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;
Below I will post the last stanza of this poem, but I encourage you to click the link above and read the whole poem (it is not long). It ends with this:
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.
Perhaps some people read this as inspirational to take the road less traveled (based on the final line “And that has made all the difference”, but I do not.
The key to the meaning behind this poem is hidden in the first line of this final stanza:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
I added the emphasis on “sigh”, for it is with this single word that I think the poem’s secret lies. There is a heaviness in this foretold recolection of having taken the road less traveled by. Just because it was this decision that made all the difference, does not make it a better decision by any means. In fact, I believe that by adding the word “sigh”, the other is trying to warn us of something… that road, the one less traveled… it’s not as easy. It is hard. And it is hard simply because it is less traveled by.
Some people want to be unique, special, an individual like no other. To be a rebel and go against the grain, to travel the road less traveled. But it is almost as if Frost is warning of the temptation to do what teachers are always telling kids to do – be an individual, don’t follow the crowd, stand out and be unique. Really? At what cost?
I’ve been down that road, and I too shall be telling, with a sigh, that because I chose the road less traveled, it has, indeed, made all the difference.
But I should stop, for a moment of reflection. Because my first reaction to the word “sigh” was to think that it was with some “regret” that the author reported that he took the road less traveled. But perhaps “regret” is the wrong feeling or emotion. No, perhaps it is simply what a sigh so often is… a pause, but a weary pause at that. A tired, reflective, introspective pause. It may not be regret at all. It may simply be a heaviness carried over the “ages and ages” from walking alone… seeing the woods around you in a way that the other travelers never did nor ever will.
It is like the man released from Plato’s cave – who sees the world as it is, outside of the cave of shadows, and returns to tell his friends that what they are seeing is not, in fact, real. And he is booed. He is insulted and told to leave. He is called crazy, among other things, because they walked the road that the others walked – they saw the woods from that angle, and anyone who says there is even another road to walk – is downright insane.
It’s a heaviness. A burden. A lonely journey, but not necessarily a regretted journey.
I suppose it is as you want to see it. Would you rather walk alone, seeing the world from a different perspective, having the masses not understand you or support your claims of a different viewpoint? Or would you want to walk the weathered road, step by step with friends and family and familiarity? A road where everyone agrees with you because you share the same experiences. It does seem nice.
But maybe there is a weight and heaviness to Frost’s “sigh” that is not a burden at all – but instead is just that – weight. It is full. It is complete. It is full of memories, experiences, stories, challenges, discoveries, disappointments, surprises, victory, defeat, loneliness, enlightenment, confusion, joy, sorrow, contentedness, beauty, darkness, light…. all the things life can and should be made of. It is the finishing a very long book sort of sigh. The finishing of a marathon sigh. It is full of adventure, perserverience and fulfillment.
That is the road I want to travel, no matter how lonely it may seem at times. And I hope the “sigh” in “ages and ages hence” is full of weight and fullness, and is not a sigh of regret or of giving up.