leave you with a completely different feeling? Suddenly, every word has meaning and provides a valuable context to “the one less traveled by?” For Frost’s sake, consider that the poem is not titled the road less traveled by, rather he affirms his fondness and perhaps sense of loss (or growth?) for the road not taken.
Frost takes us on a journey through the inner monologue of his decision making as he arrives at this fork in the path ahead. I say he takes us on a journey because of his deliberation whereby he carefully evaluates his two choices; and it seems as though it is somewhat difficult for him to make. This deliberation is important, it’s what makes the poem complete, even gives us a sense of where is this road taking us. Without the deliberation he is simply taking the road less traveled by and we are left to our fantasies to make assumptions on how and why that is significant.
Taking the road less traveled by wasn’t about making a choice between good and bad, rather it is about making a conscious choice between two otherwise perfectly good choices. In these two perfectly good choices, Frost must justify taking one path over the other – as they are equally fair choices to make. He takes his time in evaluating their difference and the consequence of his choice.
Each and every day of our lives we arrive at this place where two roads diverged in a wood. We live for the adventure of choice and Frost cautions us to make our choices consciously because how we make our choice determines where we are going. Oftentimes we want to travel both roads; but with every road we take there is also a road not being taken. The choice is difficult, but always easier when it is our choice to make.
This gives me a feeling of insight into Frost’s philosophy of traveling along life’s path that I would have been hard-pressed to discover in just the last three lines of the poem. The soundbite version makes me feel airy, lost in a grandiose cloud of new age – ego driven superficiality; but reading the last three lines within the context of the whole makes me feel grounded, as a traveler in the thick forest that constitutes our incredibly complex lives.
And it makes me wonder… What if the road less traveled is simply the decision that you are habitually less likely to make? What if the road not taken is the road that you have symbolically taken before, that is why it seemed to have been treaded upon? What if small, yet curious choices between perfectly good choices that could completely change the direction of where you are going? If we miss this deeper meaning, we risk the danger of seeing our lives in terms of better then and less than, versus simply different. We must ask ourselves where it is that we want to go? If you are looking for a change of scenery in your life, begin by changing the way you see the path ahead and choose the one which isn’t necessarily easy for you but will make all the difference.
From the Heart,