As we age and find ourselves looking back upon our lives, we often wonder what would have happened if we had made different choices. Our hindsight is often quite different than our foresight was. Years bring us wisdom, often hard won wisdom, causing us to acknowledge the consequences of choices and habits made in our youth. Robert Frost understood this concept and addressed it in his most famous poem, written in 1916, “A Road Not Taken.”
We are all the character in this poem. Our lives are like the main road that “diverged” requiring us to take some action on the direction we want our life to go. These often involve habits and choices of education, religion, lifestyle, career, family, and values. Frost recognizes that once these paths are taken we don’t “ever come back” to make them again in the same way.
We all come to these well-worn points in our lives. Points where the choices we face differ in how “well trod” they are by our society or by our own previous choices. Sometimes we face momentous challenges that are not comfortable, popular or commonly praised, thus those paths that “wanted wear”. At this fork in the road of our destinies, we choose if we will follow our well-worn fears and habits into the tangled “undergrowth” or choose personal growth by confidently following our conscience, though it is indeed the more difficult road to follow.
This poem is a timeless poem because it speaks to all ages whether our perspective is as a youth facing important roads, or mature adult and looking back on our memories. We all have these decisive moments that we reflect on, slowly realizing over time the importance of those first decisions on the direction of our lives, moments where we began to break from our supervised childhood and make our own way in the world.
Ironically, life often throws these options in our path at an early stage, when we are proud, headstrong and foolish. Frost acknowledges that “way leads on to way” and we cannot go back in time to change our experiences. Many of the paths of our lives are dramatically life altering, though little do we realize it at the time. As we mature in “ages hence” we begin to understand the connection between action and outcome. The character in this poem comments on the significance of the choice to take the “less traveled” path, saying that the choice “made all the difference” in his life as he now looks back.
Often we find that it is the small choices of right and wrong that send us down the corridors of our lives. This poem reminds us that the comfortable road is not the only way to go; in fact the road less traveled does bring a life of satisfaction. The way we choose will have a large impact on our lives because we cannot take both roads. We cannot live a life of indulgence and a life of self discipline. One road eliminates the other.
It is this sometimes belated understanding that makes the divergence so memorable. As we look back and “sigh” we suddenly recognize that our life is undeniably our own self-created reality.
Frost, Robert. “Road Not Taken”. The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume D 1865-1914. Ed. Nina Baum. 6th ed.