Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, 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 travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
THOUGHTS… by Victor Olugbemiro
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Frost’s opening line calls the attention of the reader to one of the most common dilemmas in human history. In reading this line, there is a possibility of subconsciously concluding that one road is good to follow and the other ultimately leads to dire consequences. Both paths however are not ‘wanting wear’ both paths equally ‘lay in leaves no step had trodden black’, both paths are less taken.
Ato, in Ama Ata Aidoo’s “Dilemma of a Ghost” is in a similar quandary where he vacillates and his thoughts are rendered in a ghost song:
Shall I go to Cape Coast, Shall I go to Elmina?
I can’t tell. Shall I?
I can’t tell, I can’t tell.
His dilemma is borne out of the choice of living in Cape Coast or Elmina, two cities in Ghana that represent ancestral cultures on the one hand and adopted cultures on the other.
The similarity does not exceed the choice of a path, for in the build up to Ato’s closing song, ancestral cultures seem to be favoured by his family and even though a compromise is reached between his wife and mother, choosing to live in a city that suits his adopted cultures may still be frowned at. Frost, however makes it clear in the second and third stanzas that there really isn’t much difference between the two paths. By implication, choosing one above the other may not translate into a better experience of a walk in the woods.
At this point, your perplexity as the reader might increase, similar to that of the narrator because it is clear that he must come to a choice and the parallel options don’t make the choice any easier. Upon which he consoles himself that on another day, he shall take the other path, though in reality, he understands that once he goes down a road, it leads to other roads and eventually, he will never get the opportunity to come back and take the second path as he would have loved to.
So in a mock jest, he tells himself that in ages to come, he shall look back with a sigh and declare that he took the road less taken, less travelled, and that has made all the difference. Indeed, this conclusion is ironic and misleading as it inadvertently suggests, that taking the road less travelled is better than the well-worn path that countless before have taken, and countless after will take. In interpreting this poem, we tend to forget that the narrator himself had declared both paths suitable, acceptable, and less taken. A closer look at the title reveals that the whole poem ultimately is about the path he did not take at all, simply because he can take only one path at a time. He sighs at the end because he will never know where that path would have led, he can only guess that going down that way would have made all the difference in his life. The same kind of difference the path he took has made but he would never have experienced if he had opted for the former.
The sigh is misleading as it suggests regret. Indeed, contrary to what the narrator says that he will say he took the road less taken when actually both paths are less taken, the only actual regret is that he will never know where the other path would have led him. More confusing it gets as we try to take such a simple poem so seriously, especially when we try to understand exactly what the writer was saying. The good thing is that the poem is ambiguous enough to elicit diverse explanations which, being weighed on their merit, provide various perspectives that would still be right, only leaving the writer irked by being misunderstood.