Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
–Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
I can’t tell you the first time I heard this poem, but I can tell you that I have heard it so often that it may be the only piece of writing that I have passively memorized. This poem is quoted on cards, and oft cited to those of us who don’t follow te traditional roads.
Mostly this poem is read as an exultation of the road less traveled, a song of praise to those who walk against the grain of society. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who once taught me another reading of this poem that has informed my life choices ever since.
In class one day, Mr, Hoelscher read this poem, and then told our astonished class that it wasn’t a poem that praised the road less traveled. Indeed, Mr. Hoelscher pointed out that the speaker of the poem never says that the road less traveled was better. In fact, Mr Hoelscher drew our attention to the last stanza which starts,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
He pointed our that it is entirely possible that the sigh indicates regret at taking this path, that perhaps the road less traveled was hard, exhausting work.
I can tell you that after 30 years of exploring what life has to offer, after years of obstinately choosing the road less traveled, I have to agree with this reading of the poem. Taking the road less traveled has also made me sigh–sigh with frustration, with exhaustion, and even with regret.
I have found that those of us who take the road less traveled don’t like to admit to the hard parts of our journeys. In fact, often even from the outside the difficulties are hidden, and sometimes I am not likely to remind the world that my life is not all glamorous french cafes and visits to the Louvre. The road less traveled remains less traveled because it is difficult, because the path is not clear.
Yet despite its difficulty, my exploration of this road has been beautiful, profound and rewarding. It may have made me sigh, but taking the road less traveled has indeed made all the difference in my life.