I’ve read this poem several times over the years and have always taken it to be an expression of the satisfaction experienced by going your own way and not following the crowd. But as I read it again today, I got a completely different impression. I am not going to choose one interpretation over the other, but I figured I’d share my alternative view of the poem.
The first thing that caught my attention was in the opening line: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” I had never given too much thought to the yellow wood in the past, but now it struck me as an autumnal scene and likely symbolizing a person late in life, nearing death. Immediately, the poem took on a more somber tone for me, just from this one image.
As we all know, the protagonist goes down the road less traveled. But I realized, Frost is not writing about the road less traveled, he is writing about the path that he did not choose. He seems to regret not choosing the well-traveled path when he realizes he cannot go back and take that other road:
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Then the final stanza took on an entirely new meaning for me. No longer was the speaker happy that he had chosen the one less traveled. If he was happy, why would he sigh? It seems more likely that this person is at the end of his life and haunted by regret.
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.
If I were to venture a guess, the protagonist chose a path of being alone, as opposed to the path of marriage or companionship. I suspect he is looking around at all the happy couples, growing old together, and now wishes he had gone down that “road not taken.” He realizes he can never go back and take that other road. He is destined to die alone.
I know this is not the positive, inspirational message that is generally associated with this poem, but I think it is worth considering. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Click here to read the entire poem online.