Oct 23, 2010

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 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 Road Not Taken (Robert Frost, Mountain Interval, 1916).


Almost all critics  thought  the  sigh  to  indicate  regret: “is not  a sigh  of  regret  over  a right  choice;  it  is a  sigh  of  regret  that  both  choices  were  not  possible” (Laurence Perrine, Explicator,  XIX, Feb.,  1961,  Item  28.); according to Eleanor  Sickels  the  poem  is  about  "the  human  tendency  to  wobble  illogically in  decision  and  later  to  assume  that  the  decision  was,  after  all,  logical  and  enormously  important,  but  forever  to  tell  of  it  'with  a sigh'  as depriving  the  speaker  of  who-knows-what  interesting” (Explicator,  Item  28); the  speaker  of  the  poem  is  "one who habitually  wastes  energy  in regretting  any  choice  made: belatedly  but  wistfully  he  sighs  over  the  attractive  alternative  rejected."  (Lawrance  Thompson,  Robert  Frost. Minneapolis, 1959). Then Frost answers to a young girl (Finger 1978)…
"SOMETIME IN  APRIL  of  I925,  while  teaching  at Amherst  College, Robert  Frost  answered  a letter  he had received  from  Crystine Yates,  a young  girl  in Dickson,  Tennessee. According  to  her,  she wrote  Frost  to  inquire  about  the  "sigh"  in  the  last  stanza  of  "The  Road Not  Taken."  Assuming  the  speaker  of  the  poem  to  be  Frost  himself,  she  wanted  to know  whether  the  sigh  meant  that  he regretted  having  chosen  to  be  a poet.  The  following  letter  Frost  wrote in  response  to Ms. Yates's…
Dear  Miss  Yates:
No wonder  you  were  a little  puzzled  over  the  end  of  my  Road  Not Taken.  It  was  my  rather  private  jest  at  the  expense  of  those  who  might think  I would  yet  live  to  be  sorry  for  the  way  I had  taken  in  life.  I  suppose I was  gently  teasing  them.  I'm  not  really  a very  regretful  person,  but  for your solicitousness  on  my  behalf  I'm
your  friend  always
Robert  Frost" 

Finger, Larry L. (1978) Frost's "The Road Not Taken": A 1925 Letter Come to Light, in “American Literature”, Vol. 50, No. 3: 478-479.